ASHEVILLE As 2020 moves into flu season and colder weather amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, local health officials are urging residents to get the flu vaccine and stay diligent as cases are expected to rise and people start to tire of safety measures.
With the ongoing pandemic, this flu season will be unlike previous ones, said Stacie Saunders, Buncombe County Public Health Director. And with colder temperatures on the way, taking proper safety precautions will only be more important.
“As we enter cooler months and people move more indoors, we may see additional COVID-19 cases,” she said. “As indoor activity increases, it is extremely important to wear face coverings, keep our distance and wash our hands even with our social networks.”
That includes when we interact with direct family members and folks outside our immediate household, she said, but with flu season, there’s another step folks can take to protect themselves: the flu vaccine.
“We have an effective way to help protect our community from flu and that is the flu vaccine,” Saunders said. “It is important to get your flu vaccine every year and this year in particular as flu and COVID-19 are circulating at the same time.”
And with cold weather sending people and planned events indoors, all safety measures become more important as the chances of transmission go up.
“The 3Ws matter,” Saunders said. “They are our best way of protecting ourselves and other against COVID-19 right now. Our commitment to the 3Ws is necessary to resume some of the activities that have previously been restricted or limited.”
The latest numbers
- According to Buncombe County’s COVID-19 dashboard, 3,794 positive cases from 90,135 administered tests have been reported in the county, resulting in 101 deaths, as of Thursday morning at 10:35 a.m.
- Data from Johns Hopkins University differs some, showing 3,815 confirmed cases and 99 deaths.
- Statewide, North Carolina has logged 252,992 cases, with 2,400 reported on Thursday, though the number of new daily cases has been trending down for a little more than a week, according to the state’s dashboard.
- In Buncombe County, the average of new daily cases over the previous seven days is down from a high of 35 on Oct. 9, to 27 on Oct. 16.
- According to the state’s dashboard, Buncombe logged 58 new cases on Oct. 21, 199 in the last week and 434 over the last two weeks, equal to 31 a day.
- The weekly positive test rate also dropped in the latest data, shown at 3% for the period between Oct. 11 and Oct. 17, when 4,502 tests were administered.
- For the week of Oct. 4-10, 4% of the 5,149 administered tests came back positive.
- As of Thursday morning at 9:30, there are 37 lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 patients in Mission Health Hospitals, Spokeswoman Nancy Lindell reported.
- Of those, 26 are at Mission Hospital, three at Angel Medical Center, four at Blue Ridge Regional Hospital and four at Mission Hospital McDowell.
- Thirty-seven hospitalizations marks a decrease over the last week, when a spike in cases led to as many as 55 reported on Oct. 16.
Mission capacity holding steady
Lindell said that typically only about 10% of those require ICU care, and there is plenty of capacity for more, with close to 100 ICU beds at Mission Hospital and a contingent strategy to double that number in 48 hours if needed.
“Mission Hospital has the capacity to take care of patients requiring ICU care,” Lindell said, adding that the hospital has “taken a myriad of precautions to ensure the safety of our staff and patients, including caring for COVID patients separately from other ICU patients.”
Saunders said the numbers health officials continue to watch are average new cases per day, percent positivity, hospitalization and COVID-like illness.
And when those numbers started to increase over the past month, contact tracers with the county health department found people relaxing their social distancing, Saunders says.
“Case investigation is finding that people are not being as diligent about keeping six feet between them and others,” she said. “The 3Ws are additive in nature and in order for them to be most effective, we have to do them together, every day and with every interaction.”