Alexander County managed to avoid a major spike in COVID-19 cases during July and kept hospitalizations low at a time when the majority of the state was challenged by high case numbers, deaths and hospitalizations. Now, the county is seeing dramatic increases in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 and being hospitalized with the virus.
The difference may be COVID-19 fatigue, as Alexander County Consolidated Human Services Director Leeanne Whisnant put it. People may be getting tired of practicing social distancing, wearing a mask and avoiding public interaction with others.
“What we are wondering if ... they’re just saying, ‘You know, I can't take it anymore,’” Whisnant said.
On Nov. 13, Alexander County reported 27 county residents hospitalized with the coronavirus, the highest the county of 37,000 has seen. On Nov. 13, the county also reported 356 new cases in the two weeks before. The county’s increases in confirmed cases have steadily grown in recent weeks, Whisnant said.
Part of the cause has been an outbreak in the N.C. Department of Public Safety Alexander Correctional Institution, where there were 64 active cases as of Sunday, according to the NCDPS website.
The other cause, which could bring even more community spread, are outbreaks in social settings, Whisnant said. In recent weeks the county has seen outbreaks and clusters of cases stemming from two churches, a funeral, and a private school, she said.
“Often the individual didn't realize they were sick. They didn’t have a fever, they weren't feeling sick,” she said. “Then they would begin not feeling well, so the cases started coming.”
The organizations affected have been very willing to work with the health department, Whisnant said. She worries there may be more spread through small outbreaks, though.
The health department does its best to encourage people to practice the best defenses against spread: wearing a mask, social distancing and washing hands. Whisnant worries the effectiveness of the message is waning. “I think people are tired of hearing it,” she said. “It is hard to keep saying the same thing. We are trying to come up with new messaging to encourage and that's a hard thing to do, because it is still the same basic principles.”
The increase in hospitalizations is a growing concern for Whisnant. In July, the county saw one or two people hospitalized at a time. The number has grown dramatically in recent days. While the county is still seeing cases with mild symptoms — often in younger people — it is often cases in people with chronic illness that progress to the point of hospitalization, she said.
“It’s very scary,” she said. "Our cases in those with diabetes and lung issues are far worse.”
Whisnant worries the case numbers will only keep rising with the holidays, colder weather and flu season. Her plan is to keep people updated on the numbers so they might be more cautious, she said.
“If we’re informed we can do a little better,” she said. Any time you're informed, you’re just smarter and make better decisions. Our community has done really well, they really have. We knew this was going to be a hard time, we knew when the cold season and flu season came it would be harder. … I’m very fearful because February is generally our worst flu month so I am very concerned how it will look at that time.”
Catawba County reported 91 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, putting the county total at 5,813 cases reported since the pandemic began.
With Monday’s cases, the county has seen 589 new COVID-19 cases in the past seven days — the highest weekly increase the county has seen yet. There have been an average of about 84 new cases reported each day for the past seven days.
The county also reported one new death related to COVID-19. There have been 75 county resident deaths. The latest was a person in their 60s who was not considered high risk. They were hospitalized. The death is not connected to a congregate care setting.
There are 45 county residents hospitalized with the virus, according to public health.
A new COVID-19 congregate living outbreak was reported by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on Friday. Brian Center Health and Rehabilitation in Viewmont has 11 cases associated with the facility, six in residents and five in staff members.