Editor’s note: Tom Pahl is Ocracoke’s Hyde County commissioner and offers these comments following the Hyde County commissioner’s monthly meeting held virtually via Facebook Live on Monday, July 6.
By Tom Pahl
There have been a lot of questions circulating about the coronavirus in Ocracoke and in Hyde County. At the July 6 county commissioner’s meeting, Director of the Hyde County Health Department (HCHD) Luana Gibbs made a presentation and I asked her a number of questions. Following is a review of her presentation and her responses to those questions.
As of July 6, there have been 22 COVID cases in Hyde County. Eleven of those are people who have recovered, nine are active; there has been one hospitalization and that person has returned home. There have been no deaths. That number is constantly subject to change, as test results may come back to a testing center at any time. There will be some lag time between the receipt of those results and their publication online.
HCHD is halting the release of test results by press release, opting instead to provide info to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) for their “dashboard” to release. That website can be seen at https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/dashboard. You can see the info by zip code or by county. A zip code search reveals, as yet, no positive cases on the island. According to Director Gibbs, there is a lag time between Hyde County receiving results and those results appearing on the NCDHHS site of a day or a day and a half.
HCHD’s staff follows up every positive case with a process of “contact tracing.” They call the patient and try to determine when that person contracted the virus and then they attempt to contact everyone who may have been with that person, to inform them of their risk and to suggest that they be tested as well. This process, as you might imagine, requires a good amount of time. The HCHD is using all of their staff and they are bringing in resources from outside the department to work on this as the task grows larger with each new case.
It is important that people cooperate with HCHD as they do the contact tracing. It may feel invasive, but it is one of the more effective weapons we have to slow the spread of the disease. It is also important to know that those who have had COVID and have recovered are no longer carriers and need not be isolated or avoided.
According to Director Gibbs, there are around 10 tests a day being conducted on the island. She does not know how that number breaks down between residents and visitors. I asked her if she had any thoughts on why we have not had any positive cases on the island, given the influx of visitors from all over the U.S. She said she’s surprised by that result and has no theory to explain it. Just lucky so far, I’d guess.
In mid-July the HCHD will set up a mass testing station on the mainland and, later in the month, one on Ocracoke. Probably that will be a drive-up station, by appointment and for residents only. Those details and timing are yet to be worked out. Publicity will be by social media and posters around the island. We will make sure the word gets out.
Antibody testing may be available. There was some discussion about the usefulness of antibody testing. Please feel free to discuss that with your medical professional. Some may find it to be helpful.
The HCHD, with the gracious assistance of the Ferry Division continues to distribute a COVID-19 information flyer to every visitor car as they get on the ferry. They have distributed 45,000 flyers so far and will continue that program throughout the summer.
Finally, it is most important that we continue to practice those things that have proven to be effective in slowing the spread of COVID: WAIT six feet away when you are in a store, restaurant or picking up to-go food; WEAR a face mask whenever you will be in contact with others who are not a part of your group; WASH your hands often. It’s the law.
It is especially hard to practice these things at a restaurant, as you need to eat and drink. After all, that’s why you are there. But please, look carefully before you enter a restaurant or outdoor eating area. Are there signs up requiring masks? Are the staff workers masked? Are the people standing in line masked? Is the seating arranged so you can be at least six feet from other groups? If you can’t answer yes to all of those questions, you may want to go somewhere else for your food.
I had a discussion with a patron a couple of weeks ago. I was waiting in line for to-go drinks with my granddaughter and we were noting, in a private conversation, that there were many people in line without masks. A person overheard us and engaged us in what degenerated into a nasty exchange that ended with me saying that I’m not afraid. I wear a mask to protect the people who work behind the window–that they come in contact with hundreds of people every day. The guy (who took over for his wife who started the discussion) clarified his position and ended the conversation by saying, “I don’t care about them and I don’t care about you!”
That about sums it up. Please care. We’ve been very lucky so far, but we can’t count on luck alone.