BOONE — On May 18 and 19, local health departments announced that two additional Watauga County residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and that Avery County has its first confirmed case of the virus.
The total number of identified cases among Watauga County residents was 11 as of May 19, according to AppHealthCare. In surrounding counties, Ashe County had 28 confirmed cases, Caldwell had 86, Wilkes had 443, Avery had one, Carter County had 19 and Johnson County had 15 cases, according to health departments and the Raleigh News & Observer.
Both of the new Watauga cases have ties to Appalachian State University. One is an employee of Appalachian whose last day on campus was March 20, and the other is a subcontracted worker who last worked on campus May 13, according to AppHealthCare, the health department for Watauga, Ashe and Alleghany counties.
“These individuals have fully cooperated with isolation instructions and are recovering at home,” the health department stated. “Public health staff have identified close contacts, and they are in quarantine and are being provided access to testing during their quarantine period.”
The two cases come days after the university announced to campus that 16 subcontracted workers at a campus construction project — which university spokesperson Megan Hayes confirmed was the Sanford Hall renovation project — had tested positive for COVID-19. The workers were not residents of Watauga County and thus are not included in the county’s positive case count.
The subcontracted worker announced on May 19 was not related to the Sanford Hall project, Hayes said.
The university stated on May 19 that officials continue to hear of self-reported, confirmed cases that are not being tested by AppHealthCare or App State.
“As we learn of these cases, we are coordinating with local public health agencies to the greatest extent possible, in consultation with the North Carolina Division of Public Health Communicable Disease team,” the university stated. “AppHealthCare continues to be a valuable university partner, helping verify tests that may have been performed in other counties.”
When announcing the 16 positive test results, the university stated that “there is no direct risk to the university community related to these cases.”
“Direct risk is assessed by public health based on contact tracing,” Hayes said. “The university works closely with AppHealthCare on all of our public health messages to campus, and verifies risk with them before reporting it to our campus.”
AppHealthCare spokesperson Melissa Bracey noted that when App State learned of self-reported cases through one of its contractors on May 7, AppHealthCare identified individuals who had close contact to the positive case and offered testing to those individuals.
“Once they were tested, they were quarantined at home until test results came back,” Bracey said. “Close contact is defined as 10 minutes or more or within six feet of a positive case.”
Appalachian State said May 19 that it is “implementing enhanced precautionary measures with employees who are on campus as well as with subcontracted workers, which include wearing face coverings, maintaining appropriate physical distance and reviewing North Carolina Governor’s Executive Orders 131 and 135, which require all individuals to wear face coverings when they cannot maintain six feet of distance in public areas or work centers.”
“As testing guidance continues to expand, we expect to see additional cases,” said Jennifer Greene, health director of AppHealthCare, in a May 19 statement. “It remains important for each person in the community to do their part to slow the spread of this virus.”
Greene advised that if a community member is leaving their home, they should follow the three Ws and wear a cloth face covering, wait six feet apart from others and wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds.
“These are important actions we can all take to protect ourselves and each other,” Greene said. “If you are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, please call your health care provider or AppHealthCare to discuss your symptoms to determine whether testing would be appropriate.”
App State said it will continue to keep the university community informed about verified, positive cases with potential to impact university students, faculty and staff. The latest updates regarding App State’s response to COVID-19 may be found at appstate.edu/coronavirus.
Speaking at a press briefing May 18, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper said that he hoped to announce plans for Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan by “mid-week.” The state is currently in Phase 1 of the reopening plan, which expires this Friday, May 22, unless extended.