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Double-digit deaths, record case increases show worsening COVID-19 outbreak in Rowan

By Natalie Anderson and Josh Bergeron
news@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Another week with a record increase in COVID-19 cases, 12 deaths, a rising positivity rate and nearly 23% of all cases currently active in Rowan County paint a picture of a “staggering and alarming” level of community spread as the effects of Thanksgiving gatherings are now being seen across the state.

The number of deaths among those who aren’t associated with a local congregate care facility has steadily grown, and the county reported seven this week. Deaths outside of such facilities now total 61. Five deaths this week were reported in local nursing homes or residential care facilities. That brings the total number of deaths to 150 with an average age of 80 among them.

The county this week added an average of 105 cases each day, with a record of 136 cases reported on Tuesday. The county reported 111 additional cases on Friday and 124 on Saturday, bringing the total to 6,723 total cases since March. Of those, nearly 23% are currently active, while 5,155 have recovered.

The positivity rate of local cases increased again this week in Rowan County. It is now at 8.41% after more than 78,000 tests reported. The average age of positive cases is 44, with the plurality of positive cases among those aged 18-35.

As of Saturday, a total of 18 Rowan Countians are being hospitalized. In total, 324 people have been hospitalized in the county for the virus with an average age of 65 among them.

Those statistics currently place Rowan 15th in the state for most reported cases and sixth for most reported deaths.

Additionally, state data also show that Rowan County zip code 28147 currently has the second-highest number of deaths reported across the state — 61. Zip code 28147 in Rowan County is the site of five local congregate living facilities, including the Laurels, Elmcroft, Liberty Commons, Piedmont Correctional Institute and the Citadel. Deaths among those facilities total 44 deaths, with 21 from the Citadel alone. Those facilities, excluding Elmcroft and Liberty Commons, currently have outbreaks.

Other outbreaks include Autumn Care of Salisbury, Accordius Health, Brightmoor Nursing Center, N.C. State Veteran’s Home, Trinity Oaks Health and Rehab, Trinity Oaks Continuing Care Retirement Community, Compass Assisted, The Meadows of Rockwell and Bethamy Retirement Center in Spencer.

Bethamy Retirement Center, located on Salisbury Avenue in Spencer, became the latest site on Friday after two staff members and eight residents tested positive, according to a biweekly update from the state.

On Saturday, Trinity Oaks health and rehab said that more cases had been identified there — two staff members and nine residents. The cases are confined to the memory care unit.

When COVID-19 is rampant in a community, it will almost invariably find its way into congregate care facilities, said Ted Goins, president of Lutheran Services Carolinas, which operates the facility. Goins said he was hopeful to soon be able to start administering the vaccine to frontline workers.

“Rowan County is seeing critical community spread, putting it in the COVID red zone, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, and our care communities are going to bear the brunt of that,” Goins said in a news release.

Seeing in the impact of Thanksgiving gatherings

State health officials on Friday also reported 7,540 new cases of COVID-19 across North Carolina, setting yet another record for daily cases reported across the state. The increase was smaller on Saturday — 6,153. There have been 423,623 cases identified in the state after 5.85 million tests. The daily percentage positive rate was 11.7% on Saturday, which is higher than the same number over the course of the entire pandemic.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen on Friday said having more than 7,500 cases reported in one day is “staggering and alarming.” Earlier this week, state health officials designated 48 counties with a “red” color in the county alert system, which indicates a critical level of spread. Rowan County, along with neighboring Cabarrus and Iredell counties, are now “red” counties.

To be categorized in the red category, counties must report more than 200 new cases per 100,000 residents in 14 days, have a positivity rate greater than 10% and see a high impact on county hospitals. While Rowan currently has a low impact on local hospitals, its 14-day percent positive rate is 11.4%, while 711.5 new cases had been reported over the last 14 days when it was designated the critical status on Tuesday.

“We are now seeing the impact of Thanksgiving gatherings,” Cohen said on Friday. “Do not wait until it is you or your loved one sick or alone in the hospital or you are facing the loss of a loved one to wear a mask, wait 6 feet apart and wash your hands often. Act now. Please ask yourself what you can do to help slow the spread of this virus and save lives.”

The concern with the rising number of cases and hospitalizations prompted Gov. Roy Cooper to enact a modified stay-at-home order this week, beginning Friday at 5 p.m. The order requires North Carolinians to stay home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., and most businesses and retail stores will have to close by 10 p.m. Those businesses include restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and personal care businesses.

Additionally, all on-site alcohol consumption sales must end by 9 p.m.

Currently, 2,577 North Carolinians are being hospitalized and 5,796 have died. The Triad Healthcare Preparedness Coalition region, where Rowan County sits, currently has the most hospitalizations at 744. The Triad region is currently using the plurality of ICU beds in the state 485, along with 3,755 of inpatient hospital beds and 250 ventilators.

In Rowan County, 83 of the 108 available hospital beds and five of the 61 available ventilators are currently in use.

State data also show a disproportionate rate of hospitalizations among Black North Carolinians. Of the 276 newly admitted patients as of Monday, 29% are Black, while 59% are white, 3% are American Indian/Alaskan Natives and 5% are Hispanic. Nearly half of those hospitalizations are among those aged 60-79.

School starts on-site testing

As the state of the COVID-19 outbreak worsened, Essie Mae Kiser Foxx Charter School in East Spencer began offering free testing for staff, students and parents as part of a collaboration with One Love Services, a regional health services company with an office in Salisbury. Nearly 20 students and 10 staff members were tested. The school has approximately 100 students and 21 staff members total.

Principal Latisha Feamster said the testing is important due to the rise in cases amidst the holiday season.

“It makes everyone feel more comfortable,” said parent and community liaison Brianna Jennings.

James Davis, Essie Mae board vice chair, said the testing is a quicker way to conduct contract tracing.

“We want to ensure our kids are safe,” he said.

He added that the testing will continue in the coming weeks with hopes to establish a community testing event to help eliminate any lines at other testing sites across the county.

Feamster said the testing will resume when students return from the holiday break in January, though all students will attend school virtually to ensure safety after the holidays.

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