Catawba County is seeing a troubling trend: a rising number of new COVID-19 cases.
Catawba County is hitting peak numbers -- climbing beyond the previous highs recorded in July.
Despite such a rise in cases — Catawba County’s seven-day increase reached a new high since July on Thursday with 301 new cases in a week — there’s no single cause to blame it on, Catawba County Public Health Director Jennifer McCracken said.
The numbers dropped after July 18, the county’s previous highest seven-day daily case average. On Sept. 8 Catawba County’s seven-day average was 11.2 cases per day. Then it began to climb again.
“We have started seeing that increase in the number of cases, and an increase as well in hospitalizations — so that’s really concerning for us,” McCracken said.
On Friday, Catawba County saw its highest single-day increase since the pandemic began in March, with 90 new cases reported. A third of the cases are related to an outbreak at a state prison in the county, Community Engagement Specialist Emily Killian said.
The majority of Catawba County’s cases aren’t related to congregate care settings such as nursing homes, McCracken said. The cause of the spread of the coronavirus, in most cases, is family contact and community spread, such as through work or gatherings.
People may have become more comfortable socializing, attending group gatherings or not wearing a face mask around friends, McCracken said, but relaxing personal standards can lead to more spread. Family gatherings, especially, can lead to spread, she said.
“We all feel comfortable getting together with our family, and we all feel safe with our family. But you have to think about how it can spread if we’re not maintaining social distancing and wearing face coverings,” McCracken said.
Though the state entered Phase 3 of reopening, and more businesses are open than ever, people still need to be mindful, McCracken said. If not, the numbers will keep rising.
“I think people have gotten more comfortable and may be gathering more than they were before. More businesses are open, more people are moving about,” she said.
McCracken urged people to keep wearing masks, washing their hands and waiting six feet apart — what the N.C. Department of Health promoted as the three W’s. McCracken said those simple rules for protection are especially important going into the winter months, when more people are staying indoors and the flu begins to spread.
Flu season alone could bring increased pressure to area hospitals if they are forced to care for serious cases of the flu and COVID-19 patients at the same time, McCracken said. That’s why the flu shot is more important than ever.
“If people take time to get a flu shot, especially during a pandemic, those who get a flu shot are less likely to get the flu or experience serious symptoms,” she said. “Right now, we're really concerned about hospital capacity. If we have people hospitalized with COVID-19 and the flu — that something we would be concerned about.”
Public health is trying to look ahead to consider potential dangers, McCracken said. They try to be prepared, but in an unprecedented pandemic, it’s impossible to know exactly what the coming months will hold.
“I wish we had a crystal ball and unfortunately we don’t,” McCracken said. “But we take planning very seriously here in terms of staffing. We’re looking at our (case) numbers and staffing accordingly. People practicing our three W’s will play a huge role in our future.”
To work to prevent the spread, aside from encouraging everyone to wear a mask and use social distancing, the department has brought on more contact tracers to track down people who may have been exposed and they are preparing for a future vaccine, she said. Though there is no way to know when it will come and who will be able to get it, Catawba County Public Health is going to be prepared, she said.
Until then, McCracken herself is practicing the three W’s and doing what she can to stay safe. She keeps up a healthy diet, manages her stress and gets exercise — and encourages others to, as well. With a family and children of her own, she is reminding herself and her family daily to keep being cautious, she said.
“We’ve had to establish new norms — we all have in the community,” McCracken said. “I think we just have to remind ourselves daily.”
Even the simple things like washing your hands, which McCracken recalls teaching to young children as a nursing student, can play a huge role in stopping the spread of COVID-19, she said.
Even around family and friends, being clean, distant and wearing a mask makes a difference, she said. Older families members are especially at risk and remembering to take precautions can protect them, she said.
“We ask families to consider ways to make gatherings with people safer. … We realize this can be awkward especially with loved ones and people we trust,” McCracken said.
One area Catawba County has not seen an increase is among K-12 students, despite in-person school taking place, McCracken said. There have been cases in students and teachers, but public health has not seen spread at any school in Catawba County, she said. No clusters have been reported by NCDHHS. Those who have gotten it have contracted it outside the school, she said.
“Those numbers have remained steady, especially for pre-K and school age children,” she said. “We work with the schools every day to identify children who are symptomatic or a close contact.”
Public health is also working with businesses or organizations that have clusters of cases, she said. They are not legally required to report clusters, so the state does not report them. Catawba County chooses to let those businesses decide whether to report those clusters.