People are getting what some have called 'COVID fatigue.' The result is that many have decided they no longer need to wear facial coverings. They're also often involved in communal gatherings. The result is that the number of new cases of the coronavirus has continued to increase.
In North Carolina, the number of people hospitalized related to the virus is getting close to the record of 1,236 on July 28th. Tuesday, there were 1,205 people in the hospital with the disease. 2,141 new cases were reported Tuesday. 2,400 new cases were reported on Friday, 2,584 on Saturday. Over the last seven days, NC has recorded 14,570 new cases of the virus, more than any other Southern state except Tennessee (17,805), Florida (24,806), and Texas (38,548). No state--not one--reported a decline in the number of new cases compared to a week earlier.
The third wave of the pandemic is well underway. We told readers, although many accused us of being 'fear mongerers' that it was coming. We said in the early days of this epidemic that it would likely last a year. Many still insist that it's a political ploy and that it will all end with the election. The situation is bad and getting worse, so what do we do now?
That subject was discussed at a special called meeting of the Lincolnton City Council Friday evening (Oct. 23rd). The NCDHHS sent a letter to local leaders (city & county) in 36 NC counties where during the past two weeks there had been over 300 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Lincoln is one of those--so are Catawba, Gaston & Cleveland. The others are Alamance, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Caswell, Chowan, Craven, Cumberland, Davidson, Duplin, Edgecombe, Graham, Greene, Guilford, Hoke, Hyde, Johnston, Mecklenburg, Moore, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Pitt, Randolph, Robeson, Rockingham, Rowan, Scotland, Union, Wake, Watauga and Wayne. The City Council made no decision. They listened to the Lincoln County Health Director Davin Madden as he discussed the situation and possible actions, some of them outlined in the DHHS letter. There were mixed feelings on the Council. Some, like Councilman Marty Eaddy, seemed inclined to have the City pass a mask ordinance that would possibly have civil penalties for those who refuse to wear one or merchants who don't require it of their customers. Others, like Councilman Roby Jetton, said such a decision might be perceived as hurting local businesses. Councilman Jim Watson said he didn't favor a civil penalty for not wearing a mask. The Council made no official decision, but local business owners will be encouraged to attend the November City Council meeting where their opinion on what the City might be able to do to slow the quickly growing pandemic will be discussed.
Lincoln County reported 176 active cases of COVID-19 Tuesday (Oct. 27th). Another death has brought that total to 20.
Some have expressed concern that getting a test for the virus often involves Lincoln County residents having to go to other counties. The Health Dept. has partnered with OptumServe and NCDHHS to provide additional free testing for Lincoln County residents week after next. Beginning Tuesday November 3rd through Saturday November 7th, testing is planned for the old Health Dept. parking lot on Sigmon Road just off N. Generals Blvd. From 9 AM - 4 PM with a half-hour lunch break, residents can get tested for COVID-19 at that location. That week's testing will be followed by more Nov. 10th - 14th, 17th - 21st, and Thanksgiving week on the same 9 - 4 schedule. You need to schedule an appointment at t lhi.care/covidtesting; or call 877-562-4850 if you do not have internet or are registering for a minor.
QUALIFICATIONS: Anyone who meets the testing criteria can be tested at an OptumServe community testing site. OptumServe will generate a unique identification number for individuals who do not have a driver's license.
Gaston County has a new record number of active cases of the disease. The county reported 1,645 active cases Monday. The percentage of positive tests, which had slipped below 9% is back up again. It was 11.95% for the week of October 10-17. Gaston has now recorded 119 deaths from the virus and 55 county residents remain hospitalized.
Catawba County, which recorded 73 new cases on Monday, had another 42 Tuesday. The county had more than 60 cases reported on two days last week; 90 cases (the one-day record) on Friday of the previous week. Another death brings the total in Catawba County to 64. 33 residents remain hospitalized.
Here's the problem: we have a public health emergency, and many people are more interested in talking politics. Nationally, a new record for new cases was set with 82,154 according to the CDC (Johns Hopkins University says it was 83,757). There were 74,300 new cases Monday pushing the seven-day total to a new record.
So what do we do? As said, many still don't believe the pandemic is real--despite over a million deaths worldwide and over 230,000 in the US. Some aren't wearing masks for political reasons, many of them insisting the pandemic will suddenly end after next week's election. Others proclaim it's their right not to wear a mask. Some have posted Facebook posts saying the masks don't work. One quoted an article from a right-wing publication that read a CDC report as indicative of that. What the report really pointed out is that some activities--such as eating in restaurants where the masks are removed--can provide an opportunity for the disease to spread.
Masks don't provide protection that is guaranteed to keep you from geting the virus. Even the N95 or KN95 ones aren't an absolute barrier that will totally protect you from infection. The real purpose of the other masks, while they may offer a limited amount of protection to the wearer, is to keep from spreading the disease from you to others should you be infected and not yet symptomatic.
There have been multiple studies, including one by the SCDHEC, that shows that where mask mandates exist, the rate of infection is lower than where they are not. North Carolina is having a terrible time with the virus right now--as is every state, but our deaths per 100,000 population is now 40 compared to 74 in South Carolina and Georgia, which opened up earlier and with no statewide mask mandate. In our state, the move to Phase 3 and a noticeable increase in the number of people who are NOT wearing masks and engaging in communal activities is quickly erasing the containment measures that had been working.
I know that wearing a mask is an inconvenience. I have offered this analogy: you go to the doctor--if you're a woman, perhaps for a mammogram; if a man, for a prostate exam. Your doctor reports they've found something that looks troubling--and on further examination, tells you that you must undergo surgery, then chemotherapy, then radiation..."but we've caught it early enough that if you'll do what you must, you can survive and go on with your life." Of course, for the next several months, your lifestyle will have to change. It won't be pleasant, but it's necessary. That's the kind of situation we have now with this virus. If we--ALL of us--work together and do the things that are necessary, we can slow the spread of the virus and eventually end the pandemic.
Some are currently insisting on social gatherings that are quite frankly dangerous. When Lincolnton called off its Christmas parade, as have other towns including Gastonia, Mt. Holly, Stanley, and others, some were angry. Some of them are planning on doing their own parade. Having managed the Lincolnton parade several years while at WLON and for a couple of years afterward, I can tell you--it's no small task. Better buy plenty of insurance, because if you invite attendance and someone gets the virus and decides to sue, you'll need it!
The recent Lincoln Idol event at the Cultural Center had lots of people attending who weren't wearing masks. Some said they couldn't require them to wear them. YES, you can! Just like concerts can say, no cameras or no recording devices or no food or beverage from outside, those holding events have every legal right to set the standards for attendance.
Stores who aren't requiring customers to wear masks say they can't, but that's also not true. Earlier this summer, when several major retailers said they'd require masks--a policy they appear to have forgotten since--the National Retail Federation issued a statement saying: "Stores are private businesses that can adopt policies permitted by law for the health and safety of their associates and their customers. Shopping in a store is a privilege, not a right. If a customer refuses to adhere to store policies, they are putting employees and other customers at undue risk."
So now comes the question that the City Council will ask of merchants next Thursday: 'what do you think we should do to slow this epidemic?' They don't want or need a bunch of people coming to talk (or argue) politics--or science--or medicine. They DO need legitimate input and suggestions. This is not so-called fake news. It is a REAL emergency--and it's likely to get much, much worse over the next two months.
When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo appeared on his brother's CNN tv show this Summer, after New York had the earliest crisis with the virus of any state, his brother congratulated him on closing down many businesses, requiring masks, and making other decisions that had helped to drastically cut the number of new cases being reported. "I didn't do it," the Governor said, "it was the people of New York. If they had decided, 'we're not going to do this,' there's no way I could have forced them. They recognized the terrible situation we were in and we all worked together to try to improve it."
That's what we need in North Carolina and in Lincoln and surrounding counties. Unfortunately, I don't think a lot of people who are not now wearing masks or otherwise doing anything to try to slow the disease are going to change their minds until what I expect is going to happen does: a lot more people are going to get sick and some of them will die. Those who didn't listen to mama when she told them not to touch that hot burner got the message when they disobeyed. I hope we can learn more quickly. I really do.