Church steeple above trees

Faith organizations can help protect those in attendance at services by asking everyone to wear a face covering, practice social distancing and wash their hands frequently, AppHealthCare stated.

BOONE — AppHealthCare, the public health department for Watauga, Ashe and Alleghany counties, said Oct. 5 that it has seen an increase in COVID-19 exposures occurring from church services and called on all faith-based organizations to help prevent further spread in local communities.

“We acknowledge the important role faith and worship has in our daily lives, and COVID-19 has certainly challenged us to find ways to maintain connections with our community throughout this pandemic," said AppHealthCare Health Director Jennifer Greene. "We are sharing this alert because we are concerned with the increase in COVID-19 cases that have been linked back to church services or events and the risks this poses to each faith organization and the community as a whole.

"We appreciate and value the partnerships with our faith community and acknowledge this is not the only COVID-19 risk we are seeing currently, but is one that has had enough activity in the past week to draw attention to this as a serious matter," Greene continued. "This pandemic has made it more apparent than ever that each person’s health is affected by the community as a whole and in order to slow the spread of this virus, it will take all of us."

Faith organizations can help protect those in attendance at services by asking everyone to wear a face covering, practice social distancing and wash their hands frequently, AppHealthCare stated.

"When individuals are gathered in large numbers and are not taking the appropriate precautions to prevent spread, there is an increased risk of exposure," the health department noted. "This virus spreads most commonly through respiratory droplets when someone coughs or sneezes and is in close contact with another person."

Close contact is defined by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention as 6 feet of distance or less for 15 minutes or longer. This exposure can include a cumulative exposure of 15 minutes and can occur before individuals experience symptoms.

"When we learn of a potential exposure in a church setting, we want to work closely with the organization to offer public health guidance and recommendations to prevent further spread," AppHealthCare stated. "We conduct a case investigation to determine close contact and potential exposures in order to notify those individuals to quarantine, monitor their symptoms and seek testing."

The North Carolina Department of Health & Human Services has released guidance for places of worship and religious services. The guidance can be found at https://tinyurl.com/faithten.

Prevent the Spread of COVID-19

● Wear a cloth face covering over your nose and mouth

● 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.

Testing

If you believe you may have been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms, you are encouraged to be tested. You can:

• Schedule a testing appointment by calling AppHealthCare at (828) 795-1970 or visit www.AppHealthCare.com to schedule an appointment online. Appointments are available Monday through Friday beginning at 9:30 a.m.

● Schedule a testing appointment at CVS Pharmacy in Boone.

● Schedule a testing appointment at Boone Drug.

● Find a testing site near you at the N.C. Department of Health & Human Services website.

● Contact your health care provider for information about additional testing options.

COVID-19 Symptoms

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

● Cough

● Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

● Fatigue

● Muscle or body aches

● Headache

● New loss of taste or smell

● Sore throat

● Congestion or runny nose

● Nausea or vomiting

● Diarrhea

For more information related to COVID-19, including local data, visit apphealthcare.com/covid-19-information. AppHealthCare's COVID-19 call center is available to take COVID-19-related calls each day at (828) 795-1970, and you can also email questions to preparedness@apphealth.com.

AppHealthCare is available and on-call 24/7 to respond to public health emergencies. Call in Watauga at (828) 264-4995, in Ashe at (336) 246-9449 and in Alleghany at (336) 372-5641 anytime and follow the prompts.

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