Fri Aug 12, 2022

Three COVID-19 deaths in July, says Columbus health director [free read]

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Columbus County, along with 60 other counties across North Carolina, is now at a high community level for COVID-19, according to this map from the Centers for Disease Control. Green indicates a low level, yellow indicates a moderate level and orange indicates a high level. CDC image

Three people in Columbus County died last month from COVID-19 — the first deaths since March, Columbus County Health Director Kim Smith told the Board of Commissioners at its Monday meeting.

The three deaths occurred on July 9, July 10 and July 24.

When asked by Commissioner Brent Watts why “all of a sudden” COVID-19 numbers have begun to rise again, Smith attributed the increase to two reasons: hot summer temperatures, which are causing people to congregate in cooler indoor spaces, and the highly transmissible BA.5 subvariant of the omicron strain of the virus.

And this increase has been ratcheting up recently. Two weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control bumped Columbus County and several other N.C. counties up from what it calls “low” community level to “moderate” community level for COVID-19.

Now, the county has reached a high community level — along with 60 other N.C. counties, says the CDC. 

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Of the counties surrounding Columbus County, only Pender and Brunswick counties remain at the moderate level. All others — Bladen, Robeson and Horry County, S.C. — are now also at a high level.

The community level is calculated based on the percent increase over a seven-day period for confirmed COVID-19 hospital admissions or the percentage of staffed inpatient beds in use by patients with confirmed COVID-19, whichever is greater.

Columbus County Health Director Kim Smith. Staff file photo by Justin Smith.

In its continued efforts to counter the pandemic, the county health department has obtained the Novavax vaccine, according to a Facebook post from the department Tuesday.

This vaccine “is like the old vaccines,” Smith explained at Monday’s meeting. She said the Novavax vaccines use protein as opposed to “the new way of making vaccines,” like those from Pfizer and Moderna, which use messenger RNA. Smith hopes that people who had concerns about the new vaccines will be more likely to get the Novavax vaccine.

Five people were currently in the hospital for COVID-19, Smith said Monday.

Smith advises people to stay up to date on vaccines and boosters; to obtain and use at-home tests, adding that, “we’ll hand them to you” for free at the health department; and to consider “that extra layer of protection” by wearing a mask if in a crowded space.

Monkeypox

COVID-19 isn’t the only thing that public health officials are worried about nowadays. 

As of 12:45 p.m. Monday, said Smith, there were a total of 60 reported cases of monkeypox in North Carolina. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are nearly 6,000 cases in the United States that same day.

No cases of monkeypox had been reported in Columbus County, however. 

Smith said that monkeypox can be spread through saliva or fluid from lesions, which can appear after the average incubation period of seven to 14 days and can persist for five to 21 days after that. Early symptoms may also include a fever, general exhaustion and a sore throat or cough.

Contact with contaminated surfaces can transmit the virus, Smith said, but she stressed that it is usually transmitted through “close, long-term, intimate contact” with another person. 

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, “Nearly all monkeypox cases in North Carolina have been in men who have sex with men,” which is consistent with other reported cases across the country, the agency noted.

While the county health department does not have any vaccines in its inventory for monkeypox, Smith said that, “if you meet the criteria,” the health department can have some shipped over from New Hanover County.

Summarizing Smith’s comments about monkeypox, Commissioner Giles “Buddy” Byrd said, “You can say it’s not if it’s coming, it’s just when it gets to Columbus County, probably.” 

“Probably. Yes, sir,” Smith agreed.

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