Updated Dec. 15; 9:34 a.m.

By Connie Leinbach

Tucker Jones of Washington, D.C., wears his mask while birdwatching on Ocracoke this fall. Photo: P. Vankevich

As of today, Ocracoke Island has 10 laboratory confirmed COVID-19 cases, Luana Gibbs, Hyde County Health director said today.

The upsurge on the island mirrors that around the country seeing an upsurge that was predicted following the Thanksgiving holiday.

It is likely this increase in cases is a result of multiple incidents, such as gatherings over the Thanksgiving holiday, and an increase in viral spread simply from community gatherings, she said.

“Unfortunately, by (gathering), we’re setting ourselves up to possibly get the virus, and that’s why we’re seeing an uptick,” Gibbs said. “We must do everything we can to reduce community spread.”

The county already has lost five to this extremely contagious virus. 

“We do not want to lose more, and you never know who will have a mild case versus a serious or lethal case,” she said. “The safest way to protect yourself is to avoid unnecessary gatherings of people you do not live with, wear a facial covering when you are in public, practice social distancing of six feet or more and wash your hands frequently.”

She understands the community is feeling COVID-19 fatigue but stressed the need to avoid other people while the virus rages.

“It’s really better just spend time with the people that you live with, because you’re all breathing the same air and spending time together versus bringing new people in into your home or going to someone else’s home.”

Hyde Health posts the county’s cases each weekday by about 3 p.m. on its Facebook page. These numbers typically differ from those posted on the N.C. Department of Health & Human Services COVID-19 dashboard, which updates that website at 11 a.m.

As of 3 p.m. today, Hyde reported 218 cases, 27 of which are active, with 10 on Ocracoke (as noted above) and the rest (17) are on the mainland. There have been 186 recoveries and five deaths. This latter number has not changed in several months.

“Our numbers are going to be the most current numbers except for the cases where an individual might get tested elsewhere and we don’t have those results back yet, but they’ve been notified already,” Gibbs said about what Hyde posts versus the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.

As for contact tracing, Gibbs said she hired Carolina Community Tracing Collaborative (CCTC) in August to do this work.

“If you receive a call from this organization and you do not answer, they will identify themselves as calling on behalf of the Hyde County Health Department and ask you to call the statewide call center at 844-628-7223,” Gibbs said in a press release at 3 p.m.  “Please follow all of their instructions.”

Contact tracers will never ask for social security number, financial information or immigration status, Dr. Erin Baker posted on Facebook.

As for vaccines, Gibbs did not know when they would arrive but said Hyde Health as a mass vaccine plan that they will roll out as soon as vaccines are available.

Janille Turner, co-owner of Ocracoke Oyster Company, said she and her husband George closed their restaurant on Dec. 11 while employees with possible virus exposure got tested.

“All of our active employees have tested negative for COVID-19,” she posted today on Facebook. “We have one employee who has not worked with us since Nov. 27 or has been in the restaurant for reasons not related to COVID who has tested positive,” she wrote.

That person was in contact with someone else who did test positive for COVID, she said about the reason they closed.

She said they spray their restaurant tables and chairs daily with Microban, which kills the virus. The restaurant will open this weekend for takeout and delivery only, she said.

Because of the uptick in cases, the Ocracoke Community Library announced Saturday afternoon that it will close and go to a pick-up/drop-off or delivery service only through at least the end of December.

Patrons can call or text the branch manager, Sundae Horn, at 252-921-0283 for service, or communicate via the library’s Facebook page.

The Bread of Life Food Pantry announced on Facebook that if you are actively in quarantine and would like a hamper delivered to your home, please call or text 252-921-0348, and they will confidentially deliver pantry items to your doorstep. No application is necessary.

Island Mobile Health Care, staffed by Nurse Practitioner Gail Covington, is available to see patients on an appointment basis at 252-996-0511. She also does COVID-19 testing. She should have the rapid COVID-19 test by the end of the week. Covington charges for appointments but the COVID-19 test may be covered by insurance. People without insurance who are symptomatic and meet state criteria can get tested and the state will pay for the test.

Covington will be off island from Dec. 23 to Jan. 1.