COVID cases on the rise in Chatham

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PITTSBORO — COVID-19 cases are on the rise again in Chatham County, according to a statement released by the Chatham County Public Health Department (CCPHD) last week.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classified Chatham as a community with high levels of COVID-19 transmission on Jan. 3, and data for the first week of the year showed Chatham reporting the highest amount of COVID-19 cases — 166, to be exact — since July 30, when 196 cases were reported. 

Eric Wolak, the chief operating officer and chief nursing offider of UNC Health’s Chatham Hospital, said the hospital is still experiencing strain from COVID-related issues, from admitted patients with COVID to staff absences because they have tested positive for COVID. 

“Since the fall, UNC Health Chatham has had about three COVID-positive inpatients each day,” he said. “That number, while stable, is definitely higher than we would like. We have also experienced recently an increase in our staff COVID-related absences — we peaked last week at seven COVID-related absences, and are now down to three.”

According to Wolak, the hospital staff was averaging zero to one absence due to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. That has since multiplied, and Wolak said that Chatham isn’t alone in that phenomenon. 

“UNC Medical Center, which can be a good barometer, has seen a doubling of COVID patients needing hospitalization over the past month, going from around 25 in early December to the mid-60s in early January,” he said. “They have recently seen a slight decrease in COVID census over the past two weeks and are currently at about 50 COVID inpatients.”

The hospital has implemented additional protection measures for staff, patients and visitors, including a mask requirement for staff and visitors. 

“At UNC Health Chatham, we continue to require our staff to always wear a mask and eye protection when working with patients,” Wolak said. “We also require all visitors, vendors and outpatients to wear a mask when they are in our facility, and we encourage our inpatients to wear a mask whenever someone else is in their room with them.”

The CCPHD also recommended a return to mask-wearing in indoor, crowded settings in a recent statement regarding the increase in COVID-19 cases. This comes as other institutions across the country contemplate bringing back mask requirements, including North Carolina’s own Duke University. 

CCPHD recommended the following steps to Chathamites as a way to protect themselves during the ongoing COVID-19 surge:

• Stay up-to-date on your COVID-19 vaccines. Find out when you can get your booster, if you haven’t already, here: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/stay-up-to-date.html. You can find a COVID-19 vaccination location here: www.vaccines.gov.

• Wear a high-quality face mask or respirator in crowded indoor settings 

• Get tested for COVID-19 if you are experiencing symptoms or were recently around someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Keep a supply of at-home tests on hand for if you have symptoms or come into close contact with someone with COVID-19.

• COVID-19 treatments are available and can greatly lower your risk of hospitalization or death. For more information, visit MySpot.nc.gov/FindTreatment.

The CCPHD and community partners are offering multiple COVID-related services and resources, including:

• The CCPHD’s offices in Pittsboro (80 East St.) and Siler City (1000 S. 10th Ave.) have free COVID-19 at-home rapid tests available for pick-up during business hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

• The CCPHD’s Siler City clinic offers no-charge Moderna COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots, including to children ages 6 months and older.

• Optum Health is continuing to offer combination flu and COVID-19 tests at the Old Agriculture Center in Pittsboro (65 E. Chatham St.). The clinic is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, and from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday.

To learn more about the Chatham County Public Health Department, visit www.chathamcountync.gov/publichealth or www.facebook.com/chathamhealth.

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com. 

COVID-19, health, Chatham County, COVID rates

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