Columbus County reported another death from COVID-19 today, bringing the total to 70 since March.
The individuals passed away on Nov. 14, 16, and 19 while hospitalized, according to Thursday’s report from the Health Department. An additional 206 cases have been confirmed since the Monday report. Of those, 84 were traced back to prisons and longterm care facilities. Nine people remain hospitalized.
The county has approximately 837 active cases, according to today’s data. Recoveries stand at 1,618.
The county is considered to be the third-worst in the state for infections, based on the new ratings system released by the state Department of Health and Human Services Tuesday. Columbus has an infection rate of 92 cases per 10,000 population as of Thursday (today) according to the DHHS. Alexander and Mitchell were the only counties with higher infection rates than Columbus as of Wednesday.
To date, 2,455 cases have been reported here since the start of the pandemic. Around 40 percent of the county’s cases can be tied directly to the two prison facilities.
Removing the prison population from the figures, Columbus has an average rate of around 56 cases per 10,000 population. That’s still well above the neighboring counties of Bladen, Brunswick, Robeson and Pender, which have 36, 32, 24 and 29, respectively.
Today (Nov. 19), marked the highest one day number of reported infections in the state since the start of the pandemic. The state DHHS reported 4,296 new cases were confirmed statewide.
On Tuesday, state officials promised to assist in enforcement of new local COVID-19 ordinances, without mentioning any specifics about how they plan to do so. The County Health Department, however, noted that only law enforcement can enforce laws about wearing masks. The state has also not passed any laws regarding COVID prevention, although some counties are enforcing the terms of Cooper’s Executive orders with civil penalties.
The Health Department can only close restaurants for health code violations, Daniel Buck said.
Director Kim Smith urges residents and businesses to strictly follow the three Ws – wait six feet apart, wash your hands, and wear a mask – to prevent further spread of the virus that could lead to more drastic state regulation
State and local officials are also encouraging people not to give in to “Covid fatigue”, especially going into Thanksgiving.
“I know everyone is tired of wearing masks,” Cooper said, “but we have to do the right thing or we will be forced to move backward.”
Following the guidelines form the state, the Health Department is urging anyone who must travel for Thanksgiving to get a COVID-19 tests at least three days in advance. If the test is positive, stay home and isolate. Even if the test is negative, officials say, that does not give the person a free pass. The test only shows if someone is infected, and does not determine if someone could later become a carrier if they are exposed to the virus.
Buck said everyone should be very mindful of how many people are around one another, as it only takes one infected person to increase the spread. State officials are urging gatherings to have no more than ten people, socially distanced, and to be held outside if possible. If the event cannot be held outside, windows should be kept open and frequently sanitized.