Health department says rising COVID-19 cases are a concern heading into school year

Published 12:10 am Sunday, July 31, 2022

SALISBURY — COVID-19 cases creeping up could have implications for local schools and colleges.

Rowan County Health Department Director Alyssa Harris said the department has been in touch with the public and private education institutions around the county to discuss their policies to mitigate spread of the virus for the upcoming academic year.

“We’re going into our third school year dealing with COVID-19,” Harris said. “This is no longer, or should not be a surprise for anyone as we approach the fall semester.”

Harris said the county is starting to see more hospitalizations, more intubations and admissions to the local intensive care unit as cases climb.

The pandemic reached its zenith in January, peaking at 235,598 cases reported in North Carolina in one week before a precipitous fall to a low of less than 3,000 cases in a week reported in March. Since then cases have crept up to more than 25,000 cases per week, but recently have started to climb again.

For the week of July 23, the state reported 32,156 cases, the highest amount since February. New infections in Rowan County rose by more than 100, from 387 to 489.

Harris said the department is advocating for wearing masks in public settings, particularly higher-grade masks, social distancing and washing their hands.

“Also, if you’re not feeling well, don’t risk it by going to school and potentially spreading illness to others,” Harris said. “Really take that personal responsibility that if you’re not feeling well, stay home.”

Harris said if she was a parent she would encourage her student to wear a mask, especially at the start of the school year.

“We know the start of the school year is always a time we see illness happen, even before COVID,” Harris said, adding the mass exodus to go on vacation and then return to the local school setting is a perfect storm to get people sick.

Harris said the department also wants people to know there are fewer community testing sites available in favor of at-home tests, visiting clinics and local pharmacies for test kits.

Insurance will cover some test kits for free and the health department has test kits available as well.

Harris said people who get tested at a pharmacy can get prescriptions to help with symptoms.

Harris said the CDC quarantine rules, which were lightened significantly over the course of the last school year, are still in place and the department is abiding by the rules.

“It’s not something the school systems themselves are putting into place, but it still is for the management of a very contagious respiratory and circulatory illness,” Harris said.

Harris said vaccinated people are still less likely to become severely ill if they contract the disease. She said the booster dose is effective and encouraged. Whether the booster should become part of existing vaccination policies, she said she is in a “wait and see” phase as updated vaccines are developed.

Currently Livingstone and Catawba colleges, the two private four-year institutions in Rowan County, both have vaccine requirements. The colleges both confirmed to the Post they currently do not require a booster dose to meet the requirement.

Livingstone Chief Operating Officer Anthony Smith said the college will continue its indoor mask requirement and students will take rapid tests before moving into residence halls in August. Davis said the college expects to finalize its COVID-19 plans as it monitors case numbers.

Davis noted it is the nature of viruses to mutate and replicate, so the college has to continue to maneuver as it tries to mitigate infections.

Catawba Communication Director Jodi Bailey said people are encouraged to wear masks, but the college is not requiring it at this point.

“We are keeping a close eye on what is happening locally, throughout the state and country,” Bailey said. “We always reserve the right to change based on cases, especially in the local community.”

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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