In a videotaped “call to action” issued yesterday morning, Dr. Sheila Davies focused on the recent “exponential” growth in the number of COVID-19 cases in Dare County and pleaded with people “to get behind the mask and encourage your friends and family to do the same.”

In less than two weeks, the Director of the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services said, 162 new, positive COVID-19 cases have been reported locally, of which 77 percent are Dare County residents, and 86 percent are symptomatic.

Last Thursday, according to the DCDHHS dashboard, a local man between the ages of 25 and 49 was hospitalized, bringing the total number of Dare County residents currently hospitalized for COVID-19 to five, among 84 active cases. The other four have been hospitalized for weeks.

Dr. Davies further noted yesterday that 75 percent of the 162 new cases acquired the virus by direct contact with a known infected person, acknowledging for the first time that community spread did not turn out to be “the greatest threat” as she thought it would.

(The Beacon has long disputed this contention, declining to view COVID-19-positive people’s inability to identify direct contact with an infected person as a sign of community spread.)

Faced with 17 reported COVID-19 cases and nearly 450 quarantines among students and staff at Dare County’s schools, the Board of Education voted 6-1 yesterday, after Dr. Davies’s message, to return to virtual learning, exclusively, starting next week and continuing until Jan. 15, when the current semester ends. School sports and after-school clubs, however, will remain active.  

School board member Harvey Hess Jr., who represents district two, which includes Nags Head, Colington, and Kill Devil Hills, cast the sole dissenting vote, reportedly viewing the move as extreme.

Dr. Davies was very specific in her four-minute call to action about why COVID-19 cases are rising so dramatically in Dare County. Besides discounting community spread and implicating direct contact as “our greatest threat,” the public-health director dispelled the notion that the case increase is “linked” to contact in grocery stores or service stations.

“The rise in cases,” she said, “is linked to friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors, gathering with one another in social settings, in backyards, and driveways, in living rooms, in churches, youth groups, in work break rooms, and at sleepovers.”

Dr. Davies referred to the venues for virus transmission as “common places” where “people are gathering [and] not wearing masks nor social distancing.”

Significantly, her list cited outdoor gathering spots, as well as indoor ones.

In general, the DCDHHS Director said, “People are overly comfortable and casual in these settings,” which they cannot afford to be.

In accord with Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Dr. Davies cited “Covid fatigue” as being a factor in people “letting down their guard,” and also said it is “natural” and “therapeutic” for people to desire “human interaction.”

Expressing understanding about the letdown, she said she did not mean “to vilify or shame those who are getting together” and contributing to the spread of COVID-19. But she would like them to change their behavior.

Last week Governor Roy Cooper announced in a briefing with Dr. Cohen that he was lowering the allowable number of people in an indoor “mass gathering” from 25 to 10, effective Thursday, but he made no adjustment to outdoor gatherings, leaving the allowable maximum at 50.

The Governor also extended the “pause” in Phase Three for another three weeks, until 5 p.m. on Dec. 4. (See The Beacon, 11/10/20.)

Dr. Davies said that COVID-19 is increasingly spreading locally because “friends, family members, co-workers and children” are exposing other people to the disease caused by the coronavirus when they are “presymptomatic”—about a “day or two before feeling sick.”

By the time people show symptoms, she said, they have already infected a number of social contacts while “hanging out.”

To break the “chain of transmission,” Dr. Davies said, requires “hard work and self-discipline.”

That is when the Dare County public-health director issued her “plea to mask up if you will be with others,” and to observe physical distancing and good hand hygiene.

Absent concerted effort directed toward stopping the spread of COVID-19, Dr. Davies said she is concerned “the worst of the pandemic still lies ahead.”

ON THE STATE LEVEL: Yesterday, the NCDHHS dashboard twice reported COVID-19 cases, tests, hospitalizations, and deaths in order to bring the numbers up to date. Combined, the two reports showed 5,664 new COVID-19 cases, 1,425 COVID-19-related hospitalizations, and 4,756 COVID-19-related deaths. The positivity rate was calculated at 7.9-8.0 percent. (A recalculation of hospitalizations to reflect new CDC reporting criteria and a correction of the time when data are pulled accounted for the double update, according to the NCDHHS.)

THE BEACON is planning to report on Monday the COVID-19 cases announced in Dare County this weekend. We will make an exception to that plan if the case numbers compel us to do so.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 11/14/20

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