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Community spread now half of covid infections here

As the fourth month of the coronavirus pandemic gets under way, the number of covid-19 cases outside nursing homes is on the rise in Henderson County.

On Wednesday, the county and state had been in a state of emergency for 107 days and a gradual increase in infections in the general population suggests a broad easing of restrictions is unlikely

"It's the longest time the state EOC has been engaged in any single activity, including any hurricane, so it's certainly a remarkable time," Emergency Services Director Jimmy Brissie told the Board of Commissioners this week.

The county's public health dashboard on Saturday showed 470 cases, 242 of them affiliated with congregate care facilities, signaling that the number of cases spread in the community outside assisted living envionments is climbing. For the first weeks of the pandemic more than 80 percent of cases were associated with assisted living centers; now those cases represent 51 percent of the total.

Henderson County continues to record a high number of deaths and a very high mortality rate. The 26th most populous county, Henderson County has the fourth highest covid-19 death toll, at 49. More than half, 27, have occurred at one facility, the Laurels of Hendersonville, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services tracking of ongoing outbreaks in congregate living settings. The Clear Creek Road nursing home has reported 97 cases, 81 involving patients and 16 among the staff.

Brian Center Health & Rehabilitation reported 45 cases and eight deaths while Hendersonville Health and Rehabilitation reported two cases and no deaths. Among non-nursing residential care facilities, Carolina Reserve of Laurel Park had has had 12 cases and no deaths.

The county's mortality rate remains steady, at 10.2 percent, a far higher death rate than other counties. Mecklenburg County has recorded 131 deaths but a mortality rate of 1.6 percent. Wake County, with just over 1 million people, had six fewer deaths than Henderson County and a mortality rate of 1.2 percent. Buncombe County, which has reported 35 deaths, had a mortality rate of 7.2 percent.

On Wednesday, Public Health Director Steve Smith and Brissie updated the Board of Commissioners on covid-19 and answered questions submitted by the public.

Why some gyms are allowed to be open?

They are not allowed to open under state of emergency restrictions "but we are aware that some have chosen to do so," Smith said. When the health department receives a complaint that a fitness center is operating in violation of the state's Phase 2 order, Smith said, the public health department, usually Smith himself, calls the gym's manager. "I continue to advocate for conforming," he said.

I've been seeing yard sales. Are these allowed?

"I haven't seen anything specific to yard sales" but gatherings of up to 25 people are allowed outdoors as long as social distancing is maintained, the health director said.

What about surfaces or packaging?

"I continue to see more and more information that the likelihood of transmissions from surfaces and objects is really really low," Smith said. "The vast majority of transmissions occur from person to person through respiratory droplets."

What should I do I've been exposed to covid-19?

"Our contact tracing efforts contine for each and every case. If you have had exposure to a positive you will be notified." Some people think they have been exposed if they're near someone they later learn was infected. The public health definition of exposure, he said, "means someone that has suspected exposure to a positive case (person) within less than 6 feet of distance for 15 minutes or more."

County Commissioner Rebecca McCall said the total number of cases had infected less than four-tenths of 1 percent of the county's population.

"It has not taxed our hospitals at all," she said. "I don't know that we had more than six people, if that many, at one time on ventilators."

County Manager Steve Wyatt praised a "strike team" under the Brissie that had been responding to nursing home outbreaks to curb the spread of infections among patients and staff.