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Watauga County COVID-19 Situation Update from AppHealthCare

Situation Update

For the week of October 11-17 (graphs below), in comparison with the previous week, there is a decrease in the number of active cases and not much change in individuals who are in quarantine. We must not let up on the actions we can take to slow the spread in our community. Our case trends have continued to increase with the largest percentage of cases in the 18-24 old age group.

In the past week, we have seen a decrease in the number of people who require hospitalization due to complications of COVID-19. While this is promising, we must remain focused on prevention because it could change quickly back toward the wrong direction.

We are continuing to see the same trend with cases mostly exposed due to close contact with others through living or working closely with others or attending social gatherings. Small gatherings with people outside of immediate household members has contributed to additional exposures. In addition, sports activities not related with school activities have been associated with several cases among youth and adults.

Testing opportunities at AppHealthCare have expanded this week. Free testing is available Monday at 9:30am and Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 8:30am-5pm and Wednesday from 9:30am-6:30pm thanks to a partnership with NC DHHS to provide additional resources provided by OptumServe. Learn more about testing on our website here. Appointments are not required Tuesday-Saturday.

“We urge all of our community partners and the broader public to commit to prevention measures like wearing face coverings, keeping social distance, and frequent handwashing so we can slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community. When we practice prevention, it helps reduce further infection, severe illness, hospitalizations and even death,” stated Jennifer Greene, Health Director, AppHealthCare.

Key Points

  • You may notice a discrepancy between our local data dashboard and the NC Department of Health & Human Services data dashboard. We have to manually enter antigen test results and due to the large increase in antigen tests being performed in Watauga County, there is a delay in those results showing up on the state database.
  • 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.
  • As we approach Halloween, NC DHHS has developed guidance for activities that are lower risk and those that should be avoided. The guidance can be found here.
  • We are continuing to work closely with our University partners and provide public health guidance and recommendations. Every Monday through Friday, we meet with App State to review confirmed cases and outline a plan of action to care for those students who need to be in isolation or quarantine. There are protocols in place to continue surveillance of cases to identify response testing needed. Collaboration continues on the weekends between App State and the AppHealthCare case investigation team. App State has a dedicated website that highlights guidance, regular updates and data for the university community.
  • We are continuing to work with Watauga County Schools and provide public health information to inform their decisions about school operations.
  • We are continuing to work to increase testing opportunities for the community. Expanded hours for COVID-19 testing are now available at our Watauga location (126 Poplar Grove Connector, Boone). Testing is available by appointment Monday beginning at 9:30am and Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 8:30am-5pm and Wednesday 9:30am-6:30pm. More information can be found on our website.
  • PPE (personal protective equipment) levels remain stable in most areas.
  • Turnaround times are around 2-4 days. NC DHHS provides data on testing turnaround times. This data is updated daily and can be found here.
  • We continue to add positions and capacity to respond to the demand in this response effort. More information about those positions can be found here.
  • 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.

Outbreaks and Clusters

Data is provided for outbreaks and clusters that are active and ongoing. The number of cases for outbreaks and clusters are current as of each Thursday at 9:00am. The case counts vary day by day as new cases are identified and as cases are moved in and out of isolation. This data may not match other reported data since this is a point in time. As we conduct outbreak and case investigations, the data included in this report are subject to change. For a current case count, visit the AppHealthCare data dashboard, which is updated daily by noon.

Based on additional clarification from NC DHHS of documenting and reporting clusters, we have identified and added clusters in off-campus apartments to the cluster report after clarifying cluster linkages among Appalachian State students with NC DHHS.

An outbreak is defined as two or more laboratory confirmed cases. A cluster is defined as a minimum of five cases with illness onsets or initial positive results within a 14-day period and plausible epidemiologic linkage between cases. An outbreak or cluster is considered over if 28 days have passed after the latest date of symptom onset in a symptomatic person or first date of specimen collection from the most recent asymptomatic person, whichever is later. Additional information on the definitions of outbreaks and clusters is provided by the North Carolina Department of Health & Human Services.

NC DHHS also provides regularly updated information on outbreaks and clusters and beginning this week, they have added a “COVID-19 Clusters in North Carolina” report that includes aggregate data of settings where clusters are occurring. These settings include workplaces, shopping services, community events, etc. This report will be updated each Monday.

Routine testing continues through App State Athletics to continue identifying early any positive cases. In addition, App State Student Health Service provides testing for students each weekday. The university is offering free COVID-19 tests for App State students, faculty and staff at “pop-up” testing events every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. All events take place from noon – 5 p.m. at the Rivers Street Parking Deck. No appointments required but you will be asked for your App State ID and other identifying information. App State has a dedicated website that has guidance, regular updates and data for the Appalachian community.

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
  • App State is offering on-campus students the ability to voluntarily opt-out of their housing contracts if they want to return to their hometowns, and is implementing mandatory, large-scale testing in residence halls with active clusters.