By Leslee Kulba
Asheville – At the time of this writing, 374 Buncombe County residents had tested positive for COVID-19, and COVID-19 was listed as the cause of death for 30. Of the fatalities, 25 had been residents of long-term care facilities. By way of comparison, two weeks ago, the county had tallied only 216 cases and 7 deaths. Back on March 24, there were only 12 positive tests in the county. Using Wikipedia data, which is slightly less fresh than the county’s, as of June 4, most other counties in Western North Carolina had double-digit case numbers and next to no deaths; the only exception being Henderson County, reporting 350 and 47, respectively.
Statewide, North Carolina reported 34,717 cases and 1,028 fatalities, ranking 17th and 21st, respectively, in the nation. On June 5, with 1,370 new cases over the last 24 hours, the state reported case counts had set records for three consecutive days. North Carolina’s death toll has been tracking closely with Arizona’s, where last week concerns waxed about hospitals headed toward being “overwhelmed.” Arizona’s department of health reported on June 5 that daily hospitalizations had been close to 1,000 for three of the last four days.
Nationwide, the death toll was 111,658, up over 11% from a week ago. The country passed the 100,000 mark on May 27 or May 28. Total cases for the country are now 1,976,127, with five states each reporting over 100,000. Increasing numbers, again, are correlated with reopening schedules.
The United States has now reported more fatalities than any other country. Brazil, which ranks second, had only 651,980 cases and 35,211 fatalities. For the world, 6,917,378 cases have been reported with 400,024 fatalities. On May 21, the World Health Organization reported over 100,000 cases had been reported in the last day.
As reopening brings people in closer contact, many, for any number of reasons, are not heeding CDC guidelines. Had anybody contracted the virus, during the week’s protests, for example, it could take roughly a week for them to start noticing symptoms, and maybe another week to feel ill enough to get tested and possibly require hospitalization. In rare cases, the virus has taken 27 days to incubate.
In a sea of shifting recommendations for how to stay well, citizens have come to different conclusions about which precautions are necessary. First masks were advised, then they were described as a nice touch that would better be reserved for front-line workers, then they were described as good for keeping germs off others.
Now, advisories say COVID-19 can survive three hours suspended in air, making breathing air a higher risk than touching surfaces. Prior advisories warned against touching surfaces and indicated air was safe as long as people remained six feet apart. Other reversals in guidance account for finding children can get infected and people once infected can get reinfected.
As discovery continues, government leadership recommends using common sense. While the list of known symptoms has changed before and may again, persons with a cough, difficulty breathing, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, or loss of taste or smell are advised to get tested. Testing sites, including a roving clinic to service disadvantaged communities, are listed on buncombecounty.org. The website also has an online questionnaire to allow persons to avoid unnecessary contact with physicians and help conserve PPE.
On May 22, North Carolina entered Phase II of Governor Roy Cooper’s reopening plan. Phase II allowed sit-down restaurants, barbershops, salons, personal care facilities, and pools to open at half-capacity so long as social-distancing could be practiced. The governor’s orders are in effect through June 26, at which time a move to Phase III is not guaranteed. Legislation had been drafted to enter a Phase 2.5, which would have allowed bars and gyms to open, but the governor vetoed it.
The Republican National Convention had been scheduled for August 24-27 in Charlotte. On June 2, the president tweeted that he would change the host city, as he had been unable to convince Gov. Cooper to allow the convention to run at full capacity. At the time of this writing, news outlets reported at least seven other cities were being considered, and even the idea of a multi-city convention was on the table.
On June 1, the county announced that six employees of Mission Hospital had tested positive for COVID-19. The statement added that over the last two weeks, the number of patients testing positive had increased on average from under six per day to between 12 and 20. Describing the increase as “neither overwhelming nor unexpected,” representatives of the hospital said they were prepared to care for three times that many cases.
Last week, two Buncombe County personalities were in the news for contracting COVID-19. Former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford, 74, had been serving a 15-year sentence in the federal correctional facility in Butner. On May 20, he went to the hospital for trouble breathing and tested positive. He was put on a ventilator the next day and died on June 3.
Former contractor Joseph Wiseman was also serving time in the Butner facility on charges associated with the takedown of former Buncombe County management. Wiseman already suffered sufficient chronic illnesses that his attorney had been trying to transfer him to home confinement since April 8. On June 3, it was announced that Wiseman had contracted COVID-19. At least 10 prisoners and one correctional officer at Butner have succumbed to COVID-19.