The slow and steady decline in new COVID-19 cases has stalled in Buncombe County, as new cases hit the county plateau just before the holiday season.
Public Health Director Stacie Saunders said in an update to the county board of commissioners on Nov. 16 that the county’s COVID-19 statistics have unfortunately not improved since her last update two weeks earlier.
“We are experiencing a very high level of our cases,” she said.
Cases in the county have climbed over the past week, Saunders showed, while transmission remained high, as it has across the state and much of the country.
“That’s not exactly where we want to be as we head into the big holidays,” she said.
The 2020 holiday season resulted in the highest peak of cases for North Carolina at any time in the COVID-19 pandemic, when the number of cases reached 9 statewide on January 11,581.
“Today’s message is that we have reached a very high level of cases,” Saunders said. “I am hopeful that the increase we saw from last week to this week will not continue into next week.”
But that depends on county residents, Saunders said, acknowledging the fatigue and exhaustion people are feeling as the pandemic extends into its 22nd month.
“COVID-19 hopes we give it up,” she said, adding that she doesn’t like to humanize the virus. “I hope we will be quitters, and I ask everyone who is listening not to give up.”
With Thanksgiving just around the corner and Christmas just around the corner, she asked people to plan their holiday events with health and safety in mind, bearing in mind the county’s requirement extending through November 29.
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“We have the potential to avert major spikes in cases over the holiday season and head into the New Year in a place of great hope and control and containment of COVID-19,” Saunders said, thanks to vaccine uptake. and rapid case identification.
Saunders urged people planning holiday events to get vaccinated, plan events outdoors, wear masks in indoor public areas and stay home when sick.
For those who travel, she recommended following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which include delaying travel until fully vaccinated and wearing a face covering on public transportation.
“If you’re sick or have symptoms, don’t host or attend a meeting,” she said. “This is a special time for families, and sometimes it’s really hard to say, ‘Hey, I can’t come,’ but this might be the best decision you’ll make.”
Saunders said anyone with symptoms such as congestion, runny nose, cough, fever or chills, headache, shortness of breath, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue, new loss of taste or smell, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea should get tested for COVID-19.
Don’t assume it’s a cold, she said, as the most common disease transmitted in Buncombe County is COVID-19.
Find a test site at covid19.ncdhhs.gov.
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Buncombe, state COVID-19 numbers flatten
The number of new COVID-19 cases from Buncombe per 100,000 inhabitants per week rose from 113 to 121 between November 8 and 15, Saunders showed.
As of Nov. 15, the province recorded a total of 29,011 COVID-19 cases in the community and 431 COVID-19-related deaths, she said, calling it a “very sobering number.”
“It’s not just a song, each of them is a person who was loved and cherished by others,” Saunders said.
Statewide, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 1,339 new cases as of Nov. 16 as the daily case count begins to stabilize after nearly two months of steady decline.
Saunders called the county’s hospitalization numbers “encouraging”, saying they have been “low and stable” for weeks.
Hospitalizations across the state have also leveled off after a steady decline, with 1,037 COVID-19 hospitalizations reported as of Nov. 15, as the number has hovered between 1,071 and 1,105 since Nov. 5.
There are currently 26 COVID-19-positive patients at Mission Hospital in Asheville, spokesperson Nancy Lindell reported, with 36 COVID-19-positive patients in Western North Carolina’s hospital system.
As of 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 16, there are also four patients at Angel Medical Center in Franklin, two at Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine, three at Mission Hospital McDowell in Marion, and one at Transylvania Regional Hospital in Brevard.
The county’s positivity rate, or proportion of COVID-19 tests with positive results, is 4.7%, she said, still below the 5% target, but rising from 4.4% last week.
Statewide, the percentage has risen steeply, from 4.2% on Nov. 10 when more than 50,000 people were tested, to 7.8% on Nov. 14 when more than 27,100 people were tested.
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Vaccinations with 5-11’ers on board
While the number of cases worried her this week, Saunders said community vaccinations gave her hope.
That includes 15% of the county’s 5 to 11-year-olds who have already received their first injection in less than two weeks, a total of nearly 2,800 “kids who have become superheroes for their communities,” Saunders said.
NCDHHS reports that 65% of Buncombe County, or 169,991 people, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 61%, or 160,270, have been fully vaccinated just over a week after children ages 5-11 qualify came for the vaccines.
Overall, 56% of the state’s population and 57% of the population at least 5 years old are fully vaccinated, with 60% and 61% fully vaccinated, respectively.
For residents 12 and older, the county’s vaccination rate is about 74% who have received at least one dose, Saunders said.
Buncombe Health and Human Services has delivered a total of 104,928 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, she said, including more than 560 pediatric doses at BCHHS headquarters at 40 Coxe Ave. downtown, and the first Saturdays at School outreach event.
Those Saturday events, all of which take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., include:
- Nov 20: North Buncombe High School
- December 4: Clyde A. Erwin High School
- Dec 4: TC Roberson High School
- December 11: Charles D. Owen High School
- December 11: AC Reynolds High School
Other vaccine opportunities in the region include BCHHS headquarters, open 9am-4pm, the Edington Center in Asheville, Walgreens, Ingles, CVS and other major pharmacies, and some medical providers.
To find a vaccination site, visit myspot.nc.gov.
Derek Lacey covers healthcare, growth and development for the Asheville Citizen Times. Reach him at [email protected] or 828-417-4842 and find him on Twitter @DerekAVL.