BOONE — Appalachian State University and AppHealthCare announced Aug. 18 that they have identified a cluster of 11 (seven students and four staff) COVID-19 active cases associated with the university football team.
To date, AppHealthCare spokesperson Melissa Bracey told the Watauga Democrat, "We can confirm there are 34 individuals, consisting of 30 athletes and 4 staff, associated with App State’s football team who have tested positive for COVID-19 since June."
Bracey noted that the App State football team began a phased return of athletes to campus in June for limited workouts in small groups.
"They have implemented infection control measures and testing protocols for players and staff to be tested frequently since June," Bracey said. "All of these measures support our surveillance efforts to identify cases early."
A cluster is defined by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services as a minimum of five cases with illness onsets or initial positive results within a 14-day period and plausible epidemiological linkage between cases.
AppHealthCare has been in contact with the individuals, who have been instructed to recover in isolation. Public health staff have identified close contacts, who have been instructed to quarantine and who are being provided access to testing during their quarantine period. A close contact is defined as someone who has been within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes.
"After consultation with AppHealthCare and Chancellor Sheri Everts, (App State Athletics Director) Doug Gillin has suspended practice until further consultation warrants a change in status," the statement said.
AppHealthCare reported 84 active COVID-19 cases in Watauga County as of Aug. 18, with Appalachian State University reporting 46 active cases among students and employees. Cumulatively, 397 county residents have tested positive in Watauga, and 169 Appalachian State students, employees and subcontractors have tested positive to date.
"We recognize the benefit college students have within our local community and know they are an important part of our COVID-19 response effort," stated Jennifer Greene, director of AppHealthCare. "This virus is highly contagious, and sometimes people can spread the virus without realizing it because they have mild or no symptoms at all. Now is not the time to be attending large gatherings and parties with large groups. We are depending on the Appalachian community to support contact tracing efforts. These actions help protect everyone in our community and helps make sure we have the health care system capacity that we all depend on.”
Every weekday, AppHealthCare, App State Athletics and App State Emergency Management meet to review confirmed cases and outline a plan of action to care for individuals who need to be in isolation or quarantine, the organizations said, with collaboration continuing on the weekends.
"The university continues working closely with public health and values this relationship, which has allowed for increased testing, consistent and transparent reporting to the university and Boone communities and coordinated public health education measures," the statement said.
"Our goal in this response effort is to prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19. In broad terms, we do this by isolating those who are sick and quarantining close contacts," Bracey said. "We reach out to each positive case to conduct a case investigation. This conversation includes determining close contacts so those individuals can be quarantined and offered testing. We rely a lot on individuals to help us identify where this virus may be 'hiding out' so we can put measures in place to prevent further spread."
Below is information that public health officials have shared with the university and High Country communities regarding COVID-19:
How to Protect Yourself
- Wear a cloth face covering
- Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer
- Wait at least 6 feet from others
- Stay home when you’re sick
- Keep distance from others who are sick
- Avoid touching your face
- Avoid crowded areas
- Clean and disinfect high touch surfaces in common areas like doorknobs, remotes, light switches, tables and handles.
Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, people with COVID-19 have had a wide range of reported symptoms. These include:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
People at high risk include anyone who:
- Is 65 years of age or older
- Lives in a nursing home or long-term care facility
- Has a high-risk condition that includes:
- Chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
- Heart disease with complications
- Compromised immune system
- Severe obesity - body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher
- Other underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, such as diabetes, renal failure or liver disease
- People who are at high risk should stay home to the greatest extent possible to decrease the chance of infection.
App State students who are concerned about symptoms they might be experiencing can contact Student Health Service at 828-262-3100; faculty and staff can contact AppHealthCare at 828-264-4995.
You should be tested if:
- You believe you have symptoms of COVID-19.
- If you have no symptoms and you are at higher risk for severe illness (you are 65 or older, you have an underlying health condition or chronic condition), or have been in close contact with someone who is known to have a positive result.
- If you are someone working in a frontline role or essential business where social distancing is hard to maintain.
- If you are a first responder, law enforcement officer, fire department staff member, or healthcare staff member, please reach out if you would like to be tested.
- If you live in or work in a facility where social distancing is hard to maintain, like congregate living, healthcare facilities or home care.
- You are part of a historically marginalized population who may be at higher risk for exposure.
- You have attended protests, rallies, or other mass gatherings where you could have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or could have exposed others because it may have been difficult to practice social distancing.
COVID-19 testing requires pre-screening and an appointment. Please do not show up at a health care provider location without calling in advance. This will help your provider prepare should you need to be tested and lessen the potential exposure to others.
Faculty, staff and students can be tested by AppHealthCare Monday-Friday. AppHealthCare will serve anyone, regardless of ability to pay. To schedule an appointment, call 828-264-4995. Appalachian Regional Healthcare System and many primary care providers also offer testing.
For a list of testing locations in Watauga County, click here.
For a list of testing locations in Ashe County, click here.
For a list of testing locations in Alleghany County, click here.
Students who are concerned about symptoms should call Student Health Services at 828-262-3100 and ask to speak with a nurse.
Student Health Service offers COVID-19 tests for students on weekdays:
- Molecular tests processed by an off-site lab (turnaround time varies, but is around 1 week).
- Rapid antigen testing per current N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) recommendations with same-day results; however, antigen testing is not quite as accurate as molecular testing.
- In addition, Student Health Service is using an outdoor tent, located outside of the Miles Annas Building, for greater efficiency, speed and safety in offering COVID-related services.
Appointments are required; call 828-262-3100 before going to Student Health Service.
As of July 31, NCDHHS updated their guidance on Antigen Testing for providers and laboratories. The updated guidance states, “Antigen tests are designed for rapid diagnosis of active infection by detecting viral proteins on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19) in nasal swabs or similar clinical specimens. This test works similarly to a rapid flu test. The results take about 15 minutes.”
If you have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.
Managing Your Overall Health:
During this time, it is important to manage your overall health. There are resources available if you need to reduce anxiety or stress, are experiencing suicidal thoughts, need to better manage chronic conditions and more. Visit the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services website.
AppHealthCare is available and on-call 24/7 to respond to public health emergencies. To reach us, call 828-264-4995 anytime and follow the prompts. AppHealthCare has set up a COVID-19 hotline at 828-795-1970 for information during regular business hours. We will continue to monitor COVID-19 in our community and will work to keep the public informed. Please visit our website for more information - www.AppHealthCare.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Questions from agencies requesting support on COVID-19 response, planning efforts, etc. can contact email@example.com.
Anna Oakes contributed reporting to this article.