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Moore County has reported its third confirmed case of coronavirus, Health Director Robert Wittmann told county commissioners Thursday afternoon in their first-ever online meeting.

Wittmann said this individual likely contracted the virus while traveling out of the state and that it is unrelated to the two previous confirmed cases. 

“It is good news that we only have three cases to date,” Wittmann told the commissioners.

The county’s first two cases were reported last week, which were unrelated, Wittmann said previously.

As with all confirmed cases, the Health Department does not identify the individual or provide any other information about the person to protect privacy.

Health Department staff monitor individuals with positive tests and will follow up with anyone who is identified as a “close contact.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines “close contact” as being within six feet for 10 minutes or more, the release said.

FirstHealth did release the identity of the person with the first confirmed case -- Dr. John Byron, an OB/GYN with Southern Pines Women’s Health Center -- in an effort to be transparent with the community because he had recently seen patients. FirstHealth has not provided any further update since then.

Wittmann said in his report that with more test results pending, the county will have additional cases.

“I can assure you that though things will get worse before they get better, together as a community, we will get through this,” he said.

Wittmann said the medical system in the county is “well-prepared” to handle this situation, which has been a major concern in some areas with larger outbreaks that have overwhelmed hospitals and other providers.

He reported that FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital has a capacity of 351 beds and that as of Thursday afternoon, 110 beds were available. He said 18 of the 42 intensive care were available. He added that only seven of the hospital’s 27 ventilators were in use, though the number fluctuates on a daily basis.

“That is the capacity of the hospital and that is what we are trying to not overwhelm,” Wittmann said. “Moore County is well-prepared for this. We are blessed with an outstanding medical system. … We are mindful that a significant number of our residents fall into the medical high risk category if they become infected.

“Be assured that due to the outstanding community response to social distancing and remaining at home as much as possible, as well as the strong response from our medical community, the incidents of positive cases are being kept to a minimum, allowing our hospital to continue its outstanding care for our most critically ill patients.”

Wittmann praised the public for its “excellence response” in adhering to all of the recommendations for protecting themselves and others, particularly social distancing -- staying six feet away from others, which is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of the virus.

“This community spirit is making a noticeable difference in the number of reported cases,” he said. “This is very important in limiting the frequency of new cases so as not to overwhelm our medical providers and the hospital.”

Wittmann said the county’s medical providers currently have enough tests to meet demand at the present time. He said a drive-through testing site, a joint effort of the Health Department and FirstHealth, has tested 67 patients referred by local health care providers.

The site operates Monday through Friday and is only for those referred by a doctor or health care provider.

“There should not be a shortage of tests,” Wittmann said. “But that could change.”

Wittmann said there have been delays in getting test results back from those submitted from that site, as well as the hospital and local health care providers because of backlogs at many labs around the state.

He said while there will be more confirmed cases, residents can help in holding down the numbers by practicing social distancing, staying home as much as possible, staying home if you are sick and practicing “good personal hygiene, especially frequent hand-washing,

“We are committed to overcoming this disease,” Wittmann said.

Board Chairman Frank Quis thanked Wittmann and his staff for the “hard work you are doing and continue to do for our Moore County citizens.

“Each of us will heed your call to follow your guidelines for the safety of ourselves and others,” he said.

One of the biggest changes the commissioners have made as a result of the coronavirus threat is to hold online meetings remotely at least through the end of the fiscal year in June. The county is using Cisco’s Webex.

Commissioners were at their homes, while county staff members were in their offices. Members of the public could also join in to watch, and several did.

Commissioners voted to hold just one meeting a month in April, May and June at 10:30 a.m. on third Tuesday and also adopted a new policy allowing them to meet remotely.

They still have to work out the mechanics of how to handle holding a legally required public hearing on the budget in June, should the board still have to be meeting under these conditions.

Commissioners said everything possible will be done to ensure the public has an ample opportunity to provide input.

Also during the meeting, commissioners unanimously approved increasing the authority of the county manager to approve budget changes and enter into contracts while the current state of emergency remains in effect.

Unrelated to coronavirus, commissioners unanimously approved a revised agreement with the town of Carthage to permanently close a block of Dowd Street to make room for a new courthouse.

Shortly after their meeting ended, the Carthage Town Board also approved the agreement.

The Pilot will update this story as it relates to coronavirus, as well as provide additional coverage of other business from the meeting, later online and the Sunday print edition of The Pilot.

(2) comments

Brenda Burt

Prayers for all that are sick, praying things will be back to normal soon.

Kent Misegades

Indeed. Prayer works! 3 out of 100,000 residents is only .003% of our county’s population, a very, very, very small level.

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