BOONE — In a press conference on April 15, Gov. Roy Cooper said that statewide restrictions will not be lifted all at once, but instead will be incrementally eased as the state “enter(s) a new normal.” He said officials will focus on key areas surrounding COVID-19 testing, tracing and trends before the state fully reopens.

Cooper added that in order to focus on testing, tracing and trends of the virus, health facilities across the state need to increase their supplies, lab capacities and working personnel.

AppHealthCare, the Appalachian District Health Department, has not hired additional people as part of its response effort, but it is actively considering the best way to add capacity as it continues participating in statewide efforts to respond to the pandemic, according to Melissa Bracey, director of communications.

“The staff is lean. We are able to meet our challenges today, but without a doubt, the demand often outweighs the additional capacity that is so critical for everyday activity and response,” Bracey said.

As discussions progress and decisions are officially made, AppHealthCare plans to work closely with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and health departments across the state.

“Our public health director, Jennifer Greene, is participating in planning efforts, along with other public health and health care leaders as these plans quickly evolve to be put into place,” said Bracey, noting that this team will be focusing on the “epidemiology priorities,” which include the previously mentioned testing, tracing and trending aspects.

While AppHealthCare has not yet received the $620,540 that was awarded by the federal CARES Act, it has received a grant totaling $95,074 from the N.C. Division of Public Health from a federal CDC grant that was awarded due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are working to evaluate the best way to utilize these funds, but it will include how we are addressing workforce needs including our contact tracing efforts for isolation and quarantine,” Bracey said, noting that most received funds will go toward purchases of personal protection equipment and other needed supplies.

“There may be additional funding opportunities available in the future to hire workers and increase testing, but at this time, we do not know exactly what that will look like or what the timeline will be,” Bracey said.

Bracey said “partnership opportunities (with other organizations) could actually provide additional support to our team,” especially with remote-based programs.

AppHealthCare is accepting medical volunteers to assist in the COVID-19 pandemic. Bracey said that to date, the health department has been “so encouraged by the medical volunteers who have reached out.”

Health care workers who are interested in volunteering can visit, and call or email AppHealthCare at (828) 264-4995 or for assistance in registering.

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, April 16, 5,602 people in North Carolina had tested positive for COVID-19, and 145 had died with the virus, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.

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