Important Reminders About COVID-19 as Chatham County Reaches 1,000 Confirmed Cases
PITTSBORO, NC – As of July 8th, 2020, more than 1,000 Chatham County residents have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. The Chatham County Public Health Department reminds residents that their continued vigilance is crucial to stopping the spread of the virus.
Statewide, COVID-19 trends, including hospitalizations, have been worsening as North Carolina entered its seventh week of Phase 2 reopening. These trends led the state to put in place a statewide requirement for all residents to wear face coverings in public places where social distancing is not possible. While the average number of daily new cases in Chatham County has been fairly consistent in recent weeks, that does not mean the threat is gone.
Here are a few things to remember as Chatham moves past the 120-day mark of its COVID-19 response.
A Closer Look at the Case Breakdown
More than 1,000 positive cases and 43 deaths in Chatham County highlights the need for continued vigilance as the virus continues to spread. Furthermore, the number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations reflect the burden of the virus on the healthcare system.
One increasing trend is the percentage of confirmed COVID-19 cases among Hispanic/Latinx residents. While Hispanic/Latinx residents make up 12.5 percent of Chatham County’s population, they account for 62 percent of positive tests. This disparity is not unique to Chatham County, but continues to be of great concern to the CCPHD.
“The numbers show that the virus is still a major threat both in Chatham and across the state,” said Michael Zelek, Chatham County Interim Public Health Director. “We remain concerned about the disproportionate share of cases among the Latinx community, the impact COVID-19 has had on nursing homes, and the rising proportion of cases among younger adults. We all must do our part to slow the spread of the virus: avoid coming into close contact with others, wear a face covering if you are in places where you may come into close contact, and wash your hands often. These simple actions help to keep you, your family, your friends, and your community healthy, and are crucial to being able to return to a more normal routine.”
There is also a growing concern statewide regarding an increase in COVID-19 cases among younger adults. In Chatham County, 60 percent of positive tests have come from individuals under 50 years old. According to Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of Health and Human Services in North Carolina, younger adults have accounted for the majority of cases statewide in recent weeks. While older adults are more likely to suffer more severe symptoms and complications from the virus, anyone can contract COVID-19 at any time.
The CCPHD urges residents to not draw any conclusions or apply any stigma based on the numbers, but to use the data as a reminder that the coronavirus is a serious threat to the health of the Chatham community. While certain populations have been affected more by the virus to date, everyone is at risk of becoming infected and falling ill, and everyone is responsible for slowing its spread. The Chatham County COVID-19 dashboard, updated weekly, is located at chathamnc.org/coronavirus.
Wearing a Face Covering Helps Save Lives
The CCPHD has created a new webpage, chathamnc.org/facecoverings, to help educate the public on the new statewide face covering requirement and provide printable and shareable materials about face coverings, including how, where, and why it is important to wear face coverings. A Spanish language version of the page can be found at chathamnc.org/services/health/coronavirus/coronavirus-face-coverings-en-espanol-4737. To date, more than 100,000 cloth face coverings have been distributed to the Chatham community by Chatham County Emergency Management.
Even if someone does not feel sick, they may have the virus and be able to spread it. Wearing a face covering helps to keep the virus from spreading in the air and may protect those wearing it if they are around others who have the virus. The CCPHD and Chatham County Board of Health encourage all residents to follow the mandate.
“Wearing a face covering is important when coming into close contact with others, because COVID-19 can be transmitted even before symptoms develop,” said Zelek. “Remember, my mask protects you. Your mask protects me. Face coverings are a critical piece in preventing the virus from spreading.”
COVID-19 Testing Sites and Contact Tracing Efforts
Testing availability, both in Chatham County and statewide, has been increasing over the last several weeks and multiple healthcare providers in Chatham County have begun to widen eligibility for individuals to receive tests. CCPHD has posted a list of test sites and has more on testing at chathamnc.org/coronavirustesting. CCPHD encourages all of those who are concerned they might have contracted COVID-19 to first contact their primary medical provider before seeking a test.
Additionally, the CCPHD’s communicable disease (CD) team has continued to provide contact tracing throughout the pandemic. The CD team has many years of experience in doing this type of work, and their tireless efforts are at the forefront of the county’s response.
One key facet of contact tracing is phone calls made to close contacts of individuals who test positive. The CCPHD’s CD team regularly calls these individuals and provides them with guidance and information on how to take care of themselves and those around them. The CCPHD urges residents to pick up the phone and answer all questions honestly from CCPHD staff conducting this work. Without complete answers, COVID-19 is more likely to continue to spread as these contact tracing efforts provide information about where the virus is and who may need services like treatment and testing.
“Our communicable disease nurses are heroes, and they work incredibly hard to keep our community safe. If you get a call from the public health department, please answer it and take a few minutes to talk with them. You are not in trouble, and they will help you take appropriate action to protect your health and the health of those around you,” added Zelek.
The CCPHD also urges individuals and businesses across the county to avoid any stigmatizing against individuals who may have tested positive or been in contact with someone who has tested positive. Stigma can make it more difficult for individuals to seek help, including healthcare and public health guidance. The CCPHD desires a Chatham that is united and working together (#ChathamTogether) to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Protecting Those in Long-term Care Facilities
CCPHD has worked closely with long-term care facilities since before the pandemic began, and hosts weekly calls with staff from these facilities to share guidance, respond to questions, and provide support. Public health department staff have also assisted with testing in multiple facilities as well as outbreak response efforts. These ongoing efforts are important to protect those who are most at risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
Sharing Information with the Chatham Community
CCPHD continues to update the community on COVID-19 through its webpage (chathamnc.org/coronavirus and in Spanish chathamnc.org/coronavirusespanol), social media (Facebook: facebook.com/chathamhealth), and Info Line 919-542-8220.
The CCPHD also reminds all residents to practice the 3 Ws: wash your hands frequently, wear a face covering over your nose and mouth, and wait six feet apart and avoid close contact with others. Doing these things will help Chatham County curb the spread of the virus and keep people safe and healthy.