Hoke up to 107 known cases as North Carolina plans to start easing restrictions Friday

By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Hoke County was up to 107 known cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, with seven people from the county hospitalized with the illness.

A 63-year-old man who began feeling ill May 1 and tested positive May 4 is the most recent person from Hoke hospitalized with coronavirus. He experienced difficulty breathing and is inpatient at the FirstHealth Hoke hospital, according to the Hoke County Health Department.

Others from Hoke still hospitalized with the virus include a 27-year-old pregnant woman; a 28-year-old man who was visiting friends and developed difficulty breathing; and a 53-year-old woman who works in healthcare.

The most recently identified cases of COVID-19 in Hoke County include:

  • 59-year-old man who tested positive May 5, who was in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19
  • 54-year-old woman, who became ill April 28 and tested positive May 5
  • 35-year-old woman, who became ill April 18 and tested positive May 5

Local cases

So far 23 people at Canyon Hills treatment facility in Hoke County have tested positive. That number includes 14 young residents of the child behavioral health facility, and nine employees – including six employees who do not live in Hoke County.

The residents were asymptomatic when healthcare workers tested them April 24. They are still doing well this week, according to health officials.

The outbreak at the treatment facility is currently the single largest number of known COVID-19 cases in the county. Many of the other cases involve people who work at Smithfield Foods or Mountaire Farms, and their spouses. Both of the meat processing companies are dealing with outbreaks at their facilities.

So far, no one in Hoke County has died of COVID-19. More than 470 people in the state, and 70,000 people across the United States have died from coronavirus-attributed causes. At least 23 of the people in Hoke who caught the virus have recovered since the pandemic hit the U.S. in March.

Meal deliveries resume

School bus stop meal deliveries resumed this week after Hoke County Schools temporarily shut down last Thursday and Friday to deep clean the buildings and buses. Three employees at Hoke County Schools tested positive for the virus, according to Public Relations Director Jodie Bryant.

Two of the employees are in isolation at home and had not been in contact with others. The third person wore personal protective equipment (PPE) including a mask while at work, and did not have frequent contact with others, Bryant said in an email.

State begins first reopening phase

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that North Carolina will slowly start to ease some restrictions beginning Friday, May 8.

“The good news is that your work has prevented an overwhelming spike of infections like we’ve seen in other states and other parts of the world. The harder news is that there is still no cure or vaccine for COVID-19, and the virus continues to circulate,” Cooper said in a live-streamed press conference Tuesday afternoon. “Because of this, we have to be cautious and methodical in plans to ease restrictions. Removing them all at once would cause a surge in new cases, more people in the hospital, and more North Carolinians dying.”

North Carolina’s stay-at-home order remains in place for now, but with modifications allowing people to leave home for more reasons.

Phase 1 of the reopening removes the “essential” designation from businesses and allows some businesses to reopen. Retail stores can have up to 50 percent capacity in the store at one time.

Starting Friday, people can leave home to visit any business that is open. The order allows parks and walking trails to reopen.

Starting the reopening doesn’t mean the state is back to normal yet, Cooper warned.

Restaurants are still take-out or delivery only. Businesses like movie theaters, barbershops and salons are still shut down. People should still wear a cloth facemask, wash their hands frequently and stay six feet apart when out in public.

For more details on what can open and what’s still shut down, see the full text of the governor’s executive order here.

Continue to be cautious

Even as the state begins to ease restrictions, it’s still important to be responsible, according to N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen. More than half of all adults aged 18 and over in North Carolina are considered at higher risk for having serious symptoms if they get COVID-19, Cohen said in the press conference.

“Over half of all adults are high-risk because they are either over 65, or have at least one underlying condition, or both,” she said Tuesday. “The risk is not just in folks who are over 65, it is across all ages…even as we move slowly to ease restrictions and modify the stay-at-home order later this week, we cannot lower our guard.”

Decisions based on data points

North Carolina officials are looking at four data points to judge when it’s safer to ease restrictions. Those four data points are COVID-like syndromic cases; lab-confirmed cases; positive tests as a percentage of total tests; and hospitalizations. Officials chose those data points based on White House guidance and public health information.

North Carolina has been more successful than some other states in avoiding a sharp increase in cases, Cohen said. Now that means that health officials looking at those data points have to put them in context with what the state is experiencing.

“We did something that every state and country is trying to achieve: we flattened the curve. That means we have to look at our metrics a bit differently. We aren’t seeing significant downward trajectories on most metrics, largely because we were successful in the first place preventing a sharp peak,” Cohen said. “We look relatively stable on these metrics…and that’s a good sign.”

Four data points

  1. People who come to the emergency room with COVID-19 like symptoms: this number continues to go down, which is a good thing, Cohen said.
  2. Laboratory-confirmed tests of COVID-19: this is showing a slight increase, but it is starting to level out – and a slight increase could be expected because the state is doing more testing, Cohen explained.
  3. Percentage of all tests that are positive compared to the total number of tests: this is going down, which is a good thing, Cohen said.
  4. Hospitalizations: this is largely level, and the state has the capacity currently to meet increased demand if more people do become ill.

“We’ve never had a spike or a surge, so continued stability of these trends is a real positive for our state, and a testament to aggressive early action taken by the governor and your resolve to save lives,” Cohen said.

Cooper based the timing of the reopening on the improvements in those four data points. The state also doubled its number of daily tests, and is hiring people to do more contact tracing.

“As you can see, North Carolina’s approach is grounded firmly in the data, the science and the facts,” Cooper said.

More information

For more information on local COVID-19 response, visit Hoke County’s website at hokecounty.net or readyhoke.org, or the city of Raeford’s website at raefordcity.org.

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