Tuesday, June 28, 2022

New Hanover County to let additional restrictions lapse on Wednesday, ramps up testing

WILMINGTON — Testing efforts for Covid-19 are ramping up across the state as well as in New Hanover County. This is an important step towards reopening the state and economy according to Governor Roy Cooper’s three-phase process.

On Monday, New Hanover County Chairwoman Julia Olson-Boseman, along with Mayor Bill Saffo and healthcare professionals in the county discussed their efforts to test up to 2,400 people in the coming weeks. She also announced that the county’s additional restrictions and closures due to the virus would lapse on Wednesday, and they would not be renewed by the county.

This means that additional restrictions that saw the closure of the beaches, the requirement that restaurants could not do take-out service (only curbside), and more will soon be lifted.

Other things like basketball courts, volleyball courts, and the county landfill will once again reopen to the public, but social distancing must still take place, Olson-Boseman said. Just because these restrictions are being loosened, the threat is far from over, she said.

“As these local mitigations measures are lifted, it will be even more important for every single person to be vigilant … This virus is still in our community, so I don’t want people to mistake lifting some of these restrictions to mean that we are in the clear,” Olson-Boseman said.

While the county orders were stricter than what the state required, she said these enhanced efforts have helped slow the spread of the virus in the county and the low number of positive tests so far is evidence of that. There have been 79 cases of Covid-19 in the community and 49 of those cases have recovered, she said, adding that there have been three deaths so far.

Healthcare professionals admitted that the numbers we have seen in New Hanover County (as well as across the state) are likely lower due to the slow rollout of testing, and the strict requirements initially in place to get tested.

The county announced its efforts to increase testing in the community on Sunday, saying the county hoped to test approximately 1% of the population, or, around 2,400 people. These tests will be performed over the next four weeks

It is likely more tests will result in a significant increase in positive cases, the state is taking that into account and is not only relying on the number of positive cases but also the percentage of positive cases versus the number of tests conducted.

While 1% of the population still leaves 99% untested, the efforts are some of the most, if not the most aggressive by any county in the state so far.

“I’m not aware of an ongoing plan for this level of robust testing and commitment to the understanding of Covid-19 in any other county in the state,” Public Health Preparedness Coordinator for New Hanover County Lisa Brown said.

It’s also not just the county providing the testing. New Hanover County Regional Medical Center, as well as other private practice physicians, are performing testing so the 1% figure is strictly what the county is providing.

On another note, Mayor Bill Saffo announced a major donation of antibody testing as well as N95 face masks by a private business person who wanted to remain anonymous.

While the antibody testing is not the same thing as the diagnostic testing that lets doctors know of immediate Covid-19 cases, antibody testing is useful in trying to determine immunity to the virus, as well as getting a bigger picture of residents who might have had the virus and not had symptoms.

The plans for the donated tests are not yet laid out, but the city and county will be working together to do that, Saffo said.

According to the county, its “diagnostic testing will serve around 2,400 residents and is being paid for by New Hanover County, and those tests will help people know if they currently have COVID-19 and allow Public Health to conduct contact tracing. The antibody testing that the Mayor announced will be deployed over the coming weeks in a targeted way – first on those who have a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 and then in a targeted approach to a more broad section of the community. But these antibody tests that were donated are not available for the community yet. “

You can watch the full meeting video here.

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