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Covid surge propels county into red zone

The state's Covid-19 County Alert map shows that spread of the virus has pushed 65 counties across the state into the red zone. [NC DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES] The state's Covid-19 County Alert map shows that spread of the virus has pushed 65 counties across the state into the red zone. [NC DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES]

With the community facing a quadrupling of Covid-19 cases, Pardee Hospital's chief medical officer on Tuesday implored the public to commit to public health precautions to stem the spread of the virus.

"The wave of Covid patients that we expected eight months ago didn't happen in March but it's here now," Dr. David Ellis told reporters on Tuesday. Pardee currently has 44 patients. "Over the past week we've seen the case counts rise dramatically and we don't see that changing in the near future."

The surge in cases vaulted Henderson County from the least severe rating to the most critical — yellow to red. Henderson County was not alone; sixty-five counties across the state are now in the red zone.

“North Carolina needs to drive down our numbers," Gov. Roy Cooper said during a news conference Tuesday. "To do that, we all need to change our holiday plans if you haven’t already. The best and safest option is to connect virtually or by phone. But if you gather in-person, keep it small and do it outside. Get a Covid-19 test before you go. Spread out the tables and chairs."

The state Department of Health and Human Services uses a combination of metrics to rank counties based on viral spread and hospital impact in the county. Two significant yardsticks are the number of cases per 100,000 people over the past 14 days and the test positivity rate, both of which are up dramatically in Henderson County.

Pardee, which has been planning for a surge since March, has adequate personal protective equipment and also has treatments for Covid that it did not have eight months ago, Ellis said Tuesday. But he emphasized that to avoid a crush of patients that could overwhelm hospitals, people need to model safety protocols.

"We all need to be leaders," he said. "We need to set an example for our community. I know that Covid fatigue is real. We all have it, me included. Thankfully, we have a vaccine that will be able to vaccinate not only health care workers initially but our community as well. As you know this will take time. Until we reach community vaccine levels, we must all do our part."

People who gather with others outside their household should wear mask and stay six feet apart. "Please be respectful of the health care workers who are putting their health at risk to take care of all the Covid patients" and remain vigilant about precautions.

"I think that there was a sense of complacency in Western North Carolina," he said. "I'm not going to say we all thought we were immune to a surge but we certainly hace watched this for eight months and it really hasn't hit here. ... I think what we learned from Thanksgiving is that it's real. What we've seen happen in the last 30 days is remarkable."

The county is now experiencing 87 cases per 100,000. "One month ago, that number was 20," Ellis said. "So we're not immune and we're asking people to do things that they really don't want to do. We're asking them to forgo many of the traditions that they're used to honoring for Christmas. If things don't change for Christmas, this is going to be a real problem for the community."

Pardee is managing the need for patient care because it has been preparing for a surge for months. In some cases, the hospital is moving workers around, shifting physicians who work in outpatient care so they're available to help hospitalists.

"We are not surprised by this," Ellis said. "We're certainly surprised at how quickly this happened but not that it happened."