Sunday, July 14, 2024

Fighting ‘covid fatigue’ as cases creep up locally, statewide [Free]

Businesses with a Count on Me NC certificate displayed have undergone voluntary training and review with health officials to ensure safe Covid-19 protocols are being followed. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Businesses with a Count on Me NC certificate displayed have undergone voluntary training and review with health officials to ensure safe Covid-19 protocols are being followed. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

SOUTHEASTERN, N.C. — Public attitudes about Covid-19 precautions seem to have worsened as the percentage of positive cases rises locally, presenting a threat to vulnerable systems and high-risk individuals.

The rate of increase of new positive cases is on the rise statewide (meaning not only are the numbers going up, but the rate at which they’re going up is increasing). With more testing, health experts are seeing a higher percentage of positive results out of the total than they were previously.

Related: Checking in with Covid: Statewide hospitalizations peak, local positive cases trend upward [Free]

It’s important to note the recent uptick has not been contributed to increased testing alone; though it’s difficult to quantify, health experts have pointed to relaxed behaviors as a reason behind the recent increase in the rate of new positive cases.

“Covid fatigue,” as New Hanover County Public Health preparedness coordinator Lisa Brown describes it, is the general sense of being tired of taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Everybody is kind of — we’re over it. We’re tired. We do want to be able to interact more,” Lisa Brown said in an interview Friday.

After months of lockdown when the population did generally follow orders to “flatten the curve,” pent-up frustration bubbled up. From meeting up with friends face-to-face to walking on the beach, Brown said she knows the general public wants to get back to normal.

“All of those things, we’re trying to figure out how to bring them back. And the best tools that we have are the ones we’ve been talking about throughout this whole time,” she said, referencing the three Ws: wear a mask, wait 6 ft. apart, and wash your hands. “If we could just get folks to adopt those.”

NHRMC Vice President Dr. Phillip Brown has noticed Covid-19 fatigue impacting his own family. “We’ve been asked to do dramatically different behaviors. And we’ve done it to a high level. We’ve flattened the curve, that was the original goal. That was wonderful,” he said Tuesday. As his children’s friends have begun relaxing precautions, his children look to him for what they can do, he said.

“And I’m saying, ‘We’re not out of the woods yet. I think we’ll just sit tight.’ And so that wears them down,” he said.

Policy change, three-week gap

There’s a two-to-three week gap from the point of policy change until it’s reflected in data.

That’s because Covid-19’s incubation period spans about 14 days. People can contract — and be contagious — with the virus even before they show symptoms (and even if they never show symptoms, though asymptomatic individuals are believed to be less contagious). Symptoms usually arrive between five and 14 days after contracting the virus.

Add in a few days to account for testing turnaround time, and by three weeks, policy or behavior shifts become clear in reported Covid-19 data.

“It is only toward the end of this week that we’ll begin to see the behavior changes that occurred on Memorial Day Weekend,” Dr. Brown said.

Once North Carolina entered phase two on May 22, many people gained a false sense of security and confidence. “These mathematical equations of disease transmission are set in place based on what happens today but don’t show up for about three weeks. And people lose sight of that. So they gained great confidence when the first time they went out, they didn’t end up with covid the next day.

“But it was false confidence. Because they could have been exposed to it that day and they’re going to get it two weeks later and not really have severe symptoms for three weeks,” Dr. Phillip Brown explained. “Close to three weeks from now we will begin to see what happened based on the behavior changes associated with the very appropriate protests on racial justice.”

A weakened approach to preventing the spread presents a risk as the state’s key metrics show the virus is heading in the wrong direction in New Hanover County and statewide. The risk doesn’t simply come from dining out or moving around; it’s in how careful individuals are in maintaining precautions while doing so.

The false sense of confidence is risky, Dr. Phillip Brown said. “It’s empowering other people’s confidence to go ahead and abandon some of the things that we know works. So that’s how the interplay is. it is difficult to navigate but dangerous.”

Hospitalizations

State hospitalizations are peaking, with 774 hospitalized as of Tuesday with 84% of hospitals reporting data. Since Memorial Day, North Carolina has seen the second-highest increase in hospitalizations (up 23%) in the nation, behind Texas, according to the Washington Post.

Keeping an eye on local hospitalizations is important because the impact can quickly accumulate. “You don’t want to wait until you are really nervous because it takes a while to change a trend,” Lisa Brown said.

“If you have two people that go into the hospital today, and let’s say they’re going to be in the hospital for at least a week, but then tomorrow two more people go in, and they’re going to be in for at least a week. And then the day after that two more people go in. So you can see how that quickly starts to become concerning as we see those kind of creep up and stay there and creep up a little bit more,” she explained.

New Hanover County Regional Medical Center (NHRMC) hs seen an increase in Covid-19 hospitalization but has not disclosed how many patients are currently hospitalized for the virus. NHRMC is “below 90% capacity” across its system, its spokesperson said Monday, with the flexibility to temporarily exceed capacity if necessary per a new state order.

The percentage of positive cases detected out of all tested has also taken a turn upward since May 26, at 7.3% Tuesday, according to data tracked by Johns Hopkins University.

Click to enlarge: The rate of positive Covid-19 cases is on the rise.

As expected, the total number of Covid-19 cases is rising. But recently, the rate of increase in cases has risen, climbing more quickly than months prior over the past two weeks. Click to enlarge. (Port City Daily graphic/Johanna F. Still, Data Courtesy New Hanover County)

Count on Me NC

In sharing concerns, local health experts are not asking for the economy to close again. They recognize “a strong economy is important to public health too,” New Hanover County Personal Health Services Assistant Director Carla Turner said Friday.

In conjunction with a statewide campaign, Count on Me NC, New Hanover County environmental health and communicable disease team members are offering free support to area businesses. The Count on Me NC program offers certifications to participating businesses once they have completed free training modules.

County health officials are also offering in-person site visits for restaurants and even non-licensed facilities, including office settings, for businesses that are looking for additional guidance and review. The reviews and new statewide program help build confidence in customers, who can search for search participating businesses on the program’s website.

“It’s really mutually empowering and increases consumer confidence so that the economy can stabilize and continue and be flexible depending on how this continues to evolve in months to come,” county spokesperson Kate Oelslager said Friday.

Degrees of separation

One element health experts are seeing is a lack of support for protections if the virus hasn’t personally impacted someone.

“If it hasn’t touched them, they tend to have a different perspective. I could potentially be the same way, except that I work in public health, and since February or the middle of March, we have been working 10, 11, 12 hours a day, on my phone on the weekends, on my computer on the weekends. So it has been in my face everywhere I turn. So I have a different perspective.

“We can’t decide what people are going to do. All we can do is educate and encourage and offer whatever support and resources we have for people to make good decisions,” Turner said.

While experts continue to point to data and research, even still, they recognize that it won’t make an impact on some people who have already made up their minds. “To me, the data speaks for itself. But what it says to me may not be what it says to somebody else,” Turner said.

Early on, many people adopted precautions with the understanding of protecting the higher-risk elderly community. But Lisa Brown points to recent state research that shows even healthy young people can have adverse outcomes. Of all Covid-19 deaths statewide in individuals aged 25-49, 28% occurred in individuals with no underlying health conditions.

“Even those of us who don’t have an underlying health problem and are younger, we should not think that we are invincible. We are not invincible,” Brown said.


Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee Still at johanna@localvoicemedia.com

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