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COVID-19 hits home

With COVID-19 spreading throughout the state – now exceeding 400 confirmed cases as of 11 a.m. on Tuesday – it was just a matter of time before the virus reared its head locally.

On Monday, public health officials in Northampton and Hertford counties each confirmed their first cases. That was followed on Tuesday with the confirmation of three cases in Bertie County.

In Northampton, the individual is currently in isolation in a local healthcare facility after their case was confirmed late in the day on Sunday (March 22). The county’s public health department will notify individuals if they may have been at risk of being in contact with the person with the confirmed case.

The individual in Hertford County that tested positive for COVID-19 is also in isolation, according to R. Battle Betts, Jr., Director of Albemarle Regional Health Services (ARHS). Betts provided the same information on Tuesday about the isolation of the trio of patients in Bertie County.

NOTE: The first case in Bertie County was reported Tuesday morning. The other two followed at 3:30 p.m. on the same day.

In the Hertford and Bertie cases, Betts said ARHS is following North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services guidelines on contact tracing of all individuals who may have had close contact with either case. Close contacts, he said, are defined as having direct contact with, or been within six feet for at least 10 minutes, of a case-patient while not wearing recommended personal protective equipment.

Betts said that caregivers and household members of the case-patient are considered close contacts.

Bertie local government officials announced Tuesday on the county’s Facebook page that COVID-19 test kits are available. However, citizens who believe they have the virus must first meet certain criteria to have the test administered.

Bertie citizens are asked to discuss their symptoms with their medical provider who will then determine the best course of action.

Meanwhile, Monday’s announcement of the Northampton and Hertford cases sparked an outcry on Facebook for more personal details to be shared about the affected individuals.

“I know people are worried and want additional information – that is natural, and I understand,” said Andy Smith, Director of Northampton County’s Health Department.

“Your public health team is working tirelessly to identify positive COVID-19 patients and educate the community. We care very much about everyone’s health, and we need your trust now more than ever,” Smith continued.

“Sharing additional information about the whereabouts of this individual – even the region of the county they reside in – does not contribute to the public’s health,” the director also emphasized. “It does not change what you or they are to do to stay healthy and puts the individual’s privacy at risk.”

Smith also noted that it’s likely most counties across the state have some amount of community spread.

He urged the public to continue taking steps to reduce the spread of the virus. That includes calling the health department or their medical provider if symptoms are present, such as fever and lower respiratory symptoms (cough and difficulty breathing). They will determine the next steps to take.

Emergency rooms need to serve the most critically ill, so do not use the Emergency Room unless you are very sick. Emergency warning signs include but are not limited to: difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or the inability to arouse, bluish lips or face.

Only call 911 if you are having an emergency.

Dr. Frank Taylor, NCHD Medical Director, shared reminders of things people can do to stay protected from COVID-19. These steps include:

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a generous amount of hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol on all surfaces of the hands and wrists.

Don’t touch eyes, nose, or mouth.

Disinfect surfaces – especially ones that are frequently touched- using household cleaning sprays or wipes.

Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.

Listen to the advice about social distancing, avoiding unnecessary travel, avoiding handshakes, hugs and other close contact to help reduce the spread of this virus.

Taking care of yourself, your friends, and your family can help you cope with stress.

The coronavirus helpline for people with questions is 1-866-462-3821.

The Northampton County Health Department number is 252-534-5841. ARHS has offices in Winton (252-358-7833) and Windsor (252-794-5322).