BOONE — A Watauga County resident has tested presumptive positive for COVID-19 (novel coronavirus), AppHealthCare announced the morning of Sunday, March 15, adding that this is the first presumptive positive case in Watauga County.
The resident is in isolation at home and did have travel history, AppHealthCare said.
“We have been preparing should we see a positive case of COVID-19 in our community. Now that we have a positive case, we will continue to work diligently to protect the public’s health," said Jennifer Greene, health director of AppHealthCare, the district health department for Watauga, Ashe and Alleghany counties. "It is our top priority, and we will work to keep the community informed.”
Samaritan's Purse, a Boone-based international relief organization, issued a release within minutes of the AppHealthCare announcement that a Boone-based Samaritan’s Purse staff member who had recently traveled overseas has tested presumptive positive for the COVID-19 virus (coronavirus).
"This individual returned nine days ago from countries considered to be at lower risk at the time of travel," the organization stated. "The employee did not return to work and self-quarantined immediately upon return home. The staff member has experienced some mild symptoms and is recovering without need for further medical intervention at this time. The employee was tested at their home by AppHealthCare. We ask that you respect the privacy of this individual and their family."
"We are working in full cooperation with the local health department in identifying other staff who may have been in contact with the employee who has tested positive, and though we can’t know for sure whether their contact was prior to or after the virus was contracted, each of these employees has also self-quarantined," Samaritan's Purse stated.
Following the Samaritan's Purse announcement, AppHealthCare spokesperson Melissa Bracey confirmed at 11:43 a.m. Sunday that there was only one confirmed case in Watauga County at that time.
Bracey said the person was tested by AppHealthCare on Thursday, March 12, and that currently, results are taking 24 to 72 hours depending on volume at the labs.
The announcement of a positive case in Watauga comes as the statewide case count has risen to 32, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services announced at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. Watauga County is the 13th county to report a positive case, according to DHHS.
AppHealthCare is working closely with local partners and agencies to ensure the public’s health is protected and precautions are being taken to protect all residents of Watauga County, it said.
“We are confident in public health’s ability to lead this effort and appreciate their partnership with Watauga County and other local agencies to protect our community’s health,” said Deron Geouque, Watauga County manager, in a statement.
"We understand that people are going to have questions and we encourage the public to call us or their local provider if they are ill and believe they may need care," AppHealthCare stated.
"We want to remind the public to share credible, reliable information and practice prevention measures like hand-washing, covering your cough and sneeze and cleaning frequently touched surfaces," it said.
“We want to continue to encourage the community to not use the hospital emergency room unless it is a true emergency. We need to preserve our local hospital capacity to respond throughout this event to meet the various healthcare needs that require urgent action in our community,” said Greene.
"Be aware that you may hear about people who have been instructed by their health care provider to self-isolate since they have been tested for COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)," the health department stated. "This does not mean that they have tested positive, it means that they are being guided to stay home until a test result is provided. This is a standard procedure for managing public health outbreaks."
COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) signs and symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
If you develop a fever, symptoms of respiratory illness or think you may have COVID-19, please call your health care provider. Call ahead before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room. Tell them about your symptoms so they can be prepared. Calls can be made to AppHealthCare or can be directed to Appalachian Regional Healthcare System. To find more information, go to www.AppHealthCare.com or www.apprhs.org.
Those at higher risk for severe illness include adults over the age of 65; those with underlying health conditions like heart disease, lung disease or diabetes; and people with weakened immune systems.
"Samaritan’s Purse has significant medical expertise, including in the area of infectious diseases, and we are working extremely closely with AppHealthCare and all relevant local, state and national health officials and organizations to ensure we are taking the strongest precautions possible," the organization said.
"We are monitoring this situation continuously and will keep our employees informed accordingly," it said. "We began to restrict travel at the onset of this virus in accordance with guidelines established by CDC and WHO and continue to tighten policies as new directives are issued. In accordance with N.C. Governor Roy Cooper’s directive, we are discontinuing gatherings of more than 100 people."
Effective immediately, Samaritan’s Purse is also reducing the number of staff on the Boone headquarters and Wilkes campuses and moving many employees to a work-from-home status for at least the next two weeks, it said.
AppHealthCare is available and on-call 24/7 to respond to public health emergencies. To reach the department, call (828) 264-4995 anytime and follow the prompts. You can also visit www.AppHealthCare.com and follow on Facebook and Twitter.
Community members and agencies inquiring about COVID-19 can call the office number (828) 264-4995 and dial x2222. Health care providers and ill persons can call the office number and dial zero. Questions from agencies requesting support on COVID-19 response, planning efforts, etc. can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.