The majority of North Carolina counties — including Surry — in recent weeks have moved into the “high transmission” category of COVID-19, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
Only Ashe and Watauga counties, in the far northwest of the state, are still considered low-transmission counties.
The high transmission figure is up from 50 counties a week ago and has risen steadily as a new, but slower, wave of COVID has spread across the country as new variants of the virus continue to appear.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) combines a number of factors to determine whether a county is low, medium, or high transmission, and that designation can change from week to week. These include emergency visits for COVID symptoms, hospital admissions for COVID patients, total number of confirmed cases reported by date, number of confirmed variants in a community, and other factors. .
“If we look at the percentage of positive cases versus the amount of testing done, Surry County currently has a positivity rate of about 33%,” said Maggie Simmons, deputy health center director and Surry County Nutrition Board.
Overall, there have been 23,322 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Surry County since the start of the pandemic, with 363 deaths.
While medical professionals had initially hoped that contracting the virus would provide some level of immunity, it appears that some people in the region are contracting the coronavirus more than once.
“We don’t track the number of times someone has been infected with COVID-19, but there is evidence that Surry County residents have contracted the virus multiple times,” Simmons said.
Robin Hodgin, senior vice president of patient services and chief nursing officer at the Northern Regional Hospital, said the facility has treated people with the virus there twice, and in some cases even a third time.
As local case counts rise again, Hodgin said the hospital has not been overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients as it has been in several previous waves.
As of Friday morning, she said, of the 93 patients hospitalized at the facility, 13 had COVID-19. One of the intensive care beds was in use for a COVID patient, while two in the step-down unit were in use. Over the past two weeks, she said the average daily number of hospitalized patients with coronavirus was around 13.
This means that the hospital has not had delays in transferring patients from the emergency department to regular inpatient rooms, as had been the case before. However, she said, as some other hospitals in the region are experiencing high caseloads, there are times when patients needing transfer from the North experience delays.
Simmons of the health department said it’s unclear if this will become the new norm – living with wave after wave of coronavirus, or if there will eventually be a way to lessen its effect on society. .
“We understand that over the past two years, COVID-19 has been an ongoing issue; however, the virus is still so new that we cannot yet predict what the future will be in terms of COVID-19 cases, mitigation strategies and response.
For now, she said, when a county has a high rate of transmission, as Surry County does, standard precautions still apply.
“Wear a properly fitted mask indoors in public, regardless of vaccination status,” she said. “Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters; maintain improved ventilation in all interior spaces where possible; follow CDC recommendations for isolation and quarantine, including getting tested if you are exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms of COVID-19.
Regardless of local transmission rates, she said some people should take extra precautions.
“If you are immunocompromised or at high risk of serious illness: wear a mask, avoid non-essential indoor public activities, discuss with your healthcare professional recommended additional precautions.”
Simmons said the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center is still offering free testing at its facility, located at 118 Hamby Road in Dobson.
“There is PCR and rapid testing available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. We are also working with local partners to develop additional testing sites at no cost throughout the county, more information to come as these locations are secure.”
For home testing, she said the center “has a limited number of free test kits for anyone interested. We encourage residents to claim the free test kits provided by the federal government at www.covid.gov/tests”
A second viral disease, monkeypox, made national headlines as this disease began to appear around the world.
On Friday, Simmons said there were 20 confirmed cases of the virus in North Carolina, none in Surry County. The closest confirmed case so far has been in Guilford County.
“NC DHHS is keeping us updated on developments,” Simmons said. “There is a vaccine for some people who are most at risk of having been exposed, and if anyone is concerned they can contact us and we will connect them with available resources.”