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Contact with friends, relatives outside household driving Covid surge, Health Dept. says

Henderson County has seen a surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, climbing to 93 cases a day per 100,000 population and a positive test rate of 16.2 percent. 


The county is experiencing a rise in those rates and others compared to 99 other counties in North Carolina.

The county's daily average number of cases over the most recent seven-day period was 109.6. That ranked the county's average number of cases per 100,000 — at 93.3 — the eighth highest rate in the state, markedly higher than the statewide figure of 59.1 new cases per 100,000 people over the same weeklong period. Henderson County's positive test rate, at 16.2 percent, ranked 15th highest in the state. The numbers were reported from a variety of sources, including a chart compiled by the New York Times.

The virus was spreading at an alarmingly high rate, too, in other mountain or foothills counties, too. Mitchell County had the highest daily average number of new cases per 100,000 people in the most recent seven-day span, with 121.4, while Rutherford County ranked one notch above Henderson County, with 93.8 cases. Henderson County death rate, at .6 per 100,000, was exactly in the middle among 100 N.C. counties, at 50th.

The surge in cases comes as the Department of Public Health confirmed Thursday that it had identified 75 individuals who have tested positive after three performances of a Christmas pageant at First Baptist Church. On Monday, the health department said the number of infections had risen to 94.

“There’s certainly an elevated community spread exponentially,” Health Department spokesman Andrew Mundhenk said. “I would say our current predicament is at least partially tied to a surge in Thanksgiving and other holiday-based celebrations. A good number of our transmissions are coming from a friend, a neighbor, a coworker or a family member that’s not in their immediate household. People are dropping their guard for protective measures when they’re with people that are close to them but outside their household … not wearing masks or social distancing."

The fact that Covid-19 vaccines will eventually become available is no reason to relax protective measures, he added.

“A lot of people ask us about the vaccine but realistically it’s going to be months before there’s enough to cover all the people that want it," he said. "So we’re just asking people to remain vigilant so we can avoid unnecessary deaths of the most vulnerable and protect our health care system from being overwhelmed.”

With Christmas upon us, public health experts are imploring people to remain cautious.

“We know it’s a really hard ask but we’re just asking again for the holiday season to please just follow the 3Ws when you’re with anyone that’s outside your household, to avoid travel if you can and use the basic protective measures that can help us get through this holiday season," Mundhenk said.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services defines clusters of Covid-19 in non-congregate living settings as a minimum of five cases with illness onsets or initial positive results within a 14-day period and plausible epidemiologic linkage between cases.

Henderson County, the health department warned, continues to see an increase in Covid-19 cases generated from social gatherings such as parties, family and neighborhood get-togethers. To help reduce the spread of Covid-19 at private social gatherings, the department urged residents to avoid large get-togethers and to continue practice of the 3Ws: Wear a face covering, Wait six feet apart and Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer. 

The Covid-19 County Alert System map published by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services still shows Henderson County as yellow, the least critical based on case rate, the percent of tests that are positive and hospital impact within the county. Those figures for Henderson County are outdated. The alert map was last updated on Dec. 4.

Henderson County's total cases per 100,000, at 3,817, remained below the statewide cases per 100,000, at 4,516. And the county's ICU capacity at Pardee Hospital and AdventHealth remained strong, with just 18 percent of intensive care beds in use.