No cases of the coronavirus had been confirmed in Columbus County by Wednesday afternoon, but public health officials had no doubt that the virus was in the county.
“I’m sure it’s in Columbus County. We’ve just not come across anyone who is positive yet,” said Columbus County Public Health Director Kim Smith.
Smith said she met with her public health nurse, communicable disease nurse and public health educator to discuss why no cases had been confirmed here. The group believes it may be due to geography.
“We are just not as densely populated as some of the other counties,” Smith said, noting that neighboring Bladen County had not reported a confirmed case either. “We’ve just not come upon the right person yet to test. Maybe that is because they are self isolating and taking care of themselves at home.”
Smith said on Wednesday that her office had been notified of 80 tests conducted in the county, and 37 returned negative. Results were pending on the other tests.
Statewide, 10,489 tests had been conducted by Wednesday morning, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The state had 504 confirmed cases, and one person had died as a result of the virus.
DHHS changed its testing recommendations on Monday.
“People with mild symptoms consistent with COVID-19 do not need testing and should be instructed to stay at home to recover,” DHHS wrote in a memo to North Carolina clinicians and laboratories. “Mild symptoms defined as fever and cough without any of the following: shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest discomfort, altered thinking, cyanosis (bluish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes).”
DHHS explained several reasons for updating its testing recommendations, including the goal of slowing the spread of coronavirus in communities and exposures in healthcare settings.
“People infected with SARS-CoV-2 (virus causing the disease COVID-19) coming out to be tested may spread illness to others in the community, including those at higher risk of complications, and health care workers,” the memo stated.
The change is also intended to preserve resources, such as personal protective equipment and supplies, DHHS said. Additionally, testing doesn’t impact treatment, which for most people is limited to managing symptoms. Finally, DHHS noted that “Tracking only lab-confirmed cases is not a reliable or accurate way to understand the pandemic. We will use influenza surveillance tools, which are designed to track widespread respiratory illness.”
Smith said that most primary care physicians in the county have the ability to test for coronavirus, as well as urgent cares and Goshen Medical Center.
Chief Operations Officer Rhonda Barwick said the Goshen Medical Center locations in Columbus County had a “limited number of tests” and were taking samples based on the latest DHHS guidelines.
Goshen has erected tents outside most of its facilities in the county, but they are not used as mass drive-up coronavirus testing sites, said Barwick.
“We are seeing our regular patients for routine visits just like we would inside the facility, but we’re seeing them outside the facility in a drive-by status,” Barwick said.
She explained that Goshen is accepting new patients, who would be tested for the coronavirus if they met the guidelines.
“If they are sick and need to be seen, we would perform the same evaluation that we did on any other patient and we would follow the state guidelines to see if that person needed to be tested or not,” Barwick said. “We are seeing new patients if they are sick if their doctor’s office is closed. We are trying to help the hospitals avoid being overwhelmed with patients seeking primary health care so they can stay focused on emergency cases.”