COVID cases are increasing; testing ends at Richmond County Health Department, home testing encouraged

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COVID-19 home test kits. Photo by William R. Toler – Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — Although the number of new COVID cases continues to rise, the Richmond County Health Department will no longer be offering on-site testing.

Director of Health Cheryl Speight said the department was notified late Thursday that testing would end at 2 p.m. Friday.

According to Speight, the state is trying to secure another lab, but there are no guarantees.

“We have home testing kits available at the (health department) reception window during normal business hours and we are trying to get more home testing done,” Speight said.

In a July 1 press release, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported that state-supported sites accounted for only 6% of reported test results.

Richmond County passed the 14,000 mark last week and on July 27 reported that the total number of cases had risen to 14,289 – an increase of more than 260 from the previous week – since the first was reported in April 2020.

New weekly cases have almost tripled over the past month, according to statistics provided by the Ministry of Health. However, as Speight mentioned earlier, the true number of cases may be higher with home testing. — which may not be reported – becoming more and more common.

Source: Richmond County Health Department

When the NCDHHS released its weekly update on Wednesday, 50 counties were listed as high risk, up from 41 the previous week. However, by Friday, that number had risen to 61 on the COVID dashboard.

The Department of Health has flagged the county as medium risk – having hit high risk last week – but Richmond is included in the latest high-risk county update.

Speight says she also questioned the designation Wednesday morning when the nurse was compiling the report and the NCDHHS had classified the county as medium risk.

Anson and Scotland counties are now listed as high risk, along with Robeson, Hoke, Moore, Montgomery, Stanly, Sampson, Lee and Union. Currituck, on the coast, and Ashe and Watauga, in the mountains, are the only three counties labeled low risk.

Statewide, COVID-related ER visits increased by only a tenth of a percent (from 6.7% to 6.8%) and hospital admissions fell from 1,102 to 1,290, according to the NCDHHS.

FirstHealth reports that as of June 25, 30 of its 361 (8.3%) patients tested positive for COVID. On July 18, this figure was 18 out of 362 patients (5%). System data includes patients from Moore, Richmond, Cumberland, Hoke, Lee, Robeson, Montgomery, Scotland, Randolph, Harnett, Chatham and Johnston counties, as well as those from out of state.

Among counties with a similar population, Richmond County has seen the highest number of new cases in the past two weeks. McDowell County, which previously had the most, was the only one of the group to see a decrease.

Source: NCDHHS

McDowell and Jackson counties, which are both in the western part of the state, are designated medium risk. Richmond, Beaufort, Davie, Stokes and Vance are all high-risk counties.

The Omicron BA.5 variant, which was first measured in North Carolina in mid-May, now accounts for most cases.

Of the cases sequenced from July 2 to July 16, 741 (59%) were the BA.5 variant, according to the NCDHHS. The BA.1.1.529 variant, which was prevalent from late December through mid-January — when the state saw record numbers of cases and hospitalizations — accounts for about 4% of cases.

While symptoms associated with the BA.5 variant may be milder than previous COVID strains, health officials say it causes repeated infections and affects vaccinees.

Of the 32,156 new cases reported by the state for the week ending July 23, 4,739 (14.7%) were reinfections.

Source: NCDHHS
Source: NCDHHS

The NCDHHS does not show the number of cases among those vaccinated, called breakthrough cases.

Data from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a slight increase in cases among the vaccinated and boosted from April to May and a slight downward trend until mid-June.

However, over the past month there have been several high-profile cases of those who have been vaxxed and double-crossed, including Governor Roy Cooper, President Joe Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

According to the NCDHHS, 49% of Richmond County’s population has been fully vaccinated and 23% have received at least one booster.

Although a fourth vaccine, made by Novavax, was recently licensed in the United States, Speight says it’s not yet available in Richmond County — and she doesn’t know when or if it will.

Those made by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are available.

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