By Tim Gardner
Hospitalizations in North Carolina due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) continue to increase and have done so for several weeks, according to data from the NC Department of Health and Human Services. As of the last reporting day (September 3) there were 3,800 individuals reported to be hospitalized in the Tar Heel State because of COVID-19.
The number of hospitalizations reflects a large surge in number of COVID cases across the state, primarily due to the new Delta variant in the disease.
There have been 1,237,393 cases of the disease in North Carolina. Of those totals, 1,045,902 were Molecular (PCR) Positive and 191,491 were Antigen Positive. The NCHHS also reports that 16,059,408 COVID tests have been administered across the state since the pandemic began in March 2020.
Of the counties making up the Toe River Health District in the North Carolina High County–Avery, Mitchell and Yancey–Avery County has had 2,347 COVID cases and 22 deaths from the disease. Mitchell has had 1,713 cases with 16 deaths. And Yancey has had 2,268 cases with 28 deaths.
But since the COVID resurge this summer after it had previously had a huge decline in numbers for a few weeks in the Toe River region, Yancey and Mitchell have had far greater numbers infected with the disease than Avery.
And during the past fourteen days, Avery has had 513 cases. Yancey had had 1,550 and Mitchell has had 882 during the same time period.
Statewide, approximately 55 percent of the total population have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine with 50 percent of the total population having been fully vaccinated, according to statistics from the NCDHHS as of September 5.
The organization reports that 10,606,639 million total doses of vaccine have been administered in the state as of September 5. It noted that of individuals 65 years of age and older, 89 percent of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 86 percent have received their full allotment. Of individuals 12 and older, 64 percent of the state’s residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine, with 59 percent being completely vaccinated, according to the NCDHHS.
Locally, NCDHHS data indicates that Avery County has administered a total of 8,769 first doses of vaccine, or 50 percent of Avery County residents who have received their first-dose vaccine as of September 5, with 46 percent of the overall county population, or 7,996 individuals, having received a second-dose vaccination.
The same state data shows that Mitchell County has administered 6,543 first doses of vaccine, or 44 percent of Mitchell County residents have received their first-dose vaccine as of September 5, with 38 percent of the overall county population, or 5,758 individuals, having received a second-dose vaccination.
And NCDHHS records indicate that Yancey County has administered 8,290 first doses of vaccine, or 46 percent of Yancey County residents have received their first-dose vaccine as of September 5. Additionally, 41 percent of Yancey’s overall county population, or 7,497 individuals, have received a second-dose vaccination.
According to the NCDHHS, to slow the spread of the virus, people should get vaccinated and continue adherence to the 3Ws (Wear A Mask; Wash Your Hands; and Watch Your Distance and Keep 6 Feet Between You and Others) until most people have a chance to get vaccinated. Regardless of what tier a person’s county is currently in, individuals, businesses, community organizations and public officials all have a responsibility to take these recommended actions and others outline in the County Alert System, the NCDHHS stated.
“Public health staff members are working to complete the investigations and they are contacting close contacts to contain the spread of disease,” the Toe River Health District (TRHD) reported. “The Yancey, Mitchell and Avery County health departments will keep the public informed by announcing any additional cases that may arise through our local media partners such as High County Press (hcpress.com).”
The Avery County Board of Education decided by a 3-2 vote at its August 31 meeting to have all Kindergarten-12 teachers wear masks and to install plexiglass dividers for teachers in close contact with students starting on Thursday, September 2. According to Avery County Schools Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman, the most frequent use of plexiglass will most likely be at the middle and elementary school levels.
Board members Ruth Shirley and Jane Bumgarner voted against wearing masks and for the installation of plexiglass, while Kathey Aldridge and Patricia Edwards voted in favor. The tie was broken by chairman John Greene who voted in favor.
Diane Creek, Director of the Toe River Health District said that the health district continues to recommend universal mask wearing in schools and that the board of education’s decision will not decrease the number of quarantined students.
“If people want their kids to stay in school, then the kids need to wear masks so they do not need to be quarantined when there is a student positive for COVID-19 in their classroom,” Creek said. She explained that after learning from the last school year, the National Center for Disease Control (CDC) is not recommending plexiglass nor screening kids in the morning.
“It’s not that you can’t take these precautions,” Creek said, “but they are not effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.”
“I don’t like wearing a mask, no one does. But it’s what we need to do to combat this disease as we continue to work to end it. And it sure is far better than coming down with this horrid disease.” Creek added.
Under state regulations, the Avery County Board of Education will now re-evaluate its COVID-19 protocols each month at their board meetings. The next scheduled monthly meeting of the board will be at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 12, at the Avery County Board of Education office, located at 775 Cranberry Street in Newland.
Updated news and information on the coronavirus pandemic and the state’s response can be found by logging online to: covid19.ncdhhs.gov/dashboard.