Dozen new virus cases in Sampson; state testing peaks

By Chris Berendt [email protected]

COVID-19 in Sampson: A timeline

*Total positive patients based on announcements made by the County of Sampson and the Sampson County Health Department.

March 16 — first case

April 3 — second case

April 5 — third case

April 6 — 5 cases

April 8 — 9 cases

April 9 — 10 cases

April 13 — 13 cases

April 14 — 14 cases

April 15 — 17 cases

April 16 — 18 cases

April 17 — 19 cases

April 20 — 21 cases

April 21 — 24 cases

April 22 — 27 cases

April 23 — 35 cases

April 24 — 36 cases

April 27 — 45 cases

April 28 — 49 cases

April 29 — 63 cases

April 30 — 74 cases

May 1 — 81 cases

May 4 — 96 cases

May 5 — 100 cases

May 6 — 120 cases

May 7 — 129 cases

May 8 — 140 cases

May 11 — 171 cases

May 12 — 177 cases

May 13 — 193 cases

May 14 — 211 cases

May 15 — 224 cases

May 18 — 257 cases

May 19 — 267 cases

May 20 — 302 cases

May 21 — 314 cases

May 22 — 333 cases

May 26 — 392 cases

May 27 — 402 cases

May 28 — 413 cases

May 29 — 429 cases

June 1 — 479 cases

June 2 — 501 cases

June 3 — 510 cases

June 4 — 545 cases

June 5 — 563 cases

June 8 — 606 cases

June 9 — 630 cases

June 10 — 637 cases

June 11 — 681 cases

June 12 — 707 cases

June 15 — 749 cases

June 16 — 764 cases

June 17 — 804 cases

June 18 — 823 cases

June 19 — 859 cases

June 22 — 890 cases

June 23 — 927 cases

June 24 — 940 cases

June 25 — 954 cases

June 26 — 977 cases

June 29 — 1,013 cases

June 30 — 1,057 cases

July 1 — 1,077 cases

July 2 — 1,085 cases

July 6 — 1,122 cases

July 7 — 1,134 cases

Tests for COVID-19 across North Carolina surpassed the one million mark over the weekend, as cases and hospitalizations continue to rise in the state, the latter hitting a new high. While numbers have increased along many metrics, deaths have leveled off in recent weeks, according to statistics through the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS).

Testing looks only to expand across the state, including in Sampson, where another dozen new cases of the novel coronavirus was reported Tuesday by the Sampson County Health Department. That followed 37 new ones reported on Monday in Sampson, which has had 1,134 cases of the novel coronavirus to date.

The NCDHHS took action Tuesday to decrease barriers to COVID-19 testing by issuing a Statewide Standing Order for COVID-19 Diagnostic Testing, as well as a State Health Director Temporary Order on COVID-19 Diagnostic Test Reporting.

The actions, according to the health agency, will increase access to testing across the state, especially for members of historically marginalized populations, and increase reporting of North Carolina test results — both positive and negative — to the state.

“Testing is an important component of the state’s strategy to slow the spread of the virus, and today’s order will make it easier for North Carolinians to get tested,” said NCDHHS State Health Director Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, M.D.

The Statewide Standing Order allows testing sites to collect and submit samples to a laboratory for COVID-19 testing without requiring a specific order and authorizes testing sites to receive results directly from laboratories. This will facilitate community-based testing sites and reduce barriers to testing, especially for members of historically marginalized populations who may be less likely to have a medical home, the NCDHHS stated.

The NCDHHS on Tuesday also launched the Community testing in High-priority And Marginalized Populations (CHAMP) Initiative to increase access to no-cost COVID-19 testing for African American, LatinX/Hispanic and American Indian communities that currently have limited testing sites.

A disproportionately high percentage of North Carolina’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 have occurred among historically marginalized populations. Mounting evidence shows the members of these populations experience higher rates of COVID-19 mortality and serious complications.

“Increasing access to free testing is key to our ability to respond to and contain COVID-19,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen, M.D. “This targeted testing initiative seeks to confront historical health disparities by increasing COVID-19 testing capacity in underserved communities across the state.”

As many as 300 temporary testing sites will be deployed throughout the month of July, including drive-thru and walk-up sites. North Carolina has identified two vendors to begin this work, Vidant Health and Orig3n, Inc. Both vendors will deploy new no-cost testing sites to underserved communities identified by DHHS and bring additional lab capacity to the state. The initiative will increase testing capacity in more than 100 ZIP codes, providing testing access for 2.2 million African American, LatinX/Hispanic and American Indian individuals.

In Sampson County, the Hispanic population is disproportionately affected by COVID-19, according to county health director Wanda Robinson.

As of last week, approximately 68% of the county’s total cases were of Hispanic ethnicity. The Hispanic and Latino population makes up roughly 20 percent of Sampson’s total population, according to Census figures. The data being collected indicates the population is more at risk, county health officials said, likely due to factors such as housing (multi-generational), occupation, underlying health conditions and access to health care.

There have been 3,465 COVID-19 tests conducted in Sampson (up 14 from Monday), resulting in 2,237 negatives (up 3) to go along with the 1,134 positive patients, which includes the 12 new cases. There are 94 tests pending, which is down one from Monday’s status, according to the local agency.

Of the 1,134 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Sampson, 875 were listed as recovered as of Tuesday. That number is up 38 from Monday’s total. Seven deaths in Sampson have been attributed to COVID-19.

State and local officials have urged citizens to wear a mask, pointing to “overwhelming” scientific evidence that shows face coverings can greatly reduce the spread of COVID-19, especially from people who have it and don’t know it yet. Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order mandating masks late last month, delaying a Phase 3 of reopening until July 17.

Sampson Regional Medical Center is distributing 20,000 masks at sites across the county. Hospital leaders said wearing a mask is a “minor inconvenience and price to pay for keeping our community health.” They are urging residents to join them “in containing the outbreak.”

Dr. Shawn Howerton, chief medical officer and CEO for Sampson Regional, disseminated that message in an all-call through the City of Clinton on Tuesday.

“Our hospital is still hard at work fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. But, right now you don’t need to be a doctor, a nurse or a healthcare worker to help save lives. You just need to be someone who cares about protecting yourself and those around you,” siad Howerton. “Mask wearing helps save lives and will help our economy recover faster.”

“You can help us contain the outbreak by wearing a cloth facemask that covers your nose and mouth when you’re in public places or when you cannot maintain 6 feet distance from others,” said Howerton, who urged those who need a mask to pick one up from a distribution point. “Thanks for joining us in the fight.”

Hospital leaders expressed their appreciation for the community partnerships that are making distribution possible. Distribution sites are in Clinton, Harrells and Roseboro (see related box).

“The mask is better protection for those around you,” Amber Cava, vice president of Strategy and Business Development at Sampson Regional Medical Center, has said. “I wear my mask for you and you wear your mask for me. This is something we all do for each other, and we have to do it together. We all have to agree that if I’m not going to do it for me, I have to do it for my neighbor and for my friend. If I feel well and I don’t feel like I’m at risk of becoming sick, I have to do this for those vulnerable around me who could easily become sick.”

Sampson and Duplin have both been identified as hotspots for the novel coronavirus.

Duplin’s total COVID-19 cases increased to 1,552 residents as of late last week as the virus claimed three more lives, bringing the county’s toll to 35 fatalities, Duplin health officials reported Thursday, the most recent local report. Of those confirmed positive cases, 143 are currently in isolation, and 1,374 have met clinical criteria to be released from isolation, the Duplin County Health Department reported. The amount of pending COVID-19 tests for Duplin was not available.

Sampson last week suffered its seventh death attributed to the novel coronavirus.

According to local health officials, Sampson County is averaging about 28 new cases per day with a 32.5% positivity rate, more than three times the statewide rate positivity rate of 9 percent, Robinson told the Sampson Board of Commissioners during the board’s virtual meeting Monday.

The county is currently ranked second in the state for the highest COVID-19 rate per population, the county health director noted.

With Sampson and Duplin considered hotspots for the virus, public health officials are urgently calling on citizens to help combat the COVID virus. They echoed the importance of the 3 W’s: Wear a cloth face covering; Wait 6 feet behind others; and Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds.

“We are begging for leaders that are present to help us here in Sampson County,” said Robinson. “The only way that we can bring our rates down is through the 3 W’s — and I know you’ve heard the 3 W’s everywhere you may go. We’re hoping everyone will join us as we try to protect the citizens here in Sampson County.”

The Sampson County Health Department staff are currently assisting two of the county’s long-term care facilities with testing for COVID at 100% — meaning all residents and staff are tested. The first facility to conduct testing had all residents test negative. The second facility’s results were still coming in but were also all negative.

Public health staff continues to work closely with farm owners and farmworkers to prevent and limit exposure to COVID-19 and to protect the health of the vital workforce. NC Cooperative Extension Service, in cooperation with the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry in Dunn and individual farm contacts, has distributed 10,000 masks to labor camps and farmworkers.

Farming entities who need masks can reach out to Sampson County Cooperative Extension at 910-592-7161 for assistance.

Statewide as of 12 p.m. Tuesday, there were 75,875 cases (up 1,336 from Monday) and 1,420 deaths due to COVID-19 (up 22 from Monday), according to the NCDHHS. Currently, 989 individuals are hospitalized due to the virus (up 7), a new high in the state.

There were 1,071,290 tests for COVID-19 conducted across the state as of Tuesday, up 19,444 from the day before.

To monitor COVID-19 statistics for Sampson and Duplin counties, as well as the rest of the state, visiting the NCDHHS COVID-19 dashboard at covid19.ncdhhs.gov/dashboard. This dashboard includes a variety of COVID-19 metrics and is updated by the state daily.

For more on Sampson Regional Medical Center’s efforts and the mask distribution, visit sampsonrmc.org or call 910-592-8511.

Editor Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 2587.