CHARLOTTE – Public Health Director Gibbie Harris told county leaders March 17 that it appears there’s community spread of the coronavirus in Mecklenburg County.
Currently, Mecklenburg County has reported 30 positive COVID-19 cases. Harris said March 16 that the county had seven cases and 259 people tested and waiting on results. The number of cases doubled by March 18 and again on March 19.
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The county has declared a state of emergency to tap into state and federal funding to offset costs in fighting the pandemic.
Harris has also issued an order to restrict mass gatherings with more than 50 people in Mecklenburg County. That order has been extended to gyms, health clubs and theaters.
But could the county enter into a shelter-in-place situation like San Francisco?
“What we’re trying to do in the county is prevent us from getting to a place where a San Francisco or New York has found themselves,” Harris said, adding the restrictions put in place have occurred faster here than other places. “We’re hoping that’s going to have the impact that we want it to have. This is just a new situation, so it’s hard to know that for sure.
“We will continue to look at what it takes to try to isolate this infection in our community and keep people from being infected. Unfortunately with the new cases that we have what we’re recognizing is that we now have community spread.”
Harris told commissioners the county is holding off on making restrictions to child-care centers, opting to wait for recommendations from the state.
“We’re making and will continue to make these decisions based on federal guidance and on the epidemiology of what’s happening in our community,” she said. “Those will change and will continue to change. They are almost changing on a daily basis.”
Commissioner Susan Harden told Harris that her constituents in the south Charlotte region want to see the county implement the “highest and most vigilant protocols to reduce community spread and prevent disease from being passed on.”
The county is not naming areas where the positive tests are coming from; however, companies like Wells Fargo and OrthoCarolina have been upfront about potential exposure.
OrthoCarolina said a physician in its Hip & Knee Center in Mercy Hospital is recovering at home after testing positive for COVID-19. Staff who have been in proximity to the physician are quarantining at home.
Testing has been conducted through the health department, health systems and private physician offices.
“At this point in time, our capability outpaces our capacity,” Harris said regarding the supply of tests. “But that continues to improve every day. I also want to emphasize that we have been able to test anyone who needed to be tested in this county.”
Health officials aren’t testing just anyone. Patients are screened based on symptoms (fever, cough and shortness of breath), whether they’ve come in contact with someone with COVID-19 or have traveled to an area of concern within 21 days.
Harris stressed that people should call ahead before visiting physician offices and hospitals to ensure they are not putting themselves or others at risk. She encouraged people to use 911 for emergencies, not to report a fever or other mild symptoms.
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