As cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) spike in North Carolina, Sampson County reported its third, fourth and fifth cases of the virus in short order on Sunday and Monday.
The third case was the first that indicates a “community spread” in Sampson, as the patient had no recent travel history. County and state officials urged vigilance as North Carolina cases were expected to rise significantly in April, although not as high as originally projected, according to health experts.
On Monday morning, the Sampson County Health Department reported its fourth and fifth positive cases of COVID-19. The fourth case is isolated at home and is a contact to another identified case in a neighboring county. The fifth case is isolated at Wake Med in Cary, and the investigation is ongoing.
In a county statement it was noted that the Health Department will work to identify close contacts, which the CDC defines as being within approximately 6 feet of a person with a COVID-19 infection for a prolonged period of time of 10 minutes or longer. Based on information provided by the individual, county health officials will assess risks of exposure, and determine which if any additional measures are needed such as quarantine or testing, the county said in a statement mirroring the other positive case announcements.
Testing numbers were to be updated later Monday, but were not immediately available.
The patient in the third case was isolated at Sampson Regional Medical Center in stable condition as of Sunday. The investigation by public health officials shows no correlation to the other confirmed positive cases.
Public health officials stress the need for everyone to practice the most effective ways to prevent the spread of the virus and keep themselves and others safe, notably social distancing, proper hand hygiene and limiting social interaction. Among other tips, residents are urged to remember:
• Avoid crowds and practice social distancing – more than 6 feet apart from others.
• Cloth masks are not a substitute for social distancing.
• Clean your hands often – soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially if you have been in a public place, or after coughing or sneezing. Soap and water not available? Use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
Late Friday evening, Duplin County Health Department received confirmation of a fifth resident who has tested positive for COVID-19. The Duplin County Health Department was still working to gather all of the necessary information regarding the case and said no further details about the patient would be released.
Due to the increasing number of positive cases, Duplin County officials said they would be providing public updates at 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays of each week, rather than every day.
In the Sampson positive case announcements, both the County of Sampson and Sampson Regional Medical Center, in replies on The Sampson Independent’s social media accounts, reinforced the need to be vigilant, while also answering concerns and dispelling rumors.
“Research to date shows that COVID-19 can live in the air up to three hours,” Sampson Regional Medical Center stated in one post. “In the hospital, we use airborne precautions because the virus can live in the air. This is also the reason it is suggested that people social distance up to 6 feet.”
Many raised concerns about announcements of positive cases without disclosing the name and location of the people involved. While noting that the disclosure of patient information would violate confidentiality laws, Sampson Regional officials encouraged the community to practice social distancing and good hand hygiene.
One person, echoing the concerns of many, urged health officials to inform the public where the positive patients had been, mentioning various local businesses as an example.
“This virus attacks every individual differently,” the concerned resident stated. “You can be asymptomatic and not feel any symptoms and still infect other people who can get those serious symptoms including death. Plus, majority (of) these people not taking this quarantine seriously unless a mandatory curfew or a shutdown is in place.”
“Treat every place you or your children go as if it could be infected,” a Facebook reply from Sampson Regional stated. “Knowing the whereabouts of one confirmed individual will not change the number of unconfirmed people who are sharing the same gas pump and grocery check-out. We cannot stress enough the importance of staying in unless necessary to be out, and when out, cleaning hands well. When out, keep a 6-foot distance from others and try to keep your hands away from your face.”
County officials noted that they would not be releasing patient identifying information, so assumptions should never be made as to the identities of reported cases.
“Public health officials do contact tracing, but we must all take precautions,” a reply from the County of Sampson stated. “We — all of us — are in this together! Stay safe by following the health advice offered by our local, state and federal officials to stay home (except for essential travel like work, grocery and pharmacy visits), practicing social distancing, and washing our hands!”
For their part, hospital leaders said they will “continue being transparent in offering trusted information to support our community during this time” and thanked everyone for their “prayers and thoughts for our staff as they do a very important job.”
Statewide, as of Monday morning, there had been 2,870 COVID-19 cases, with 33 deaths coming as a result, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. The agency reported 40,726 COVID-19 tests completed in 89 of the state’s 100 counties, as of Tuesday. There were 270 people hospitalized in the state due to COVID-19, the agency reported Monday.
A collection of North Carolina experts on Monday released a composite modeling forecast looking at how COVID-19 could affect North Carolina in the coming months. The models, constructed by experts from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, RTI International, and others reinforced the need for limiting personal contact to slow the spread of COVID-19 and ensure that health care is there for people who need it.
“We have life-changing decisions before us and North Carolina is fortunate to have world-class experts who can help our state as we continue battling the coronavirus,” said Gov. Roy Cooper. “Modeling is one tool that helps us prepare for this fight and it shows we will save lives if we stay home and keep our social distance right now.”
“The modeling affirms that the actions we take now will determine how this virus will impact North Carolina in the weeks and months to come,” said NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen, MD. “We need to continue to do everything in our power so that fewer people get sick at the same time, while also surging the capacity of our health care system so those that do need hospital care will have it. Please stay home now to save lives.”
Monday’s composite model found that social distancing policies with effectiveness similar to those currently in place in North Carolina will help lower the likelihood of the healthcare system becoming overloaded with a spike of many COVID-19 patients all at the same time. However, ending all social distancing at the end of April leads to a “greater than 50 percent probability that acute care and ICU bed capacity will be outstripped… as soon as Memorial Day.”
According to the model, hospital surge to create more available bed space could provide some help, but not enough to help hospitals meet demand if all social distancing efforts were ended.
If all social distancing were to stop at the end of April, the model estimates that roughly 750,000 North Carolinians could be infected by June 1. On the other hand, if some form of effective social distancing remains in place after April, that number is lowered by half a million to an estimated 250,000 people. That’s because social distancing lowers the number of people that one person will infect.
The group of experts are continuing to run models using information from other states and countries and intends to release further data as it becomes available.
Health officials in both Sampson and Duplin continue to reinforce and promote the message of social distancing, proper hand-washing hygiene, as well as personal and community safety. All residents are urged to take the appropriate measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including:
• Washing hands frequently with soap and water, and for at least 20 seconds each time.
• Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
• Avoiding all contact with people who are ill.
• Covering your cough and sneezes with a tissue and then throwing the tissue away.
• Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that are frequently touched.
• Implementing social distancing at all times when around others.
• Staying at home if you are sick and keep sick children home.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Those with pending tests are directed to self-isolate. Persons with fever and respiratory symptoms, including those with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, should isolate themselves at least seven days after symptom onset and 72 hours after symptom resolution, which includes the absence of fever without the use of fever-reducing medication and improvement in respiratory symptoms.
For more information about health recommendations and who is designated at high risk for becoming seriously ill, visit the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus and NCDHHS’ website at www.ncdhhs.gov/coronavirus.
For assistance from the NC Department of Health and Human Services during COVID-19, text COVIDNC to 898211. Those interested can also call the NC 211 Hotline for general inquiries by dialing 211 or 888-892-1162, or the State of NC COVID-19 Call Center at 866-462-3821.
For more information in Sampson, call the Sampson County Health Department COVID-19 direct line at 910-490-1056. Duplin County Health Department’s COVID-19 direct line is 910-296-2130 ext. 8160. These lines are for general questions and no medical advice or assessments will be given.
Editor Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 2587.