Wednesday, February 28, 2024

County focusing on underserved communities as Covid cases surge

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicates cases have increased in the county 213% since early April. NHC is focusing on getting more underserved communities vaccinated with various outreach events. (Port City Daily/File)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Covid-19 cases are once again on the rise in New Hanover County as summer approaches. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicates cases have increased 213% since early April. 

New Hanover County is reporting 621 new cases over the last two weeks — triple what the county reported at this time last year (198). Its positivity rate is 16.9%, up from 3% on April 8. The daily case average is 44.4, almost quadrupling what it was a month ago on April 8 at 10.7 cases. 

“Experts believe impacts on the national healthcare system will likely peak in three to four  weeks,” New Hanover County Pandemic Operations (PanOps) Manager Jon Campbell said in a press release.

Local Covid-19 hospitalizations rose from four to 12 patients on average daily from April 8 to May 20. 

Campbell told Port City Daily the latest infection surge — the fifth wave in the states — is due to the spread of omicron BA.2. The sub-variant was first detected in November 2021 and now dominates cases in the nation, making up 99% of those in North Carolina.

Campbell describes New Hanover County as a “high-transmission area” though the CDC still places the county at a “low community level.” To explain the discrepancy, Campbell said increased vaccinations have eased the effects of the surge by keeping people out of the hospital. According to New Hanover County’s data dashboard, vaccinations inched up 1 percentage point  since February, with 64% of the county population fully vaccinated.

Currently, the health department is targeting its vaccination efforts toward underserved communities, including Black, Hispanic, elderly and disabled populations. County data shows only 49% of Black residents are completely vaccinated (minus a booster) compared to 60% of white residents. 

According to a 2021 Yale School of Medicine study that researched health disparities among races, low-income Black individuals had the most reports of poor or fair health while white middle and high-income white individuals had the least. Evidence shows people of color face many obstacles to quality healthcare, including costs, discrimination, mistrust of medical systems, and poor communication. 

While 95% of residents 65 and older are completely vaccinated (not counting boosters), the department is seeking to reach people that may face disability or transportation barriers. 

On May 7, the health department partnered with Union Missionary Baptist Church, a predominantly Black church, in a health fair to hand out masks and home test kits. 

The pandemic operations team visited senior citizens and disabled individuals at Glover Place, a Wilmington senior citizen center. Seven to eight people attended a presentation at LINC, a transitional living nonprofit for people exiting prison. Both events resulted in about 11 people receiving vaccinations, according to Campbell. 

The department has reached out to TRU Colors Brewing and Brigade Boys & Girls Club to offer public health presentations as well.

Many of the events are structured in two parts, the first acting as a meet-and-greet and educational session, while the follow-up includes direct responses or services to people that request vaccination or more information. The follow-ups are often individualized rather than mass initiatives. Employees invite people to the Pandemic Operations Center but will also help them get there by providing transportation. In some cases, the team will visit living facilities to administer vaccines. 

“We are seeing improvements. We are vaccinating people that were initially very hesitant to receive the vaccine,” Campbell said. 

He also stated seeing a sharp increase in the African American community seeking boosters. The county’s data dashboard does not track boosters, though Black people have made up 29-31% of weekly vaccinations since January, while white individuals consist of 41-46%.

PanOps’ future initiatives include a vaccine clinic with the National Pan-Hellenic Council, a group of eight historically African American fraternities and sororities, on May 25. The department also plans to visit apartment complexes, such as Royal Palms and Hanover Place, which have “a high population of Spanish-speaking people,” according to department emails. 

Campbell said they will continue their efforts to vaccinate incarcerated people in the coming months. He reported around 45 vaccinations on a recent visit to the New Hanover County Detention Facility. Prison conditions are more susceptible to spreading Covid-19 leading to outbreaks, sparking a national conversation on prison environments. The North Carolina Department of Public Safety reports 22,465 vaccinations among prison offenders. The state’s prison population is currently 36,000. 

According to New Hanover County’s data dashboard, the current vaccination rates by race are 60% white, 49% Black, 66% Asian or Pacific Islander and 51% American Indian or Alaskan Native. The Hispanic community, which is measured separately, shows that 68% are vaccinated. 

The Pandemic Operations Center will continue to offer vaccines and boosters Mondays through Thursdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Fridays 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. 

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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