This document is intended to provide a regular update on the local response to COVID-19 in our communities and timely, trended data related to COVID-19. This report will be published on Thursdays each week for the Sunday through Saturday of the prior week.
Situation Update for July 19 through July 25, 2020
Cases are continuing to increase for Watauga County. We are seeing our total case count increase steadily each week, and we would like to see that level off more than it has. The number of active cases (individuals in isolation) has also increased in recent weeks. The active case count data gives a picture of the active virus in our community. It is important to note that this only accounts for confirmed cases among people who have been tested.
We are continuing to see community transmission occurring and when we can determine how exposure occurred, most cases were from people traveling, attending social gatherings or living or working in close proximity to others. This has remained the case through recent weeks.
“We want to encourage everyone to be vigilant and take actions to reduce your risk of exposure. This virus is spread most often through respiratory droplets when people are in close contact with each other. When we wear a face covering, wait 6 feet from others and wash hands or use hand sanitizer, we are taking actions to prevent the virus from spreading to our family, friends and community,” stated Jennifer Greene, Health Director, AppHealthCare.
Key points from this week:
- ● Our case trends have continued to increase with the largest percentage of cases in the 18-24 year old age group. We urge continued vigilance with all three measures: Wearing a cloth face covering, Waiting six feet or more apart, and Washing hands frequently. Combining these three consistently will have additional benefits in helping us curb the transmission of the virus.
- ● Open communication continues with Watauga County Schools as they prepare for a new school year. We are working closely with them to provide public health information to inform their decisions about school operations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We understand that it is important to have children back in school, and that is what we want as well. On Tuesday, July 28, the Watauga County Board of Education held a special meeting and made a decision to begin the school year under a modified Plan B which will have students participating in virtual learning the first nine week period and allow for a phased in return of staff and some students who need individual support during this period. During this meeting, Watauga County Schools announced a plan to revisit trends and public health information at an upcoming meeting to evaluate next steps for operation in compliance with CDC and NC DHHS guidelines.
- ● We are continuing to work to increase testing opportunities for the community. Planning for proactive testing for staff in locations that have opted-in to that service continues. Also, we are conducting response based testing when data gathered in the case investigation of a positive case informs the need to conduct broader testing. These response based testing events are intended to focus on areas where there is potential for further spread, a cluster of cases, or an outbreak.
- ● PPE (personal protective equipment) levels remain stable in most areas. However, there is a reported shortage expected in nitrile gloves in the supply chain. Similarly, Lab Corp has reported some limitations in test ordering. AppHealthCare has utilized support from Watauga County Emergency Services and established state processes to submit additional requests for support for these items.
- ● Turn-around times for testing is 7-10 days, with most tests resulting around 7-8 days. Lab testing turnaround remains a top concern. However, we have heard that the NC State Laboratory for Public Health is continuing to work to shorten turnaround for their samples. We are also partnering with High Country Community Health to assist to connect with some situations when rapid testing is needed, and are working to be able to have rapid testing for symptomatic patients in August. Appalachian State Student Health Service is also working to be able to provide this to diversify our laboratory tools for earlier detection so we have more opportunities for control measures like isolation and quarantine being more successful.
- ● We have hired 4 additional case investigators to assist with increased demand as we see numbers of confirmed cases increase. They begin work August 3, 2020. Additional staff may be hired to assist with testing and tracing needs.
- ● Preparing for additional contact tracing capacity and response testing for congregate living remains a top priority with the planned return of students to campus at Appalachian State University in August, in partnership with Appalachian State University Emergency Management and Student Health Services.
- ● Outreach continues to be an important part of our collective community strategy to address COVID-19. Regular meetings take place with community partners to discuss the current situation in the county, strategize areas for growth and improvement and provide a time for questions and answers.
Data for Watauga County
An important note about data context: The graphs below show the available data. Please carefully read the descriptions below the graph to understand the data limitations. The most current data is available ontheA ppHealthCaredashboard ,asthedatabelowispastdatatrended.
Important Disclaimer About Data
It is imperative that this report and the data contained within is understood in the appropriate context. Please, if you use this report, please be certain that the information included within is shared within the appropriate context. Doing otherwise may be damaging to the public health response efforts. There are multiple factors involved in addressing this virus, including compliance with public health control measures implemented by the local health director and referenced in NC GS 130A. These measures are imperative for limiting the spread of COVID-19. AppHealthCare strongly advises that when data is shared for the purposes of educating the public or informing policy decisions, it should come directly from NC DHHS or AppHealthCare as it is presented with appropriate context from those directly involved in public health response.
Additional data can be found on AppHealthCare’s data dashboard. This data is updated each day by 8pm. You may notice a difference between our case count and the NC DHHS state database . Sometimes we get notification of positive results before they show up on the state dashboard. Also, individuals can
sometimes get “assigned” to our counties that actually do not reside in our counties. When that happens, we work with the state to get that data reassigned to the person’s place of residence.
Additional Data and Information from NC Department of Health & Human Services
- ● Zip Code Data – NC DHHS publishes data for confirmed cases by zip code for the state. The mapand data can be found here .
- ● Outbreak Data & Information – This data is broken down by type of congregate setting like anursing home, residential care facility, correctional facility, or a congregate working setting. Themap by county and report can be found here .
- ● Hospitalizations – More detailed data around hospitalizations, ventilators and bed capacity isnow available by regions and can be found here . Our district counties are in the Triad Healthcare Preparedness Coalition.Key Messages
- ● Show Your Love! This multi-county communication campaignfocuses on showing your love to yourself, others around you and the community. Posters and social media graphics for the 3Ws are now available on our website in both English and Spanish. Download them here .
- ● Practice the 3Ws if you have to leave your house – Wear a cloth
face covering, Wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer and Wait 6 feet from others.
- ● Regularly clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, handles, light switches, countertops, etc.
- ● If you are sick, please stay home except to receive medical care.
- ● If you are at higher risk for severe illness due to COVID-19, we encourage you to stay at home tothe greatest extent possible to decrease your chance of infection.TestingIf you meet any of the criteria listed below, we encourage you to be tested for COVID-19. You can call your healthcare provider or AppHealthCare. You should be tested if:
- ● You believe you have symptoms of COVID-19,
- ● You have no symptoms and you are at higher risk for severe illness (you are 65 or older, youhave an underlying health condition or chronic condition), or have been in close contact withsomeone who is known to have a positive result,
- ● You are someone working in a frontline role or essential business where social distancing is hardto maintain,
- ● You are a first responder, law enforcement officer, fire department staff member, or healthcarestaff member,
- ● You live in or work in a facility where social distancing is hard to maintain, like congregate living,healthcare facilities or home care.
- ● You are part of a historically marginalized population who may be at higher risk for exposure.
● You have attended protests, rallies, or other mass gatherings where you could have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or could have exposed others because it may have been difficult to practice social distancing.
What should you do while waiting for test results? What if the test is negative or positive?
Answers for those questions, including prevention measures and home care if someone is sick are included in NC DHHS guidance here .
NC DHHS has tools for the public including a website to Check Symptoms and Find My Testing Place . AppHealthCare does not require someone to have symptoms to be tested.