Published on March 08, 2020

Health officials keep watch on Coronavirus

Rocky Mount Telegram

By: Amelia Harper, Staff Writer


With two cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus in North Carolina now confirmed by the State Laboratory of Public Health, local health officials are working hard to monitor the evolving situation and make sure that policies and procedures are in place to deal with the potential spread of the virus.

They also are urging residents to do their part to contain the spread of the disease and to use face masks, which are in limited supply, appropriately.

Gov. Roy Cooper held a press conference Tuesday notifying the public of North Carolina’s first positive case of COVID-19. The Wake County resident had traveled to Washington State and was exposed at a long-term care facility where there currently is a COVID-19 outbreak, according to a press release from the Nash County Health Department.

“The Nash County Health Department is closely monitoring the outbreak of coronavirus case that has occurred in North Carolina (and) is regularly receiving updates from the North Carolina Division of Public Health with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the statement said.

The state Department of Health and Human Services released a statement Friday saying that a Chatham County man also had tested positive for COVID-19.

“A North Carolina man from Chatham County traveled in late February to an area in Italy that now has a COVID-19 outbreak. He had two days of mild, flu-like symptoms while in Italy. His fever resolved and symptoms were improving, and he flew back to the United States the following day. This person was a contact to a case in Georgia and the Georgia Department of Health notified North Carolina health officials,” the statement said.

Both cases have yet to be confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the statement said that “while awaiting confirmation of results from the CDC, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services will treat presumptive cases as positive and follow CDC guidelines to protect public health and limit the spread of infection.”

Edgecombe County Health Director Karen Lachapelle said that the CDC is making final determinations regarding COVID-19 testing results. The current protocol is that physicians are reporting possible cases of the virus to local health departments, which determine whether testing is needed. If it is, the local health department conducts the testing and sends the results to the state lab for analysis. Those results are then verified by the CDC.

“The state has done a good job in setting up policies and procedures and keeping us informed,” Lachapelle said. “We are participating in daily conference calls to monitor the situation and are being as proactive as possible in addressing this issue.”

Nash UNC Health Care also is implementing policies and procedures in case the coronavirus spreads, and they are urging members of the public to do what they can to limit contagion — not only from the coronavirus, but also from the flu and other viruses that are more likely to be contracted at this time.

“We have a plan in place to deal with this issue,” said Dr. Anne Shriner, chief medical officer for Nash UNC Health Care. “We are receiving constant updates from the UNC Health system, the CDC and local health departments.”

The incidences of COVID-19 still are spreading worldwide, with more than 100,000 cases now reported. More than 3,000 people have died from the virus worldwide. In the United States, more than 240 cases have been reported and 17 of those have died. No deaths have occurred in North Carolina.

At a presentation to hospital board members on Thursday, Shriner said that the death rate for people who contract COVID-19 is roughly 1 to 2 percent. However, the World Health Organization has since raised that figure to 3.4 percent.

By comparison, the death rate for the flu is roughly .01 percent.

Still, local residents are far more likely to contract the flu than COVID-19. And the precautions for both are roughly the same.

“Symptoms of the virus include fever and upper respiratory tract illness (such as) cough, difficulty breathing. The illness, like the flu, can be more serious for individuals with a weakened immune system, the elderly or those with underlying respiratory problems. Nash County Health Department wants to remind you that the steps to take to prevent the spread of flu and the common cold could also help prevent the spread of other respiratory viruses like coronavirus,” Larissa Mills, coordinator of health services for the Nash County Health Department, said in a statement last week.

These precautions include avoiding exposure, washing or sanitizing hands, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and avoiding touching your face as much as possible.

To prevent the spread of the flu and COVID-19, people also are urged to remain home and keep children at home if they are sick. The state Department of Health and Human Resources has issued guidelines to schools and businesses encouraging them to review absenteeism policies to make sure they do not encourage sick employees or students to come to work or school. The guidelines also encourage teleworking whenever possible.

People who think they are sick with one of these viruses are encouraged to call their doctor, clinic or emergency room before they come so that proper isolation protocols can be followed when they arrive at their health care provider.

While the issue is serious, most of the precautions are common-sense measures. One of the biggest concerns in the response is the growing scarcity of face masks and other personal protection supplies that some people are hoarding out of fear. This factor, combined with an increase in real demand and the temporary closure of some factories in China where such supplies are produced, is creating a real problem.

Because of this, health officials are reminding people that face masks should be used only by sick individuals, not the “worried well.” They also are to be used by health care workers and caregivers dealing with potentially infectious patients and in certain other limited circumstances.

People also are urged to limit visits to the hospital as much as possible and to avoid visits if they have cold or flu symptoms.

News Media Contact

Kenyon "K.J." Askew, Jr., Public Relations and Marketing Specialist, at 252-962-8766 or by email.

If calling after hours, please dial the main hospital line at 252-962-8000 and ask to speak with the nursing supervisor on duty and identify yourself as a member of the news media. He or she will be able to assist you.

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