By Tammy Dunn
With Montgomery County moving into the Top 10 for COVID-19 cases on a per capita basis, county commissioners moved yesterday to require individuals to wear face masks while in public where social distancing guidelines are not able to be maintained. The county declaration applies to the entire county, including all five towns; however, the towns are being asked to also adopt similar statements. State officials alerted the county to the new status late Monday afternoon; however, county officials had already determined that was likely the case and were already moving forward on what they felt was the best way to combat the spread, which is requiring individuals to wear face masks.
County Manager Matthew Woodard did state that Montgomery County Health Director Mary Perez-Baldwin was asking the state for additional help noting the shortage of staff and testing supplies the county is experiencing. Woodard did note that one of the reasons the county is seeing such high numbers is because the county is actually providing testing sites around the county whereas many of the other counties are not. Anson County, which has a per capita rate of 43 cases per 10,000 residents, is only doing testing at the local health department by appointment.
Stanly County is showing 45 cases per 10,000 residents and is only testing at the local health department. Davidson County, 46 per 10,000, and lists no information about testing except at the local health department. Randolph County is reporting 74 cases per 10,000 residents and lists only testing at the local health department. Moore County is showing 38 cases per 10,000 residents and lists no testing information. Richmond County is showing 52 per 10,000 residents and lists no information about testing sites.
In a meeting Monday afternoon county officials discussed ways to combat the increasing numbers. Requiring people to wear a mask and providing education about the virus were noted as the top two primary means of decreasing the numbers. The largest increase in the number of residents testing positive continues to be on the east side of the county with Biscoe and Candor seeing the most cases. In large part that is due to the overwhelming number of cases in the Hispanic population concentrated in those two towns.
Hispanics made up 52% of the reported 274 individuals testing positive in the county by Monday afternoon. With Hispanics making up only 15% of the total population, officials are able to target where they need to concentrate on the most; however, how best to reach that population was a large part of the discussion on Monday. Hispanic culture enjoys large gatherings and often there are multiple individuals and extended families sharing a home, creating a situation where isolation is much more difficult. It also impacts what starts as a single case and ends up with everyone in the home infected.
Perez-Baldwin indicated she is going to work with some of her contacts in the Hispanic community to determine how best to reach that segment of our population, particularly in finding a way they can educate that community on the importance of wearing masks as well as other safety measures. Additionally, Perez-Baldwin is seeking help from the churches that serve the Hispanic community as a source of education.
The second group showing the most cases is the white community at 39%, followed by blacks at 7% and Asian at 1%.
County officials are supplying masks to any group that requests them, including food pantries where they are being placed inside the food bags given to the patrons. Churches and other groups may request masks as well.
Montgomery County Health Director Mary Perez-Baldwin said her department cannot keep up with the influx of data, testing requirements and the department’s other duties as currently staffed. The county will be hiring additional staff to assist Perez-Baldwin in a number of areas until the crisis wanes.
Since last week there has been one more death attributed to COVID-19 in the county, bringing our number to 6. Two of those deaths were in Biscoe, one in Candor, one in Star and two in Mt. Gilead; however, ???
In the two weeks of mobile testing sites the county has tested 392 individuals with 47 of those being positive, though all of those 392 test results have not been returned as of yet. Testing sites experienced much higher numbers of individuals seeking testing than expected last week with health officials running out of test kits at two of the locations last week. Testing has been canceled for the remainder of the week due to lab personnel on vacation. Testing will resume next week with modifications.
Beginning next week testing sites in all five towns will be limited to 25 tests per day by appointment only. Those seeking testing must be a resident of the county. The mobile test sites will continue indefinitely. The county will increase testing when they are able to secure additional test kits. County officials agreed on Monday they would strive to test 4,000 individuals, which is 15% of the county’s population in an attempt to slow the virus from spreading. When the county’s numbers are below 5% the board is expected to rescind the emergency declaration requiring face masks.
Currently the county is tracking at approximately? of the population showing positive for the virus versus the state average.
Autumn Care is maintaining the number of cases, reporting five of the staff and six residents testing positive for the virus.
Perez-Baldwin said nine local individuals are currently hospitalized and that 11 individuals continue to test positive after repeated testing.
Southern Correctional Institution is maintaining their number, even though testing has increased. Currently they are showing 23 inmates and/or staff being tested with three testing positive.