SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Rather than releasing just a press release this week to detail the fight against Covid-19, New Hanover County shared an “open letter to the community” Friday. It praised recent successes in combating the spread of the virus, while imploring citizens to be safe during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
“It has been eight months since we reported our first confirmed case of COVID-19 in New Hanover County, and for eight months we, as a community, have been navigating the challenges of living through a pandemic,” the letter, signed by four local health officials, states. “Although Thanksgiving and the holiday season must look different this year, we can’t help but reflect on the resilience of our community, for which we are so grateful.”
Carla Turner, assistant health director of the New Hanover County Health Department, said her office has been working to prepare the county for a holiday season that could tempt some to ease up on social distancing guidelines.
“There’s no way to get around the fact that these holidays are not going to be the same as the holidays we had last year, just like Halloween wasn’t the same,” Turner said in an interview.
The public health office, alongside communications staff, wants to keep residents mindful of the need to stay sharp this winter. Since the pandemic has now consumed public attention for eight months, battling “Covid fatigue” is crucial in the health department’s strategy.
“Communications and outreach is working really hard with us to find ways to reach particular groups and demographics — unique ways to get the message out to folks,” Turner said. “Maybe the message is the same but it’s being presented a little differently.”
Though New Hanover has 821 active cases of the virus, and a “weekly case count trend that is going up,” the area was placed in the lowest relative tier of severity, according to the Covid-19 County Alert System map released by the governor’s office this week.
“We can and should take a moment to celebrate our small victories, but we also have to keep pushing forward,” the county’s letter states. “We are entering a period of increased risk. One event with lax precautions can lead to hundreds of infections and even some deaths. So gatherings, travel, shopping and social outings need to look different this holiday season.”
Kate Oelslager, a spokesperson for New Hanover County, said continuing to communicate the impacts from the pandemic will be present for the foreseeable future, even after the rollout of an expected vaccine in the coming months.
“Part of our strategy is redeveloping the information to kind of come to a sense of closure and resolution, in that right now, we can’t get hung up on trying to get back to normal,” Oelslager said. “We’re all saying I wish it was like it used to be, but we need to move forward from where we are.”
Also on Friday, Brunswick County released a similar letter.
“Traditionally, the holidays are a time to gather with family and friends to celebrate and enjoy one another’s company,” the letter states. “However, such celebrations pose a risk to the health of you and your loved ones as the risk for COVID-19 transmission increases significantly when people gather—especially indoors.”
Like officials in New Hanover, those in Brunswick County are urging residents to be cautious when hosting gatherings over the Thanksgiving holiday, and to follow guidance from the state when congregating.
“We can stop the spread of this virus from impacting those we love most—but it will require all of us to step up to the plate and do our part,” the letter states.
Send tips and comments to email@example.com