BOONE — As experts try to predict when COVID-19 cases will peak in North Carolina, health officials urge the public to continue practicing social distancing — and one scorecard says Watauga residents are heeding the advice.
AppHealthCare Health Director Jennifer Greene spoke to the Watauga County Board of Commissioners on April 7 during a virtual meeting. According to Greene, a report was shared on April 6 with the N.C. legislature and state emergency management officials that indicated the state could see a peak of the pandemic on or near April 22.
The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics created a tool to evaluate COVID-19 projections, which as of April 7 indicated that North Carolina was only six days from a peak of resource use on April 13, and eight days from the projected peak of COVID-19-related daily deaths. The institute projected a total of 496 COVID-19 deaths by Aug. 4. For more information on the study, visit covid19.healthdata.org.
“We don’t have a crystal ball,” Greene said. “We’re just going to have to watch and see what happens.”
This information is a little different than what North Carolina experts have predicted. According to N.C. DHHS, a group of researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC, NoviSci and RTI International released a composite modeling forecast on April 6 that examines COVID-19’s progression in the state in the coming months.
If the state maintains some forms of social distancing past April, the N.C. group anticipated the peak stress on available acute care capacity in its current estimates (which run through June 1) would likely occur in mid- to late May. The group predicted that if social distancing policies are lifted after April and not replaced by other similar policies to deter infection transmission, there would be a 50 percent chance that acute care beds would not be able to meet the demand from COVID-19 patients throughout NC.
“Our current best estimate is that if after April 29, we immediately return to the rates of viral transmission occurring prior to widespread social distancing, stress on hospitals to cope with rising demand from COVID-19 patients could begin as soon as Memorial Day,” the group stated in the report.
Greene continued to reiterate the importance of social distancing.
“We understand the incredible sacrifices that businesses are having to make,” Greene said. “Yet, we know if we act too soon to lift social distancing requirements, we are likely to see a surge in cases even more than we expect.”
Unacast, a New York-based company, has given states and counties grades of A through F based on how well they’ve been social distancing. The company states that it uses anonymous device location data, map data and strategic intelligence for businesses in industries such as retail, real estate, tourism, transportation and marketing industries.
Unacast data on April 5 showed that Watauga County had received a B- in its ranking of social distancing activities. The Boone Area Chamber stated at the time that a B- rating made Watauga one of eight counties out of the 100 in the state to score better than a C in the rankings. This ranking had changed to an A- by April 7 with a 70 percent decrease in average mobility (based on distance traveled).
For more information on the the Unacast tool, visit www.unacast.com/covid19/social-distancing-scoreboard.
With eight confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county, including seven residents and a traveler, each of the confirmed cases have all improved and were out of their isolation period or were nearly out their isolation period, Greene said on April 7. All cases were travel related and did not show signs of community transmission, according to Greene.
As of April 7, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 3,221 confirmed COVID-19 cases among 90 counties in N.C., with 46 deaths.
AppHealthCare has shifted its focus to testing specific groups of people for the virus, Greene said. She advised that the agency is limiting tests to those who in the hospital, congregate settings like long-term care facilities or college dorms, farm workers who might share housing, individuals at Hospitality House, health care workers, first responders and law enforcement officers.
With the help of the local LabCorp organization, Greene said it it now only taking about three days to get test results versus the previous wait period of seven to 10 days.
“We have to mitigate this virus and make sure that we aren’t using up all of our personal protective equipment that will be very critical in the days ahead should we have more hospital-based cases,” Greene said.
If a person has tested positive, they can be released from isolation if they are seven days out from when the symptoms began — three of which must be fever free without fever-reducing medicine — and they have to have an improvement in their symptoms, Greene said.
Health department staff continue to conduct contact tracing, meaning that when staff are notified of a positive case they conduct an interview and collect information about close contacts. Close contacts are typically people in the household or others that have been within six feet or closer from the person who is positive for 10 minutes or longer. Close contacts are instructed to stay home for 14 days and monitor their symptoms, Greene said.