Seven new coronavirus-related deaths were announced Tuesday by the Moore County Health Department, bringing the countywide death toll to 66.
Among the deceased is a 46-year-old man who is the youngest county resident to perish since the start of the pandemic. He died Sunday after contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, through community spread, according to the health department.
Matt Garner, public information officer for the department, said the man had "several underlying conditions, most notably some respiratory issues."
Five of the deaths announced Tuesday involve elderly residents of Magnolia Gardens, an assisted living facility in Southern Pines. They all died over a month ago, with the earliest death reported on Oct. 8.
Garner said the announcement of their deaths was delayed because the residents, most of whom were older than 75, spent their final days in hospice care outside of Moore County.
“There were two determinations that we were waiting on that were delayed,” Garner said. "No. 1 was what was their county of residence, being that they were in hospice care away from Magnolia Gardens at the time of their death. And then No. 2, if COVID-19 was indeed the cause of death because several (of the residents) had some other underlying conditions, as well. So we were waiting on that and that was the reason for the delay.”
A death is attributed to COVID-19 when an infected individual dies before recovering from the disease and no alternative cause of death can be identified. People with underlying medical conditions are most vulnerable to complications from COVID-19.
The other death announced Tuesday involves an elderly resident of Quail Haven Village, a nursing home in Pinehurst. The man, who was older than 75, died Sunday, the health department said.
Coronavirus outbreaks in long-term care settings like Quail Haven and Magnolia Gardens account for all but 20 of the county’s deaths. About 2 percent of the 2,757 coronavirus cases reported in Moore have been fatal.
Governor Expands Statewide Mask Order
Citing worsening coronavirus metrics across the state, Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday expanded his executive order requiring people to wear face coverings in North Carolina.
The order, which comes with police enforcement powers, affects virtually every walk of life and activity. Unknown, however, is how strict enforcement will be with the new order. Police agencies to this point have treated Cooper’s prior mask orders with everything from antipathy to lukewarm compliance, but Cooper made clear more drastic measures could be in the offing if this newest order doesn’t affect the state’s trends.
“This Thanksgiving week, our state and the country are reporting record-high case numbers and hospitalizations,” Cooper said during a news conference. “I have a stark warning for North Carolinians today: we are in danger.”
Cooper’s latest mandate gives law enforcement agencies the ability to enforce the state’s mask-wearing requirements against individuals. Police officers were previously only allowed to take enforcement actions against businesses and organizations.
Under the new order, people must wear face coverings in “any public indoor space even when maintaining six feet of distance; gyms, even when exercising; all schools public and private; and all public or private transportation when traveling with people outside of the household,” according to a news release. The mandate takes effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday and will remain in place until at least Dec. 11.
Gatherings are still limited to 10 people indoors for individuals who are not part of the same household. Outdoor gatherings remain limited to 50 people.
People are now required to wear masks in stores, while exercising at gyms and when not actively eating or drinking in restaurants. Face coverings are also required in most work settings, even if employees are spaced more than 6 feet apart.
Stores larger than 15,000 square feet must station an employee at the front of the building to monitor the number of people going in and out, and to ensure customers are wearing masks.
Students and faculty members at all schools — private and public — are now required to wear masks. Many private schools had been using masks, but now they are required. When it comes to high school sports, which just began in the past week, all players, parents, coaches and spectators older than 5 must wear masks indoors.
“This is a pivotal moment in our fight against the coronavirus,” Cooper said. “Our actions now will determine the fate of many.”
FirstHealth Doctor Encouraged by Vaccine Findings
Dr. Gretchen Arnoczy, an infectious diseases physician with FirstHealth of the Carolinas, said she’s “very impressed” with the speed at which two promising vaccine candidates have been developed to curb the spread of the virus.
“The studies aren’t done, but so far it’s really good news,” Arnoczy said in a phone interview last week. “We’ve got two good candidates both showing high efficacy, both without major safety signals so far. That’s encouraging.”
Separate vaccines developed by the drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna have emerged as front-runners in the race to quell a pandemic that has killed more than 257,000 people in the United States. Pfizer said its vaccine is 95 percent effective in preventing COVID-19, while Moderna said its vaccine is 94.5 percent effective.
That 0.5-percent difference is probably negligible, according to Arnoczy. What really separates the two candidates, she said, is their cold-storage requirements.
“One big difference between the two is that the Pfizer vaccination has pretty significant cold-chain concerns,” Arnoczy said. “The distribution of that vaccine requires a very cold freezer that you’re not necessarily going to find in rural hospitals.”
Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at about 94 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. If approved, the company plans on shipping it in special containers packed with dry ice.
“FirstHealth has purchased a freezer that goes cold enough for the Pfizer vaccine,” Arnoczy said. “We have a large system and if that vaccine becomes available, we want to be able to house and distribute it.”
She said Moderna’s vaccine is “more exciting” because it can be stored at warmer temperatures, making it easier to distribute. Both candidates must still be authorized by the Federal Drug Administration.
“I think everybody is looking at the safety data because the last thing we want is to rush a vaccine if it’s not safe,” Arnoczy said. “So far the data on these two particular vaccines is encouraging, but it’s really important to finish the studies and get all the data as we’re moving ahead on this.”
On Monday, the drugmaker AstraZeneca announced that its vaccine was shown to be about 70 percent effective in late-stage clinical trials, bringing a third candidate into the mix. Because FirstHealth of the Carolinas is the area’s largest health care system, the company will play a major role in the local distribution of whatever vaccine is ultimately approved by the FDA.
“Our system began working on a playbook for distribution even before we knew which company’s vaccine was going to show efficacy,” Arnoczy said. “Vaccinating a large population of people in ideally a short amount of time is a big undertaking.”
FAQ: How to Safely Celebrate Thanksgiving
With trends worsening across the state and nation, health officials are concerned that Thanksgiving gatherings could exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus. Following are answers to some questions you may have about how to safely celebrate the holiday.
Is it safe to travel to a relative’s house for Thanksgiving?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against it.
“Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19,” the agency said in a statement on Thursday. “Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.”
That sentiment was echoed by Garner.
“We ask that individual family units celebrate at home and limit your travel and contact with others,” he said during last week’s meeting of the Moore County Board of Commissioners. “If you do gather, keep it small and stay local. Try to avoid extraneous travel as much as you can.”
What if I decide to travel anyway?
There are still steps you can take to reduce the risk of infection, but they may be impractical for many families.
The CDC suggests bringing your own food and dining utensils. You should also wear a mask when not actively eating or drinking. Sit at least 6 feet apart from other guests, preferably in an outdoor setting.
Keep in mind that an outdoor feast might not be feasible based on the current weather forecast, which calls for a low of about 53 degrees and a 30-percent chance of rain in Moore County on Thanksgiving. If you’re forced to move the meal indoors, the CDC recommends letting in “fresh air by opening windows and doors.”
“You can use a window fan in one of the open windows to blow air out of the window,” the agency said. “This will pull fresh air in through the other open windows.”
Should I get tested if I plan on traveling?
Yes. Because people can spread COVID-19 without experiencing symptoms, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting tested before visiting individuals who do not share the same household.
“A test can help someone know if they have COVID-19 even if they do not yet have symptoms,” DHHS said in a statement. “However, a test can miss some infections. Furthermore, a negative test only gives you information for that point in time.”
Where can I get tested?
Testing is also offered at the following places in Moore County, according to an online test-site finder maintained by Castlight Health.
• FirstHealth Convenient Care clinics in Pinehurst and Whispering Pines, where testing is available only to patients with symptoms or people who have been exposed to an individual who has already tested positive for COVID-19. For information, call 833-715-2819.
• CVS Pharmacy in Aberdeen, where an appointment is required and patients must register online at cvs.com/minuteclinic/covid-19-testing. For information, call 866-389-2727.
• FastMed Urgent Care in Aberdeen, where a pre-test screening is required. For information, call 910-724-2334
• Seven Lakes Prescription Shoppe in West End, where an appointment is required and the $129 charge for testing cannot be billed to your health insurance provider. For information, call 910-673-7467.
What about Black Friday shopping?
Consider taking advantage of those post-Thanksgiving deals from the comfort of home.
“Obviously, you want to avoid larger crowds, especially those that are occurring indoors,” Garner said. “We know that Black Friday goes hand-in-hand with Thanksgiving, but we ask that you limit that activity as well. Try to do most of your shopping online, if at all possible.”
Robert Wittmann, director of the Moore County Health Department, urged residents to do their Black Friday shopping online with local retailers, many of which have struggled during the pandemic.
“Buy from them as much as possible to support them during these hard times,” he said. “And if you don’t feel like cooking, you might want to check with one of our local restaurants. Pick up the food and bring it to your family to help support them.”
He added: “We all look forward to the day when we can return to normal and our businesses can do better.”