2/3/21: DAVIES GIVES NO DETAILS ABOUT PEAK RESOURCES OUTBREAK; 32 NEW COVID-19 CASES REPORTED YESTERDAY; DARE SCHOOL BOARD TO ASSESS RETURN TO IN-PERSON LEARNING AT FEB. 9 MEETING.

Dr. Sheila Davies, Dare County’s health director, gave no accounting in her COVID-19 update yesterday of the outbreak she has confirmed at Peak Resources nursing home and rehabilitation center in Nags Head. Instead she touted “hopeful trends” in COVID-19 cases—saying last week’s total of 153 cases was the lowest total in Dare County since before Christmas—and focused on vaccines.

Also yesterday, the COVID-19 dashboard of the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services reported 32 new cases, 24 of them Dare County residents. Of the 24 locals, six are age 65 or over, and two have been hospitalized.

The day before—Monday—the dashboard reported only three new cases, all of them Dare County residents. Monday is always the lightest day of the week for case reports.

One of the newly hospitalized residents is reportedly a man age 65 or over; and the other is a male minor age 17 or younger.

If the DCDHHS dashboard has accurately reported all hospitalizations and hospital discharges, there should be 12 residents—not nine, as the dashboard currently shows—still hospitalized with COVID-19

DCDHHS Director Davies confirmed with The Outer Banks Voice last Friday an outbreak at Peak Resources of at least 45 people, 39 residents and six staff members.

Residents and staff at Peak have been offered the opportunity to be vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which is being administered by Walgreens and CVS through a partnership program with the federal government.

Dr. Davies gave no indication yesterday in her report, COVID-19 Update No. 80, how many of the residents and staff at Peak have been vaccinated with first and second doses, and how many of the infected residents may have been vaccinated. 

In fact, she has not given an individualized accounting about how people newly diagnosed with COVID-19 likely acquired the virus since Dec. 22, 2020—after providing this public information in every update since she started her updates.  

The Beacon believes that Dr. Davies’s withholding of information about the means of viral spread in Peak Resources and elsewhere in the county is a failure in local public health, which should be guided by science and the public interest, not politics. 

As for vaccines, Dr. Davies reported that the DCDHHS’s “guaranteed weekly allocation from the state for the next three weeks is 300 doses per week.”

These are only first doses; second doses are in separate shipments.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services, has said that there are no problems with the federal government’s supply of second doses, just first doses.

This week, Dr. Davies said, DCDHHS was able to secure an additional 500 doses “through a special event request.” For the next two weeks, however, no more than 300 doses per week are guaranteed.

GOVERNOR URGES IN-PERSON LEARNING FOR SCHOOLCHILDREN

Governor Roy Cooper and Secretary Cohen strongly urged local school districts yesterday “to get our children back into the classroom,” as the Governor said at an afternoon COVID-19 briefing, in which top State education officials participated.

The Governor was eloquent in describing schools as not only sites for academic instruction, but as places where children “learn social skills, get reliable meals, and find their voices.” He also mentioned the role that teachers play in identifying child abuse and other problems that students may be experiencing at home.

Newly elected Superintendent of N.C. Public Instruction, Catherine Truitt, said that the pandemic is having “negative effects on children’s mental health and overall well-being, as well as their academic instruction.” In returning to in-person learning, she said, “We face a challenging pathway ahead.”

But, she insisted, “Our students cannot lose any more time”—after noting that even before COVID-19, “children were behind.”

Those of you with school-age children probably know that the Dare County Board of Education has decided to discuss a return to in-person learning at its Feb. 9 business meeting.

Previously, the Board had announced that it would hold a special meeting Feb. 13 about reopening schools—the day that many Dare County school staff receive their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The DCDHHS held a special vaccination clinic Jan. 23 for Dare County teachers and administrators and law enforcement personnel—even though Dr. Davies knew soon after she received State approval for the event that North Carolina’s vaccine prioritization had changed to advance all people age 65 or older ahead of teachers and other “essential workers.”

Governor Cooper said yesterday that he and Dr. Cohen had not discussed changing the state’s prioritization groups.

The Secretary reiterated that 83 percent of the nearly 10,000 people who have died from COVID-19 in North Carolina were age 65 or older. The vaccine prioritization, she said, is based on the “highest risk of death.”

“We will get vaccines to our essential workers as soon as possible,” she said.

The Dare County school staff members who were vaccinated Jan. 23 received first doses of the Pfizer vaccine.   

We found Dr. Cohen’s remarks about school studies yesterday to be the most interesting. She reported on research that, she said, has determined schools are a “lower-risk setting” for COVID-19 than other public places. She also distinguished between elementary schoolchildren age 10 and younger and older students in middle school and high school.

She said that studies show “younger children are less likely to get and spread COVID-19,” and when they do contract the virus, they have very mild cases. Severe COVID-19 cases among young children are extremely rare.

The NCDHHS Secretary also said that children age 10 or younger “rarely transmit” COVID-19 to other children or to adult staff members. (Dare County had COVID-19 outbreaks in several of its elementary schools last year before the School Board reverted to remote learning exclusively.)

Regardless of the age of the students in a school building, Dr. Cohen explained, all students participating in in-person instruction will have to weak masks at all times and maintain six-foot distancing from each other.

She also said infection-prevention protocols such as screening students and staff for fevers and wiping down high-use surfaces will be in effect.

The NCDHHS has a “Strong Schools N.C. Public Health Toolkit (K-12)” for schools to implement and observe.

“The science is clear,” Dr. Cohen concluded. “It is safe to reopen our schools in accordance with the health protocols.”

In response to a reporter’s question, however, she acknowledged that the NCDHHS’s safety guidance will be more difficult to observe in middle schools and high schools because of the “physical configuration” of buildings and “the number of students.”

The Governor elected not to issue an executive order requiring N.C. public schools to open because he prefers to give local school districts “flexibility.” He would rather “spur action” by local school boards, he said, than to dictate it.

Asked by a reporter whether he would sign N.C. Senate Bill 37, a fast-moving bill filed Monday to require all school districts to provide in-person instruction while also observing NCDHHS safety protocols, the Governor demurred, saying “I have not seen the legislation.”

But he also expressed concern that the bill is “stripping some health protocols.”

You may read S.B. 37 at https://www.ncleg.gov/Sessions/2021/Bills/Senate/PDF/S37v.1.pdf.

Governor Cooper further stressed that all students should have an option for remote learning, if it is “best” for them.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 2/3/21

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