October 29, 2020: COVID-19 Buncombe County Update:
As of October 29, 2020, there have been 4,116 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Buncombe County residents. Sadly, 103 people have passed away from a COVID-related death. Our seven day average for cases per day has increased to 43. Our local percent positivity has continued to increase and is now at 4.2%. While this is below the 5% that is desired by NC DHHS it is a significant increase from last month. The State of North Carolina as a whole is reporting that 6.8% of tests are returning positive for COVID-19. This increase in percent positivity indicates that we are likely experiencing increased viral transmission. Over the last four weeks, over 5,400 COVID-19 tests per week have been administered in Buncombe County.
Stacie Saunders, Buncombe County Public Health Director, states, “Our case investigations and tracing continues to indicate that individuals are not consistently keeping six feet distance between themselves and others. This is extremely disheartening as we know that keeping distance, wearing a face covering and washing our hands often do help reduce the spread COVID-19.”
Saunders continues, “In addition, we are finding through investigation that many new cases are associated with smaller gatherings, like those with family and friends. Please remember, COVID-19 is highly contagious. Every time you are interacting with others at businesses, places of worship, retail spots, and even gatherings in your neighborhood, it is an opportunity for exposure. Right now, the best protection is reducing contact with others outside of your household as much as possible and practicing the 3Ws. By doing these simple things, we can reduce the spread of COVID-19. Please do your best to remain safe for yourself and those around you by keeping up your social distancing habits. We need your help.”
Halloween will be different this year and understandably, this is hard for some families and children, however it is imperative that safety is the priority during a global pandemic. With traditional trick-or-treating where a child (or adult) goes door-to-door, there are multiple exposures to people who could be infected with COVID-19. Sometimes people don’t even know they have COVID-19 and, while they may seem healthy, they could be spreading the virus to others. We urge people to consider alternatives to traditional trick-or-treating such as placing pre-prepared bags of goodies outside for a scavenger hunt with immediate family or even a haunted trail. If there are high-risk individuals in the household, consider not answering the door to trick-or-treaters this year or leaving bags of treats outside the door on a table so children will not have to reach into a bucket or ring a doorbell. NCDHHS has released guidance for safer holidays that can be found here.
Pop-up testing will be at the Buncombe County Sports Park on Sunday, November 1st, from 1:30-5:30 PM. Pop-up testing will also be offered on Thursday, November 4th at the Ingles on Highway 74, from 2-6 PM. Remember, there is no out-of-pocket cost at any county COVID-19 testing site. If you have insurance, it will be billed to cover the cost of the test. Spanish medical interpreters are at each testing site location to assist as needed. More information about COVID-19 testing in Buncombe County at www.buncombeready.org.
Nov. 5, Public Health Update
Nov. 5, Public Health Presentation
Media Questions submitted on October 28, 2020:
According to NCDHHS dashboard, (percent positive graph) Buncombe county has been up and down and now seems to be trending down - can you talk about what you are seeing along with reasons behind the trends?
-Addressed in press release
Below is an excerpt from the most recent NCDHHS Clusters report - do any of these situations apply to Buncombe county?
Key Takeaways from this Report
• Cases associated with clusters in religious gatherings have increased since mid-September.
• Cases associated with clusters in social gatherings (such as parties, family gatherings, weddings, funerals) increased in September, after few cases were reported in August.
The number of cases associated with clusters in colleges, and universities have continued at a steady level since the beginning of September, after peaking in late August.
No cases associated with clusters in agriculture, food processing, or construction/contractor settings have been reported during the month of October.
-Yes, the same trends seen at the state level are also seen at the local level, in general. See release for case investigation findings.
Testing - up, down or steady and any thoughts.
-Addressed in release. Last four weeks, we have consistently seen over 5,400 tests administered per week. This is an increase.
Same for contract tracing?
-As cases increase, contact tracing typically increases, as well. Because individuals have not been adhering to 6 feet distance between themselves and others, we have seen an increase in the overall number of contacts associated with a case.
Is Buncombe County recommending any changes to the current Phase 3 restrictions to help slow the spread of COVID-19?
-Not at this time, however, we are monitoring the data trends and will be presenting current trends and any recommendations to the Board of Commissioners on next Thursday at their pre-meeting.
Have contact tracers identified any trends that may be causing the recent spike of cases in Buncombe County?
-Addressed in press release.
Has Buncombe County received any antigen rapid tests? If so, how many? How will those be distributed? Are rapid tests available in Buncombe County and what is the average turnaround time to get results when a resident is tested for the virus?
-BCHHS not received or deployed any antigen rapid tests. There is an ever-growing number of providers in Buncombe County who are using either rapid antigen or rapid PCR tests. You would need to check with other healthcare or testing providers regarding Ag testing opportunities. While BCHHS is not providing rapid tests, we are seeing a 24-48 hour turn-around time for test results through our community testing sites.
How many cases have been identified so far in school settings?
-There has been one cluster identified in the school setting. We will defer to the public, private, and charter schools on questions about single cases in students and staff.
Have any new clusters been identified?
-Cluster information regarding school, childcare settings, and LTCFs can be found on the NC DHHS website.Clusters do occur in other types of organizations. The clusters identified so far in October have been related to religious gatherings and an institute of higher education.
When contact tracers are tracing cases, are they finding any changes in recent reports that people are relaxing on safety measures?
-Addressed in release above
Are there common threads with contact tracing, ie restaurants, cookouts, etc.?
-Addressed in release above
With Halloween this weekend, what specific guidance is the county giving parents and trick-or-treaters? How about for voting on Election Day?
-Practice the 3Ws on Election Day and every day! Wait 6’ apart, wear a face covering, and wash / sanitize your hands. We think that Election Services has done a great job preparing for this election during a global pandemic.
We addressed Halloween precautions in the release above. Here is a link to a news article that provides helpful information as well as a great risk-assessment infographic.
Overall, how do health officials feel about the number or trends of new cases in the county, especially with Halloween this weekend and Election Day next week? Optimistic? Concerned going into cold weather/flu season?
-We are more concerned about Halloween because the activities people normally engage in at Halloween, like door-to-door trick or treating and parties with others outside the household, are higher risk for exposure to COVID-19.
-Election Services has done a great job preparing for the election during the pandemic and we feel optimistic about their safety precautions.
-We are concerned about heading into cold and flu season. We strongly encourage flu vaccination as soon as possible if you have not already been vaccinated.
Oct. 20 Briefing
COVID-19 Buncombe County Update provided on Oct. 14, 2020
As of Oct. 15, 2020, there have been 3,598 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Buncombe County residents. We, as a community, have experienced 94 COVID-related deaths. We have seen our new cases per day on average increase since the end of September. We are currently seeing about 30-32 new cases per day on average. Additionally, our local percent positivity has experienced an upward trend in the last few weeks. Our current percent positivity is about 3.6%. While this is still below 5%, it is an increase since mid-September and may be indicative of increased viral spread in the community. Our community has administered 80,374 COVID-19 tests. All of this information is a sobering reminder that COVID-19 is still present and is a force to reckon with.
Stacie Saunders, Buncombe County Public Health Director, states, “We are seeing an increase in positive COVID cases as people are moving around more. We are concerned about the direction of these numbers and it’s important to be vigilant in wearing our face coverings and keeping our distance so we can see these numbers come back down. This is a discouraging trend but we know that folks in Buncombe County will do what is right for each other. Right now, the absolute best protection is reducing contact with others outside of your household as much as possible and practicing the 3 Ws. By doing these simple things, we can reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
Buncombe County is partnering with faith communities, neighborhood associations, and other community-based organizations to offer “pop-up” testing in locations throughout Buncombe County that are more accessible to historically marginalized populations. These “pop-up” testing sites will not require pre-registration and will be geared specifically toward people who live, learn, work, play, and pray in those areas. Testing site selection is based on Census data and the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index and is coordinated with organizations embedded in communities. Buncombe County will continue to offer COVID-19 testing Sundays at A-B Tech in Asheville and on Thursdays at the Buncombe County Sports Park.
Remember, there is no out-of-pocket cost at any county COVID-19 testing site. If you have insurance, it will be billed to cover the cost of the test. Spanish medical interpreters are at each testing site location to assist as needed. More information about COVID-19 testing in Buncombe County at www.buncombeready.org.
Don’t slip on getting a flu shot this year! Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone aged 6 months and older and now is the time to get a flu shot. Friday, Oct. 16, 2020 will be a free walk-up flu shot clinic at Stephens-Lee Center from 2-6 p.m.
Media questions and answers (Oct. 14, 2020):
What is your team seeing as far as compliance with COVID-19 safety guidelines?
- We are observing many people around town not wearing face coverings and not social distancing. It seems as if people are beginning to relax these protective measures and we are seeing an increase in cases as a result.
Are schools following all of the COVID-19 standards set by NCDHHS?
- Our public schools continue to be great community partners in dealing with very difficult circumstances. They are really doing a great job of maintaining lines of communication, being proactive and careful and just overall doing the best they can in these extremely tough situations. . The StrongSchools Toolkit clearly states what schools are required to implement and includes additional recommendations that schools may implement. ACS and BCS, particularly the School Nurses serving those districts, are in consistent communication with local public health. Local public health provides additional consultation on requirements and recommendations. Local public health also provides periodic updates on key indicators for school districts to aid their decision-making.
Have there been additional business violations since the county task force was sent out to monitor restaurants and other businesses for compliance in early August?
- No additional warnings have been issued to local businesses.
Does BCDHHS know what caused the spikes in Buncombe’s case count on Oct. 3 (63 new cases) and Oct. 10 (58 new cases).
- There is no single causation identified for the increase in cases. These cases are occurring following a major holiday and entry into Phase 3 lifting of restrictions. Our case investigations are finding that in general individuals are interacting in more spaces but no one space/area/location has been identified. It is important to remember that EVERY interaction is an opportunity for exposure particularly as more business and activity restrictions are lifted and people are moving about.
What is the breakdown between PCR and antigen tests administered in Buncombe County?
Has the testing turnaround time increased for local tests?
- For the community testing sites, we typically receive results within 24-48 hours. We hear that it is averaging around 72 hours for commercial labs.
Fall tourists are here! Is Buncombe County doing anything different in terms of restrictions compared to the state Phase 3 order? For example 11 p.m. bar curfew and public face mask mandate? Is Buncombe County in complete lockstep with the Governor’s order? Explain what the differences are so people who travel here can know the difference.
- Buncombe County is aligned with NC Governor’s Phase 3.
Secretary Mandy Cohen yesterday announced the state is going in the wrong direction – in terms of case count going up and hospitalizations going up. Are those trends being reflected here in Buncombe County and what steps are being taken to bring numbers down?
- Much like state trends, we are seeing our local indicators trend upwards, as well. We have seen our new cases per day on average increase since the end of September. We are currently seeing about 30-32 new cases per day on average. Additionally, our local percent positivity has experienced an upward trend in the last few weeks. Our current percent positivity is about 3.6%. While this is still below 5%, it is an increase since mid-September and may be indicative of increased viral spread in the community.
What are the most critical areas Buncombe County is concentrating on right now in terms of COVID spread? Colleges? Schools? Nursing Homes? Political Campaign events?
- Widespread community spread has been well-documented for months now in our state and county. Every interaction is a potential opportunity for exposure. It is important for our community, all of us, to practice the 3Ws every day. When we commit to the 3Ws, we are helping reduce spread in all areas of our community whether or not we are directing a part of that area. When I wear a mask and stay 6 feet apart, I am protecting residents at a LTCF because I may interact with staff that work at LTCF when I am in the general community. Our actions in the community have an impact on the health of our most vulnerable populations. We are still seeing cases and outbreaks in long term care facilities.
Media Questions & Answers (October 7, 2020)
What is Buncombe County hearing from the CDC about the earliest distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine? Do you have any information about the CDC’s vaccine rollout strategy at the county level?
- The CDC communicates with the states and the state communicates with counties. If and when a COVID-19 vaccine is available, that information would come from NCDHHS. While there is no approved vaccination at this time, public health practices and plans for vaccine distribution as a part of its preparedness function.
Fall has arrived and school is back in session. What trends are you seeing in terms of people contracting Coronavirus? Has the reopening of schools contributed to the spread? Are there other factors contributing to the spread?
- We have not seen a change in the age distribution of cases. Our highest infection rate is in the 25-49 year-old age group. We continue to see cases in long-term care facility residents and staff. Outside of those cases, generally we see that people are moving about more often, however, no one setting has been identified over others as a source of spread. As temperatures cool, we know that people will be more likely to congregate in indoor settings, which is problematic as the virus spreads more easily in indoor settings. Therefore, the 3Ws are highly important.
It seems for the past 6 months, the number of Coronavirus cases hasn’t wavered much. Why do you think that is?
- As we have said in the past, we continue to see upticks in cases as the phased reopening occurs and around holidays. We saw our highest average increase in cases per day in July and then a decrease in August and September. We are seeing an increase in new cases per day again but it is probably too early to tell about any correlation with the recent lifting of restrictions.
The President this week removed his mask after returning to the White House from Walter Reed Medical Center and said Americans should not fear Coronavirus. Does this undermine YOUR message as a public health department?
- Any death from COVID-19 is one too many. In our daily work with those who are infected and affected by COVID-19, we recognize the impact of this virus on their lives. This is a serious novel coronavirus that we are still learning about. Public health takes this seriously and has remained consistent in messaging about the importance of the 3Ws. Mask wearing, handwashing, and keeping social distance from others is the most effective means of preventing COVID-19 infection.
Where does the county stand in terms of preparedness for the upcoming flu season and so-called “Twindemic” – or Flu and Covid combining? Does the county and its hospitals have enough flu vaccine, PPE ventilators, etc.
- Local public health is working with community partners to gauge flu vaccine availability throughout the county and planning community outreach efforts with community partners in areas where there is limited or no vaccine availability. Buncombe County continues to receive flu vaccine supply and we have no concerns at this time about flu vaccine shortages. Those who have questions can call the BCHHS Immuniation Clinic at (2828) 250-5096.
What is your assessment of the Coronavirus 6 months later? Why haven’t case numbers dropped significantly yet?
- We addressed this in the earlier question. As the phased reopenings and holidays occur, we generally see upticks in cases. This illustrates the importance of adhering to the 3Ws.
Press Release Oct. 1, 2020:
COVID-19 Buncombe County Response and Updates
The State of North Carolina will transition to Phase 3 of reopening beginning at 5 p.m. on October 2, 2020. Buncombe County will align with Executive Order 169 with no additional local requirements. Phase 3 will last three weeks, and is currently scheduled to end on October 23. Local leaders and public health officials will continue to monitor trends in Buncombe County to ensure that the move to phase 3 does not push local trends in a negative direction.
Under Executive Order 169, current mask mandates and other precautions will remain in place, but new provisions will include:
- Large outdoor venues with seating greater than 10,000 may operate with 7% occupancy for spectators.
- Smaller outdoor entertainment venues, like arenas or amphitheaters, may operate outdoors at 30% of outdoor capacity, or 100 guests, whichever is less.
- Movie theaters and conference centers may open indoor spaces to 30% of capacity, or 100 guests, whichever is less.
- Bars may operate outdoors at 30% of outdoor capacity, or 100 guests, whichever is less.
- Amusement parks may open at 30% occupancy, outdoor attractions only.
- The limits on mass gatherings will remain at 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.
- The 11 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales for in-person consumption in locations such as restaurants and outdoor bars will be extended to October 23.
As of today, there have been 3,154 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Buncombe County residents. We, as a community, have experienced 85 COVID-related deaths. Any death resulting from COVID-19 is a loss for our community and our sympathies are with those who have lost loved ones to this global pandemic.
Our community has administered over 75,500 COVID-19 tests and our current percent positivity in Buncombe County is 3.0%. This is slightly up from the previous week. We are currently seeing about 21-22 new cases per day. This is a slight increase from last week but still an overall decrease in new cases per day on average since July.
Stacie Saunders, Buncombe County Public Health Director, states, “As more restrictions are lifted, there are more opportunities for exposure and this makes it extremely important for continued commitment to the 3Ws. This is our best defense to fight the virus that causes COVID-19. Remember to wear a face covering, wash your hands and stay 6 feet apart.”
As Buncombe County Government continues to adapt to the evolving needs of our community during COVID-19, we have adjusted our community testing model to ensure a scalable and sustainable testing approach. Testing efforts will transition to a hybrid model that combines the fixed testing sites with community-based mobile sites. This is a positive step that puts our response in line with the changing needs of our community.
The number of COVID tests performed in Buncombe County remains high, as tests are available through local urgent care clinics, federally qualified health centers, and many other primary care provider offices. Over the past month, there consistently has been lower utilization of our Tuesday testing site at the Swannanoa Ingles compared to the other two testing sites. The county has decided to discontinue the Tuesday Swannanoa Ingles testing site starting in October.
Buncombe County will continue to offer COVID-19 testing for the general public on Sundays at AB Tech in Asheville and on Thursdays at the Buncombe County Sports Park.
Remember, there is no out-of-pocket cost at any county COVID-19 testing site. If you have insurance, it will be billed to cover the cost of the test. Spanish medical interpreters are at each testing site location to assist as needed.
We are entering flu season. Flu is a serious respiratory illness and can sometimes be deadly. Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months and older. Now is the time to get your flu vaccine! Get a flu vaccine anywhere you can, as soon as you can.