This roundup will cover the dates Jan. 6-15.
• Columbus County reported 103 deaths from COVID-19 on Jan. 14, up from 90 on Jan. 13. An average of 50 new cases per day was reported by the state.
• UNC Southeastern Medical center in Lumberton will begin offering vaccinations to anyone 65 and older starting Monday. Vaccines will be administered in Lumberton and Pembroke. Any resident of North Carolina over 65 may get the vaccine. Call 910.671.5193 or email email@example.com for more information.
• In-person learning in Columbus County Schools will not resume before Feb. 1. Both school systems here put off a return to classroom activities to avoid possible spread of the COVID-19 after Christmas. Whiteville city schools plan to reopen Jan. 19.
• Chadbourn’s Town Hall has been closed to avoid further spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Manager Jerome Chestnutt said staff will still be working, but customers will not be allowed inside the building. Utility bills can be placed in the drop box, mailed to 602 N. Brown Street, Chadbourn, N.C. 28431, or paid online at townofchadbourn.com.
Both town and police staff can still be reached for non-emergencies by calling 654.4148 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
• State Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby this week turned over some control of courts’ COVID-19 response to local officials. Columbus’ Chief Resident Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser was among the first to submit a proposed plan last year. Sasser and Clerk of Superior Court Jess Hill led the effort to convert the closed Hallsboro Middle School into a satellite court facility to cut down on the backlog of traffic and district court cases. Superior Court trials have been hampered by a lack of space in the new courthouse annex. Officials hope to be able to use technology to remedy some of those problems.
• Kimberly Finch is organizing an effort to bring. Little joy to residents of nursing homes this Valentine’s Day. You can help brighten someone’s day with a card, small gift, diabetic-friendly and conventional treats, and old fashioned Valentines. Contact at 770.5760 if you’d like to help out.
• COVID-19 is filling local hospitals, officials from two area medical centers said.
Columbus Regional is converting unused space back into patient rooms while UNC Southeastern in Lumberton is at full capacity.
Stephanie Miller of Columbus Regional said the hospital was licensed for the beds that are being brought into service, and work is underway to return them to their original function. Some of the rooms were used for offices, but all were previously functioning patient rooms. The beds are being returned to that purpose.
UNC Southeastern said in a press release that patients are being urged to visit their family physician or use local clinics for anything that is not a true emergency. All staffed beds at the hospital are full, spokesperson Amanda Crabtree said.
• Citing the continued rise in COVID-19 cases statewide, Gov. Roy Cooper announced today that he is extending the modified stay at home order at least until Jan. 31.
While Columbus had seen an improvement in infections, it jumped back into the red, or critical, category this week. The county had been downgraded to significant on Dec. 22. Since that time, the county has seen multiple consecutive days with an average of 49 new cases per day, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The directive also calls for persons over 65 or with compromised immune systems to use delivery services or curbside pickups for groceries and other shopping.
• Twice-weekly reports of COVID-19 cases are no longer being provided by the county Health department simply because the agency is stretched too thin, spokesman Daniel Buck said Wednesday.
The decision was made by director Kim Smith after a 10-day period when the department averaged 49 new cases per day. Each case must be reported to the state, contact tracing must be performed to inform others of possible exposure, and the patient must be monitored. The information is also shared with Emergency Services (in case of a 911 call at the person’s address) and the hospital.
At the end of 14-day quarantine period, patients are checked to see how their recovery or illness is progressing. That can’t always be done, Buck said, since so many new cases are reported every day.
With an 18 percent positive test rate in the county, Buck said, the Health Department is going full speed ahead every day.
The pandemic response, testing and now vaccinations require every worker at the office to take on multiple duties, Buck said. At the same time, the Health department is still providing all the other services that kept the office busy before COVID-19.
• The increased spread of COVID-19 in Columbus County has caused Columbus Regional to activate its surge plan.
“We’ve had our surge plan in place for months. We were hopeful we wouldn’t have to use it. However, here we are and I’m just thankful we have the capacity to make more room to treat those in need of inpatient care”, said John Young, CRHS CEO.
Young said the hospital updating unused, licensed bed space to provide patient care. All patient care is taking place in traditional, licensed care settings, he said.
Young stressed that the community has a role in preventing the spread of the virus. CRHS launched its #maskupcolumbus effort recently to encourage safe practices.
• The Health Department will not be making any new appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations until Feb. 1.
Daniel Buck said in an email that the sheer volume of calls led officials to decide to administer the vaccines that are currently available, then begin another round.
Thursday, Jan. 7, was supposed to be the first day people over 75 could make appointments for the vaccination, but the health department began setting appointments days before due to the number of inquiries. The day before the official start date for appointments, the department was booked through next week.
Appointments are booked based on the number of vaccines allotted to the county, Buck said.
“We are scheduling to administer as many vaccines as we will be receiving in our allotment each week,” Buck said in the email. “It is our goal to serve the residents of Columbus County as effectively as possible and ensure that everyone that wants a vaccine gets a vaccine.”
The county is following the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan. Currently, Phase 1B, only people 75 years of age and over can get vaccinations.