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AppHealthCare COVID-19 Situation Update for Watauga County December 11, 2020

This week’s update from AppHealthCare shows a continued increase in hospitalizations but the positive news of a COVID-19 vaccine is light at the end of the tunnel.

“We are hearing hopeful news about the COVID-19 vaccine and know this will be an important tool to help us slow the spread. Since the vaccine will be offered to those who are most at-risk first, we are still months away from seeing the full effects of broad vaccine use. We know this has been a long road and people are tired but it remains important that we continue to practice prevention and wear a face covering, wash your hands and wait 6 feet from others,” stated Jennifer Greene, Health Director, AppHealthCare.

Cases Remain Steady

For the week of November 29-December 5 (graphs below), there was a small decrease in active cases and a slight increase in those who are in quarantine. When looking at the trended data, cases have continued to remain steady over the past few weeks.

Hospitalizations are Increasing

This trend continues to be a concern.

Appalachian Regional Healthcare System is in phase three of a four-phase COVID-19 surge plan. Phase three means there is an advanced patient surge with 25 positive COVID-19 patients hospitalized. We want to monitor this data point very closely because it is important we have hospital capacity for those who may need hospital care for things like a heart attack, stroke, car accident, etc.

NC DHHS County Alert System Notes Substantial Community Spread for Watauga County

In the latest update, Watauga County has moved from yellow and is now ORANGE which notes substantial community spread. This system outlines actions we can take to lessen the impact and spread in our community. You can read more about the County Alert System on NC DHHS’s website.

COVID-19 Vaccine

The vaccine will be rolling out in phases and will be given to those who are most at risk first. Supplies will be limited at first but will increase throughout 2021. The first phase (Phase 1a) will include healthcare workers who are at high risk of COVID-19 exposure and long term care facility staff and residents which includes skilled nursing facilities, and adult, family, and group homes. At this time, we do not know the exact timeframe of when this group will get the vaccine but could be mid to late December.

NC DHHS outlines guiding principles for vaccine distribution (learn more here):
1. Everyone has access
2. Inclusion and respect
3. Keeping you informed
4. Informed decision making
5. Continuous improvement

Drive-Thru Flu Vaccine Clinics This Week
This year, more than ever, it is important for everyone to receive a flu vaccine to prevent spread of flu so we can decrease the amount of virus circulating in our community. The CDC recommends everyone 6 months of age or older receive a yearly flu vaccine. AppHealthCare will offer drive-thru flu vaccine clinics Monday, December 14th, Tuesday, December 15th, Thursday, December 17th and Friday, December 18th from 1:00pm to 4:00pm. We will not have a flu vaccine clinic on Wednesday, December 16th.

We continue case investigation and contact tracing efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19. If you receive a call from a member of our case investigation or contact tracing team, we urge you to cooperate and provide information that will help us conduct response efforts. You may receive a call from (844) 628-7223 or (828) 264-4995. It may also show up as “NC Outreach” or “Contact Tracing.” Your cell phone carrier may flag the call as spam. It is so important to answer the call of a contact tracer. It is a key tool in slowing the spread of this virus.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) levels remain stable in most areas.

Turnaround Times for Testing remains between 2 and 4 days. NC DHHS provides data on testing turnaround times.

Free COVID-19 Testing at AppHealthCare.

We offer free COVID-19 testing Monday through Friday beginning at 9:30am. Please do not just show up for testing. We request that you schedule an appointment through our website or by calling our COVID-19 Call Center at (828) 795-1970.

Additional Free Testing Opportunities

We have partnered with Watauga County Schools to offer free testing for families, students, employees and staff. Testing is also offered by appointment at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, High Country Community Health Watauga Medical, CVS Pharmacy in Boone, Boone Drug and other local healthcare providers may offer testing as well.

Mitigation and Response Efforts
● Ongoing testing continues to monitor the health of residents in skilled nursing facilities
● Educational outreach on COVID-19 prevention with these facilities
● Positive cases are separated from others to allow for safe isolation
● Ongoing daily health monitoring is occurring at the facilities
● Monitoring of positive cases continues with public health staff
● App State and AppHealthCare review cases daily to ensure that staff and students get the support they need to safely isolate or quarantine and to support contact tracing efforts by public health staff
● Ongoing messaging continues from App State to campus about prevention measures and enforcement

Routine surveillance and exit testing continues on the App State campus through Dec. 16. App State Student Health Service also continues providing testing for students each weekday. Surveillance testing- including mandatory entry testing for residence hall students, student athletes and other students as determined necessary- will resume prior to the beginning of the Spring 2021 semester. The university is providing five washable, re-usable face coverings for all students, faculty and staff prior to the start of the Spring 2021 semester. App State has a dedicated website that has guidance, testing schedule information, regular updates and data for the Appalachian community.