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County, state set new records for COVID-19 as growing positivity rate signals ‘critical levels’ of community spread

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Two COVID-19 deaths, a new congregate care outbreak, a positivity rate that now surpasses 8% and a new single-day increase record on Thursday prompted Rowan County’s public health director to call the pandemic the worst it’s been.

Though deaths among local congregate care facilities still comprise the majority of deaths in the county, the number of deaths among community members not associated with such facilities has risen steadily in recent weeks. They now comprise 54 of the 135 total deaths, and the average age remains 80.

After reporting a total of 73,159 tests conducted, with 5,941 tests returning positive, the county on Thursday reached a percent positive rate of 8.12%. Until recently, the rate had been steadily declining since the beginning of September. The percentage is used to gauge the level of community spread, which health officials say is worsening.

“We are at critical levels right now,” said Rowan County Public Health Director Nina Oliver. “There is significant community spread. This is probably the worst I’ve seen it.”

Oliver added that the community has yet to see the impact of Thanksgiving, which will be revealed in the coming days as more people continue to get tested. Health experts across the nation have publicly expressed concern for a surge in cases following the Thanksgiving holiday and as people prepare for more holiday gatherings.

Amy Smith, the county’s health education specialist and wellness coordinator, said 305 tests were conducted by the county health department on Monday, which was another record. On Tuesday and Wednesday, tests totaled 195 and 158 tests, respectively. And on Thursday, 227 people were tested by the county health department.

It’s more important now than ever that locals continue to socially distance, wash and/or sanitize their hands and wear a mask at all times when they’re around others who aren’t their household family members, Oliver said.

The county set another record in single-day increases when 126 additional cases were reported on Thursday. Just seven days ago, on Thanksgiving Day, the county set a record of 100 new cases. Of the 5,941 total cases reported since March in Rowan County, 18.8% of those cases are currently active.

Currently, 26 people are being hospitalized in the county for COVID-19. Since March, there have been 307 hospitalizations with an average age of 64 among them.

Also on Thursday, Trinity Oaks Assisted Living became the site of a new outbreak following two positive tests among employees there. That totals nine outbreaks among local facilities, including The Meadows of Rockwell, Compass Assisted, Trinity Oaks Health and Rehab, the Laurels, the Citadel, Autumn Care, Accordius Health and Piedmont Correctional Institute.

While the number of cases reported at each facility doesn’t necessarily match the current number of active cases at each site, there have been 858 positive cases reported at congregate care sites since the pandemic came to the county in March.

As of Wednesday, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety states 44 cases are active at Piedmont Correctional Institute.

Like Rowan County, the state reported its highest single-day increase in cases after adding 5,637 new cases of COVID-19 to the total case count on Thursday. State health officials now report 377,231 cases since March. And after conducting 5.41 million tests, that amounts to a daily percent positive rate of 10.1%, and a rate of 6.97% overall.

A total of 2,101 people are currently being hospitalized across the state, and 5,410 people have died.

“We must get these numbers down by people and businesses following our existing strong executive orders on masks, lower occupancy, closures and gathering limits,” said Gov. Roy Cooper in a tweet on Thursday.

The Triad Healthcare Preparedness Coalition region — which includes Rowan, Iredell, Davie, Davidson, Forsyth, Guilford and other counties — continues to see the highest levels of hospitalizations and ICU beds in use. Of the 2,101 people currently being hospitalized, 557 of those are within the Triad region. And of those 557, 81 were confirmed within the last 24 hours.

Rowan County’s region is also currently using the most ICU beds for hospitalized patients. Of the 1,965 ICU beds in use, the Triad region comprises 469 of those beds.

Behind the Triad region is the Metrolina region, which comprises Cabarrus, Stanly, Mecklenburg and other counties. The Metrolina region reports 510 hospitalizations, and the most ventilators in use, 583. The Metrolina region also reports 381 ICU beds currently in use.

But North Carolina isn’t the only state seeing a surge in cases. On Thursday, the CDC reported 196,227 new cases, totaling 13.82 million cases in the U.S. since January. A total of 272,525 people have died of COVID-19 across the nation, and the average number of daily cases reported per 100,000 residents in the last seven days is 49.9.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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