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UPDATE: 12 COVID-19 deaths for the week, cases top 13,600 in Rowan County

SALISBURY — As the county reported 12 deaths this week, local health officials said COVID-19 positives topped 13,600.

The deaths brought the total number of coronavirus fatalities in Rowan County to 258 and added to a particularly deadly start to the year. About one-third of deaths (86) since the start of the pandemic have been reported in 2021. Report dates usually lag behind the day of death, but state data show at least one occurring on most days this year. Fatalities have occurred more frequently in 2021 than at any other time during the pandemic.

Of deaths to date, 144 have occurred outside of congregate living facilities and 114 have been in the facilities.

Four deaths this week were reported in one congregate living facility — the N.C. State Veterans Home. Neither Rowan County nor the state list the veterans home as having outbreak. The state lists a nursing home at the W.G. “Bill” Hefner VA Medical Center, where the veterans home sits, as having an outbreak, but there’s more than one nursing home on the campus. Rowan Health Department Nursing Director Meredith Littell said it’s possible the state made a mistake in labeling the location of the outbreak.

As deaths picked up to start 2021, local cases have done the same. County data show peak daily case numbers only declining slightly from their apex in early January. Average daily case numbers, meanwhile, have actually increased slightly from 99 per day in the first week of January to 100 this week, according to county statistics.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reports 13,663 positives in Rowan County, reflecting an increase of 1,484 in the previous two weeks. The state’s number is noticeably higher than what’s shown on the Rowan County data hub — 12,899 — but Littell said the state number is accurate. The spike in cases and start of vaccinations has brought an additional workload to a resource-limited health department and forced some employees to be shifted elsewhere within the department. In state numbers, there may be isolated cases of people who are included and don’t live in Rowan County, “but I would say it is a fair assessment of the number of cases,” Littell said.

The number of deaths on the state’s data portal Saturday was lower than the county’s count of 258. Littell said that’s because local workers report COVID-19 fatalities to the state. It’s the opposite for cases — the Rowan Health Department receives positive case data from state officials — she said.

Data this week showed an outbreak of 12 COVID-19 cases at the Rowan County Jail, the first one during the pandemic. The cases include 11 inmates and one staff member.

Maj. John Sifford of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office said cases in the jail first appeared three weeks ago. Anyone who tests positive is being kept in a single dorm at the Rowan County Detention Center Annex. Medical care is available around the clock to any inmate who needs it.

At Piedmont Correctional — the state prison in Salisbury — there are 36 active cases.

Across North Carolina, vaccination numbers continue to improve slowly. Rowan County this week topped 11,100 doses administered. Of those, 8,727 have been first doses and 2,426 have been second doses. Large portions of the vaccinations have come from the Rowan Health Department’s drive-thru clinics, which Littell said requires the support of staff from outside of the county department.

“Without all the additional help, there’s just not enough of us,” she said.

School nurses, nursing students, professionals from local doctors’ offices and too many more to name have assisted.

The Health Department is still operating with the state’s minimum guarantee of 300 doses per week, but a clinic set up at the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA as well as the federal nursing home vaccination program adds to local capacity.

Of the thousands who have received a first dose in Rowan County, an overwhelming majority (87%) have been white and not Hispanic (99%). About 8% locally have been Black or African American. More female than male Rowan residents have been vaccinated with a first dose.

In releasing the demographic data for counties on Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said the state continues to lead the country on data transparency. The data will be used to drive vaccine providers to ensure equity across the state.

Statewide, 942,100 of the 1.1 million first doses of vaccine received have been administered and 477,975 of 603,550 second doses have been administered. The percentage is lower in nursing homes, with 59% of allocated doses of first shots administered and 14% of second shots.

The W.G. “Bill” Hefner Medical Center and Novant Health Rowan Medical Center remain below capacity, with 87 beds currently being used of the 127 allocated for COVID-19 patients.

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