RALEIGH — The number of presumptive positive cases of 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) rose to 15 by the afternoon of March 12, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, and AppHealthCare, the district health department, has issued new guidance to prevent the spread of the virus.
The 14 presumptive positive cases and one confirmed positive case was up from the 12 confirmed earlier on March 12 by the N.C. DHHS.
In a March 12 statement issued at 8:04 p.m., AppHealthCare said there were no known cases in Watauga or Ashe counties.
“Should this change, we will be notifying the public of a positive case,” AppHealthCare stated. “We encourage the public to call us if they have questions, or to contact their local provider if they are ill and believe they may need treatment.”
COVID-19 is a new virus that causes respiratory illness. Signs and symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath, AppHealthCare said.
“Now is not the time to visit the hospital emergency room unless there is a true medical emergency. We need to preserve our local hospital capacity to respond throughout this event to meet the various health care needs that require urgent action in our community,” AppHealthCare Health Director Jennifer Greene said. The health department urged people to call ahead before they go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, and to tell them about symptoms so they can be prepared.
AppHealthCare and the N.C. DHHS say that people at high risk of severe illness include people over 65 years of age, with underlying health conditions including heart disease, lung disease or diabetes, or with weakened immune systems. NC DHHS recommends that people at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 stay at home to the extent possible to decrease the chance of infection.
AppHealthCare noted that people who have been instructed to self-isolate don’t necessarily have COVID-19.
Congregate living facilities such as nursing homes, independent and assisted living facilities, correction facilities and facilities for medically vulnerable children are recommended to restrict visitors, according to the March 12 recommendations by N.C. DHHS.
“Exceptions should include end-of-life care or other emergent situations determined by the facility to necessitate a visit. If visitation is allowed, the visitor should be screened and restricted if they have a respiratory illness or potential exposure to COVID-19,” the March 12 statement said. “Facilities are encouraged to implement social distancing measures and perform temperature and respiratory symptom screening of residents and staff.”
DHHS recommends that employers and employees use teleworking technologies to the greatest extent possible, stagger work schedules and consider canceling non-essential travel, AppHealthCare stated. “Workplaces should hold larger meetings virtually, to the extent possible. Additionally, employers should arrange the workspace to optimize distance between employees, ideally at least six feet apart.”
Mass transit operators should maximize opportunities for cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces, the health department advised, and people should avoid using use mass transit (e.g. buses, trains) while sick.
The World Health Organization on March 11 declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a pandemic, which is the worldwide spread of a new disease. Cases outside of China have increased 13-fold over the past two weeks, the WHO said.
Gov. Roy Cooper stated at a March 12 press event that he advises postponing or canceling all events with 100 or more people across the state, starting March 13.
“The circumstances are constantly changing — North Carolina has more tough decisions ahead, and we will make them,” Cooper said.
Appalachian Regional Healthcare System said on its website that it will limit visitors at Watauga Medical Center and Cannon Memorial Hospital.
“Patients may be accompanied by one visitor only,” ARHS stated. “The visitor must not have symptoms of respiratory illness. Vendors are prohibited from entering the building.”
Rob Hudspeth of ARHS said on March 12 that a “significant plan” was to be released in the next day or two that would involve multiple agencies and their response to COVID-19, if needed.
Health officials have been working to identify close contacts of presumptive positive patients, which the CDC defines as being within approximately six feet of a person with a COVID-19 infection for a prolonged period of time of 10 minutes or longer. Based on information provided by the individual, county health officials will assess risks of exposure, determine which if any additional measures are needed such as temperature and symptom checks, quarantine and/or testing.
Because COVID-19 is most commonly spread through respiratory droplets, North Carolinians should take the same measures that health care providers recommend to prevent the spread of the flu and other viruses, including washing your hands, avoiding touching your face, staying home if you are sick and covering coughs and sneezes with your elbow.
N.C. Rep. Ray Russell on March 12 issued a statement with links to websites for updates and more information.
“The better informed we are, the better chance we have of slowing the spread of coronavirus,” Russell said. “The goals of medical and government professionals are to slow the spread of the disease, have our medical facilities and professionals ready where it does occur and assist with individuals and businesses that are adversely affected economically.
“The immediate issues are medical and institutional disruptions,” Russell added. “However, over time, economic challenges will be felt, especially among our most vulnerable community members. Please contact my office at Ray.Russell@ncleg.net for more information.”
As the COVID-19 situation rapidly changes, here are federal, state and local links with more information:
Centers for Disease Control: