By Nathan Ham
Concerns are growing throughout Watauga County after the latest test numbers reveal that active cases are climbing and teenagers, as well as people in their 20s and 30s, are making up the bulk of those positive tests, this according to Jennifer Greene, the Health Director at AppHealthCare. Greene spoke during Tuesday’s emergency Watauga County Board of Education meeting.
“We have been watching the trend numbers, I think we did pretty well for a while, but over the last month, I have grown increasingly concerned because we have had an upward line. The majority of our cases prior to this week have been 18 to 24-year-olds with the next age groups being 25 to 49-year-olds,” said Greene.
A total of 37 percent of the positive tests have been from people ages 18-24 and another 37 percent for people ages 25-49.
As Appalachian State University continues to finalize its plans for reopening for the fall semester, a big jump in the younger population with roughly 20,000 students returning to Boone is going to lead to more community spread, according to Greene.
“What we are seeing is concerning in terms of what the community transmission might look like a month to six weeks from now. I have a concern because we are seeing a lot of 18 to 24-year-olds who just came into the community who are positive,” Greene said. “We know that young adults have been a big driver for more cases across the country, in particular in our area that has been our leading category in terms of ages. I talk with the university multiple times a day and I know they have a testing plan that they are working on and they also have a plan for how they are going to isolate and quarantine.”
As of Tuesday, there have been 243 total COVID-19 positive tests in Watauga County and 96 of those cases are currently active.
“Our trend has continued to climb over the last week weeks, that’s part of the reason we did the big testing event to see if we can identify people who don’t have symptoms and are transmitting the virus unknowingly,” said Greene.
As testing has expanded, you no longer have to have symptoms to get a test. However, supply shortages continue to be a problem, not just in Watauga County or North Carolina, but nationwide. Medical facilities are running out of reagents, the chemical mixtures needed to determine if a reaction to a virus is present, and are running low on several personal protection equipment items, even gloves.
Testing delays continue to be a problem. According to Greene, it still tests on average of 7 to 10 days to receive a positive or negative diagnosis.
“We did get notified by LabCorp that we may not get our full order of tests because they are swamped,” said Greene. “We have more testing going on across the state and the country, which is good, but we have this shortage, so it’s like this perfect storm for the opportunity to create a bottleneck.”
With testing delays comes a delay in contact tracing. As it takes longer to receive test results, it also takes longer to reach close contacts of the positive test subjects to advise them to quarantine and get a COVID-19 test.
Watauga County Schools announced on Tuesday that they will be reverting back to remote online learning for the first nine weeks of the fall semester after initially announcing their 2×3 Flex Schedule that would involve students being inside school buildings four days a week with Wednesday being used as a deep cleaning and disinfecting day.
“I think school and children being in school is one of the healthiest things we can do, and I think we have to think ahead and find balance in this situation. There are some things that we are continuing to learn. We know being in school is important, we know that children being there is healthy. At the same time, we know there is a likelihood that our cases are going to continue to rise over the next month. Because our trend has gone upwards, my concern is we are going to see more community transmission,” said Greene.
Across the state, North Carolina announced its highest single-day total of hospitalizations on Tuesday with 1,244 individuals hospitalized yesterday. Locally, Greene says Watauga County has been doing much better than a lot of other locations. Right now there are just 15 people currently hospitalized in Watauga, Ashe, and Alleghany counties combined, according to data from AppHealthCare.