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County’s COVID-19 positive rate improves; federal ‘strike team’ to provide summary of Citadel visit

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Rowan County’s rate of positive cases slightly improved on Thursday and is now at its lowest point yet.

County health officials added its weekly addition of negative testing data to the data hub on Thursday. While a total of 35,268 tests have been reported to the county, 32,277 of those have been negative, which brings the percent positive rate down from 8.74% to 8.48%. The percentage of positive tests is updated weekly to gauge the spread of the virus.

Also on Thursday, a federal infection control strike team visited the Citadel to discuss the details of the outbreak that occurred early in the pandemic. The team was accompanied by facility employees and personnel from the county health department and Novant Health. The federal team comprised staff from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services assistant secretary.

The purpose of the visit was to better understand infection control measures and the nature of COVID-19 outbreaks at nursing homes. The Citadel is one of four sites to be visited throughout the state.

The Citadel is now in its second outbreak with state data indicating seven cases are active there. Upon conclusion of its first outbreak on July 8, the facility had experienced 168 cases and 21 deaths, making it the largest nursing home outbreak in the state.

A spokesperson for Accordius Health, which owns the Citadel, said the team did not identify any immediate needs that the facility should address. Additionally, he said the Citadel team discussed specific challenges they faced over the last five months, including access to personal protective equipment and delays in receiving test results. They also discussed broader issues, including the ongoing staffing challenges that have impacted nursing homes across the nation and how to attract new workers to the industry.

“When providers and federal health officials collaborate in ways like this, everyone benefits,” said Kim Morrow, chief operating officer at Accordius Health. “We value strong partnerships with health officials at all levels because we are committed to common goals related to safety and quality. We enjoyed the opportunity to consult with some of the nation’s leading experts in infection control, benefiting from their expertise and sharing our on-the-ground perspective.”

Rowan County Public Health Director Nina Oliver said once the strike team concludes all four visits, the team will provide local health officials with a comprehensive report outlining the facility’s strengths and challenges, along with suggestions and feedback. County health officials are unsure when the report will be provided.

Though deaths have spiked throughout the county recently, no new deaths were reported on Thursday. Of the 81 total deaths, all but 27 have been among local congregate care facilities.

Trinity Oaks Health and Rehab remains the site of the current largest outbreak, as the latest state data show 81 cases there. State data also show 51 cases at Autumn Care, 41 cases at Accordius Health, three cases at the Rowan County Jail Annex, five cases at Liberty Commons and two cases at Compass Health of Spencer.

While county data show a cluster of five cases at North Hills Christian School, a spokesperson of the school said on Thursday those cases are no longer active. The cases were confirmed before school began, but all five cases quarantined and have since returned to school. The latest state data still lists the school in its latest cluster report, but clusters are removed from the list after 28 days of no additional positive cases.

County data show a cluster of 10 cases remain at St. Peters Lutheran Church Preschool.

An additional 25 locals were added to the county’s total of 2,991 cases. Of those, 358 are currently positive and 2,552 have recovered. Hospitalizations among county residents increased to 19 on Thursday, and total 204 since the pandemic came to the county.

Also on Thursday, county health officials updated the number of beds and ventilators being used for COVID-19 patients, which is reported weekly by local hospitals. Of the 103 available beds, 53 are being used. Of the 61 available ventilators, seven are currently in use. Those figures can include patients who don’t reside in Rowan County but seek care here.

Across the state, 180,754 people have tested positive after 2.52 million completed tests, for a percent positive rate of 6.3%. Data show 928 people have been hospitalized, but state health officials said on Monday they’re working to resolve technical and submission issues with hospital systems’ data to report complete hospitalization data. A total of 2,990 people have died.

On Wednesday, Gov. Roy Cooper and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen met with Dr. Deborah Birx, who serves as a coordinator on the White House coronavirus task force, to share how North Carolina has been responding to COVID-19. Cohen noted the state’s slow approach to ease restrictions has helped distinguish it from others in the South, according to a news release from state officials.

Birx shared lessons learned from other states and offered to surge testing resources on college campuses. Cooper requested additional federal support including the need for national leaders to model effective prevention strategies and practice those measures when visiting the state; implementing more testing over a longer period of time with a focus on community-led testing, testing among K-12 staff providing in-person instruction and surveillance among higher education institutes and additional funding for personal protective equipment and a halt on implementing new FEMA restrictions.

Additionally, Cooper requested timing of when detailed vaccine planning guidance would be issued, additional funding for child care programs and an extension of the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program beyond Sept. 30.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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