Shows Hurricane Dorian as it was over the NC Coast in September
Hurricane Dorian, Thursday morning, Sept 5, 2019

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By North Carolina Health News staff

What’s your zip code?

North Carolinians can search their zip codes to find out how many people who live in that mail zone have tested positive for COVID-19.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen said her department has added the information to a dashboard with the goal of providing as much data as possible without exposing individuals who have contracted the virus.

“As with all data, this data also has its limitations,” Cohen said. “There will not be data shared for zip codes that have less than 500 people and less than five lab-confirmed cases.”

Mecklenburg County has been providing information on COVID-19 cases by zip code for several months. This is the map from April 29. Image courtesy: Mecklenburg County Public Health

That, Cohen said, is consistent with policy from the National Center for Health Statistics. Given that limitation and the fact that some people have had the virus and been asymptomatic, the data for some zip codes might not reflect the full picture. — Anne Blythe

Thirty-eight percent of NC adults under age 65 vulnerable

As the state begins to ease social distance restrictions in the weeks ahead, Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, wants people to remember the more vulnerable among us.

She noted earlier this week that nearly half the 10.5 million people in North Carolina have either heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity or other chronic conditions that make them more vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19 infection.

“Everything we continue to do collectively protects our friends and our neighbors,” Cohen said.

About 38 percent of adults under the age of 65 in North Carolina have at least one of the underlying health conditions that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have listed as high risk for serious complications from the virus, Cohen said Friday.

Those include:

  • Chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma;
  • Serious heart conditions;
  • Immunocompromised from cancer treatment, organ or bone marrow transplants, poorly controlled AIDS or HIV, smoking, or prolonged use of corticosteroids;
  • Severe obesity or a body mass index of 40 or higher;
  • Diabetes;
  • Chronic kidney disease that requires dialysis treatments; and 
  • Liver disease.

“So we’re going to have to be smart to keep our families and our communities safe and do all the things that we can,” Cohen said. “That’s going to mean things like staying six feet apart from people when you leave your house, and if you can’t stay six feet apart, that means wearing a face covering, washing your hands for more than 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer frequently is going to be important. You need to stay home if you’re sick, and if you’re older or at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19, still staying at home as much as possible is going to continue to be important.”

The day after presenting graphs and charts to the public with the metrics that Cohen and her team are following, Cohen said she remains optimistic that North Carolina can begin easing restrictions after May 8, when the stay-at-home order expires.

“If we stay home now, we can put ourselves on a successful path to begin easing those restrictions and move forward as planned,” Cohen said. “You can make a difference to protect your family and your neighbors. Let’s keep looking out for one another and staying home to save lives.” — Anne Blythe

How many storms can NC weather at one time?

As North Carolinians weather the storm of damage, sorrow and life disruptions brought in by COVID-19, it might seem unthinkable that a hurricane could hit the state in the middle of this pandemic.

Nonetheless, modelers across the country at AccuWeather, Colorado State University, Pennsylvania State University’s Earth System Science Center, the University of Arizona and the Weather Channel are predicting an active season in the Atlantic Ocean this year.

Mike Sprayberry, state director of Emergency Management, plans to remind North Carolinians in the week ahead that hurricanes whirling across the Atlantic can wreak much damage. He encouraged them to develop evacuation plans that take COVID-19 into account.

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 3-8.

“While you’re home this weekend, it’s a good time to check your family emergency kit and make sure it’s ready for hurricane season,” Sprayberry said. “Don’t forget to include things like wipes, hand sanitizers and face masks that will help keep you healthy during this pandemic.”

For those who don’t have kits, Sprayberry directed them to ReadyNC.org to find out what to put in them.

Swaths of the low-lying floodplains of eastern North Carolina, that suffered two-fold blows from Hurricanes Florence and Matthew, continue to struggle with housing, health and washed-out infrastructure.

Hurricane Dorian battered Ocracoke Island in the 2019 hurricane season.

The 2020 season begins officially in June and extends to November. 

Sprayberry suggested that North Carolinians create emergency plans that take into consideration that shelters might be busy – and crowded – during such an emergency.

“Staying with family, friends or at a hotel may be better options,” Sprayberry said. “If you live inland, offer to let family or friends near the coast evacuate to your home. With the current pandemic, we are all going to have to think a little differently to stay safe this hurricane season.” — Anne Blythe

DHHS response to legislative compromise plan

Earlier this week, Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, criticized a state Senate proposal for how to allocate a portion of the federal aid distributed to North Carolina for pandemic-related costs.

The Senate proposed a $1.2 billion spending plan. The House proposed a $1.6 billion package that was more in line with the $1.4 billion proposal put forward by Gov. Roy Cooper.

The legislative chambers have been negotiating a compromise plan for much of Thursday and Friday, and they plan to hold a session on Saturday to pass their compromise bill.

Cohen was asked at a briefing with reporters mid-afternoon whether she was happier with what she was hearing about the compromise plan.

“I earlier mentioned that there were some critical items around our public health response, around making sure we had funding for our rural and underserved communities, for behavioral health, and important nutrition and shelter activities,” Cohen said shortly after 2 p.m.

“The good news is that I do see those included in the package that came together after the House and Senate have done their negotiations,” she continued. “I don’t think they’re quite finished yet or at least I have not seen another update in the last hour. I know we were still working for some additional funding for some of our underserved communities, but I feel good about where folks have landed, including the priorities that we have articulated earlier in the week.” — Anne Blythe

Alamance names nursing home with outbreak before it appears on DHHS list

White Oak Manor of Burlington, a nursing home, has identified 14 cases of COVID-19 in the center after testing 120 residents as well as staff members, the Alamance County Health Department announced Friday.

The nursing home’s outbreak, with 12 residents and two staff members testing positive, did not show up Friday on the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ twice-weekly listing of long-term care facilities with COVID-19 cases and deaths. The state health department changed course on naming COVID-infected locations Monday after refusing to answer media requests for full identification of the licensed facilities for many weeks. 

“As collection and testing increases in our area, we are likely to identify many more confirmed cases,” Stacie Saunders, Alamance County health director, said in a press release.

Like most of North Carolina’s nursing homes touched by COVID-19, White Oak Manor posted a below-average rating for staffing, as well as the same rank for overall star rating, by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, known as CMS. 

In February the agency cited White Oak Manor for deficiencies in performance including a failure to “provide appropriate treatment and care according to orders, residents’ preferences and goals.”

Alamance County health officials said the department will continue to work with the nursing home on testing residents and staff to protect those who are not infected and to make sure that the center follows overall protective measures.

Thomas Goldsmith

Coronavirus by the numbers

According to NCDHHS data, as of Friday morning:

  • 399 people total in North Carolina have died of coronavirus.
  • 10,923 have been diagnosed with the disease. Of those, 547 are in the hospital. The hospitalization figure is a snapshot of people with coronavirus on a given day and does not represent all of the North Carolinians who may have been in the hospital throughout the course of the epidemic.
  • More than 133,000 tests have been completed thus far, though not all labs report their negative results to the state, so the actual number of completed coronavirus tests is likely higher.
  • Most of the cases (41 percent) were in people ages 25-49. While 24 percent of the positive diagnoses were in people ages 65 and older, seniors make up 87 percent of coronavirus deaths in the state.
  • 92 outbreaks are ongoing in group facilities across the state, including nursing homes, correctional and residential care facilities.
  • There are 3,309 ventilators in hospitals across the state and 693 ventilators in use, not just for coronavirus cases but also for patients with other reasons for being in the hospital.
Cheese is the product of cows, grass and microbiology, making it a perfect topic for a science cafe talk. Photo courtesy: NC Museum of Natural Sciences

Mental health moment: Get your science on!

Even as the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences has been closed, they’ve continued to make available their webcasts of their popular Science Cafe series. The weekly talks on various science topics are geared toward the general public and meant to be a little fun. 

Recent episodes include Sex in the Sea and Deadly Stars, and my personal favorite, “Say Cheese!” where a microbiologist talks about my favorite dairy product. 

https://livestream.com/naturalsciences/cafe

— Rose Hoban

 

 

Editor

North Carolina Health News is an independent, not-for-profit, statewide news organization dedicated to covering health care in North Carolina employing the highest journalistic standards of fairness, accuracy...