Columbus County worsened in terms of COVID-19 community spread, returning to the red category within the county alert map by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday. Approximately 83 other counties were also red, with 12 orange and only four yellow.
“There’s an alarming amount of virus everywhere in our state,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen. “Almost the whole state is red.”
Overall, the state has seen over 582,000 cases with over 7,000 deaths, according to NCDHHS on Wednesday. Columbus County has contributed 3,895 cases, with 81 new cases in two days, and 87 deaths, which is two more than Monday.
During the last update on Dec. 22, the county had improved to the orange category after being red since November. With these case numbers, however, Daniel Buck, spokesperson for the Columbus County Health Department, predicted the county’s return to the red category on Monday. “We’ll definitely be back in the red,” he previously told The News Reporter.
Cohen issued a secretarial directive on Wednesday, which included: stay at home and only leave for essential activities, such as work, school, childcare and food; use delivery services if over the age of 65 or if at risk of developing severe symptoms to COVID-19; do not gather with people that are of a different household; always wear a mask in public; and get tested if exposed to people of a different household.
“We are in a very dangerous position,” Cohen said. “We don’t think we’ve even seen the impact fully of the holidays yet.”
Cohen also expressed concern over hospital capacity, noting that some hospitals across the state were pausing non-urgent procedures, adding a separate COVID-19 wing and moving patients elsewhere.
UNC Health Southeastern in Lumberton on Wednesday announced that it was at maximum capacity and asked the public to use local clinics and physician offices instead of the hospital for non-emergency care. “We are urging our community to evaluate their health care needs to determine the most appropriate place from which to seek care at this time,” said Jason Cox, vice president and chief operating officer of the hospital.
Columbus Regional Healthcare System on Tuesday stated that it was not yet at capacity and had expansion plans if necessary.
Curfew extended, National Guard mobilized
In response to these COVID-19 metrics, Gov. Roy Cooper also extended the modified stay-at-home order, which included a curfew from 10 p.m.-5 a.m., for another three weeks and continued the state’s mask mandate. “No matter where you live, work, worship or play, COVID-19 remains a deadly threat, and we’ve got to treat it that way,” he said during the press conference.
To address the state’s slow administration of the COVID-19, Cooper on Tuesday that he had mobilized the National Guard to assist local health providers with vaccine distribution. “Ensuring COVID-19 vaccines are administered quickly is our top priority right now,” he tweeted. “We will use all resources and personnel needed.”
During the press conference, Cooper added that there will be 50 Guard men and women who will help local health departments and hospitals administer the vaccine, assist with planning and conduct data entry. Earlier on Wednesday, Buck told The News Reporter that the county health department had not received specifics on how the National Guard would help Columbus County.