County, state again reach COVID-19 records; health officials say ‘peak’ yet to come

Published 11:25 pm Friday, December 18, 2020

SALISBURY — Even in another week plagued by more COVID-19 deaths, another record-high increase in cases and a rising case positivity rate in Rowan County, health officials are continuing to warn of a coming peak in COVID-19 metrics.

Local and state health officials say they believe North Carolina’s peak has not yet been reached. Rowan County Public Health Director Nina Oliver said earlier this week during a virtual Q&A session on vaccine distribution that the state anticipates a surge with the Christmas and New Year’s gatherings.

“The state firmly believes that we have not seen the peak,” Oliver said. “Right now, we have our highest amount of cases we’ve ever seen. They do believe that the peak will be seen in February.”

A peak is determined by monitoring the trajectory of COVID-19 cases hospitalizations and positivity rates.

“Typically after gatherings or holidays, about 10-14 days later, we will see a surge of cases,” Oliver said.

Thus, health officials urge locals to limit their travel and any indoor gatherings this holiday season and only celebrate with members of the immediate household or celebrate virtually.

For those who will gather with loved ones for the holidays, health officials recommend outdoor gatherings if possible, allowing no more than 10 people in a gathering, practicing social distancing and mask-wearing and getting tested for the virus three to four days before travel. Because tests only provide a glimpse of the spread at one moment, health officials urge people to continue practicing the three Ws to prevent possible spread.

Testing will not be provided at many sites on Christmas Day.

It’s also encouraged to get tested three to five days after travel and to stay home for seven days following travel, even with a negative test. If not tested, it’s best to stay home for 10 days after travel.

This week, the county reported seven deaths, with five occurring outside of a local congregate care facility.

Deaths total 157 since March, making COVID-19 one of the leading causes of death in Rowan County this year. Both the Laurels and Bethamy Retirement Center currently have outbreaks in Rowan County. Other active outbreaks include Accordius Health, Autumn Care of Salisbury, Brightmoor Nursing Center, N.C. State Veteran’s Home, the Citadel, Trinity Oaks Health and Rehab, Trinity Oaks Continuing Care Retirement Community, The Meadows of Rockwell and Piedmont Correctional Institute.

Additionally, Big Elm Rehabilitation and Living Center in Kannapolis became the site of another outbreak Friday. It was first declared an outbreak on Sept. 19 and declared over on Oct. 13 with fewer than 10 cases reported. Tuesday’s biweekly update from the state showed three positive staff members and one positive resident.

The North Carolina Department of Public Safety reports 620 active cases across the state, with 10 hospitalizations. Of the 37,146 inmates tested, 6,908 have tested positive and 29 have died. A total of 75,336 tests have been administered. At the Piedmont Correctional Institute, 30 cases are active and 10 are being hospitalized.

County health officials reported 586 cases this week and another record single-day increase after reporting 166 cases on Friday. There have now been 7,640 cases reported in Rowan County since March, with 26.5% of all cases currently active. The average age of all positives is 43.8, while nearly 51% of all cases have been among those aged 18-50 years old.

The county’s positivity rate also grew this week to 8.73% — a number that compares the number of positives to the 84,318 tests conducted.

A weekly update of hospital bed and ventilator usage shows 91 of the 108 hospital beds and two of the 61 available ventilators are currently in use, which includes people seeking care here from elsewhere. Last week, 83 of the 108 available hospital beds and five of the 61 available ventilators were in use.

Additionally, COVID-19 hospitalizations among local residents grew to 21 on Saturday. It is updated daily. The average age among all 329 COVID-19 hospitalizations in the county to date is 65.

Those statistics currently put Rowan County 17th in the state for most reported cases and sixth for most reported deaths.

The state also reached another record-high number of cases after reporting 8,444 new cases — doubling a record of 4,296 cases set just one month ago on Nov. 19. As of Saturday, the state reports 472,268 cases after 6.31 million completed tests. A total of 2,846 North Carolinians are being hospitalized, and 6,184 have died.

“I am very worried for our state. Everyone must act right now to protect each other,” said NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen. “Do not wait until it’s you or your loved sick with COVID-19 to wear a mask, wait apart from others and wash your hands often. Do not wait until it’s you or your loved one alone in a hospital bed. Do not wait until you’ve lost a loved one to this pandemic. Take personal responsibility for you, your loved ones and your community now.”

On Friday, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said it identified 1,482 duplicate cases that were removed Saturday. Those duplicates represented 0.3% of all cases.

Of the 2,824 hospitalizations across the state, the Triad Healthcare Preparedness Coalition region that includes Rowan County comprises the plurality — at 829 — as of Friday. The Triad region also comprises 490 of the 2,028 ICU beds in use as well as the plurality of inpatient beds being used — 3,859.

The latest state hospitalization data shows that 29% of all hospitalizations have been among Black North Carolinians, 6% among Hispanic North Carolinians, 2% among American Indian/Alaskan Native North Carolinians and 2% among Asian North Carolinians. A total of 61% have been among white North Carolinians, and 51% have been among those aged 70-80+.

A weekly surveillance report from state health officials showed that emergency department visits for COVID-19 increased last week along with the total number of people admitted to hospitals for COVID-19 and the percentage admitted to the ICU. However, the percent of people seen in the emergency department for COVID-19 who had to stay in the hospital decreased.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at or call her at 704-797-4246.

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