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OXFORD — As of Wednesday morning, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Granville or Vance counties. [Update: Health officials reported Friday one person in Granville County has tested positive for COVID-19.]
Still, local health officials say the county should be taking strong measures now to protect itself from what may quickly become a large-scale crisis, as cases in North Carolina and the nation grow exponentially.
Lisa Harrison, health director of Granville Vance Public Health, addressed the Granville County Board of Commissioners at its meeting Monday. She told commissioners the numbers are constantly changing, but having zero reported cases in either county can be misleading because a number of cases may be going undetected.
For every person tested, as many as 50 may have the disease, she said.
The health department along with private providers have been testing for more than two weeks to those showing symptoms — shortness of breath and both fever and cough — and who have tested negative for the flu. It is estimated that in the two-county district, about 25 tests had been conducted as of Monday.
“If we act now, and work together, we can make a difference in preventing extra stress (in) our health care system from the number of cases that may grow to be more serious,” said Harrison Wednesday in a statement. “There is a lot we still don’t know about this virus, but what we do know clearly is that age and underlying health status make a big difference.”
A form is sent to the health department for any individual who is tested in the district no matter where the test is given. Then the health department follows up with monitoring, education, isolation or quarantine, Harrison said.
Harrison emphasized to commissioners that the virus is not floating around in the air. The virus is spread by respiratory droplets that land on surfaces. Others then touch those surfaces and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth, thus contracting the virus.
Healthcare workers are the ones that need to be concerned with the virus being airborne as they do tests or treat patients in close proximity. A sneeze or cough from an infected person could then go directly into the employee’s face.
Right now there is a shortage of protection equipment including face masks for those working to help the sick. Protective items are on backorder and the healthcare field takes precedence, she said.
Going forward, Harrison said the biggest challenge will be capacity with limited state and federal funding and staff. She feels that the department has done very well for a two-county district and maximizing resources.
Granville Vance Public Health has released guidance and information to help focus on those most at risk to develop a more serious strain of COVID-19 and be more likely to have complications.
Many of the recommendations are focused on protecting people at higher risk of severe illness, which includes adults over 65 years of age; people with underlying health conditions including heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes; or people with weakened immune systems.
“This time of year it is easy to confuse the symptoms of coronavirus with the common cold, with allergies, or the flu — all of which are prevalent,” Harrison explains. “The symptoms of coronavirus are fever, cough or shortness of breath.”
A global dashboard in real-time is available on the Granville Vance Public Health website, https://gvph.org/COVID-19.
According to Harrison, coronavirus can be serious, but getting coronavirus isn’t severe for everyone.
“We do not yet understand why, but often children tend to fare well and get a really light version of the virus and get better relatively quickly from what we know so far,” she said.
Mike Felts, county manager, reported that the Senior Center Advisory Committee had decided the county senior center should be closed until further notice. However the doors should be open to assist those as needed.
Like the schools there was concern about the seniors that rely on the center providing them meals. There are two options now being made available: home delivery and meal drive-thrus.
It is being left to childcare owners to decide whether to stay open. That may change daily.
First Baptist Church Academy announced Tuesday it was closed the remainder of the week after multiple children were having flu-like symptoms. It will be doing a deep cleaning.
At a normal level, communicable disease responsibilities keep the health department busy. The response needed at this level is new, Harrison said. She acknowledged that the counties were lucky to have strong local support.
“It’s so nice to see neighbors checking on neighbors by phone and text and asking others what they might need at this time,” Harrison told commissioners. “There is a lot of good happening in the midst of this challenge. We are all fortunate to be in such caring communities with wonderful leaders across our district who also care very much about the health and well-being of our communities –—thank you for doing your part.”
Citizens are strongly encouraged to use the statewide Coronavirus Helpline at 866-462-3821 and to call the health department or their doctor before going in. Assessments can be done over the phone without exposing others.
The majority of people with COVID-19 will be sick for a relative short amount of time and will get better on their own. Those with more severe symptoms can ask for a test — but remember to call first. People with symptoms should not go to the doctor without calling first so the office can prepare for the visit.
Emergency room visits should be saved for serious injuries, life or death situations and those who are very ill.
“Although we have and are monitoring closely confirmed cases in our state, North Carolina has no indication at this point of widespread community spread of Coronavirus,” Harrison said in a statement. “It is so important that we stay home and practice social distancing.
“If we reduce our chances of getting this virus, we reduce our chances of spreading it to others. Please stay home and if you feel you are getting sick with fever and cough, or shortness of breath, remember to call your provider before coming in.”