Robert Wittmann, director of the Moore County Health Department, said his agency’s “need for staffing continues to be problematic” as the area approaches 1,000 cases of COVID-19.
Addressing county commissioners on Tuesday, Wittmann said more nurses and contact tracers are needed to handle the “increasing number of positive cases and anticipated cases with the reopening of schools," along with community testing events.
Echoing comments made during a previous presentation to the board, Wittmann said the Health Department has requested four additional contact tracers from the state. The department has been assigned only two of the six contact tracers needed for the county, he said.
“Six contact tracers should be adequate for our current and projected needs,” Wittmann said. “However, the department needs additional nurses to meet our current and projected need for case investigations.”
A total of 940 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Moore County since March, according to data shared Tuesday evening by the Health Department. The agency said 159 of those cases, or nearly 17 percent, are considered “active.”
In response to a written question submitted by the board ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, Wittmann said the Health Department is working with the Moore County school system to help safely resume in-person instruction. He said the department’s staff will conduct “tabletop exercises to address various COVID-19 contingencies” during a planned meeting with superintendent Robert Grimesey on Wednesday.
That meeting is expected to address best practices for COVID-19 cases involving students or faculty members, and whether schools should return to in-person instruction or continue with online learning.
Wittmann also shared details about coronavirus testing for migrant workers in Vass and talked about steps the Health Department has taken to disseminate information about the coronavirus among residents.
He noted that the Health Department has partnered with a company called Goshen Medical Center to provide free coronavirus testing to individuals in Robbins, which has seen a disproportionate share of the county’s infections. The event is the “first of many that will be scheduled throughout Moore County,” Wittmann said.
Twenty people in Moore County have died of complications from COVID-19, with 12 of the deaths linked to outbreaks at local long-term care facilities. Outbreaks of the coronavirus have been reported at Accordius of Aberdeen, Pinehurst Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center, Fox Hollow Senior Living and Seven Lakes Assisted Living and Memory Care.
When asked by Commissioner Frank Quis, the board’s chairman, how many outbreaks had been reported in Moore County, Wittmann said he could not immediately recall the number and deferred to Matthew Garner, public information officer for the Health Department.
Wittmann, who has served as the department's director since 1985, also deferred to Garner when Quis asked for the total number of nursing homes in Moore County. Garner told Quis there are 16 nursing homes in the county, though only seven skilled nursing facilities are listed in a directory compiled by the Moore County Department of Aging Services.
Most of the county’s nursing homes have conducted mass testing for employees and residents, according to Wittmann. “I think we’re down to maybe one or two nursing homes, because they haven’t had any cases, that have not been tested,” he said.
Wittmann said the area’s long-term care facilities appear to be “following all of the control measures” required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
“They’re monitoring their patients for symptoms and they’re monitoring their staff for symptoms,” he said. “But it just takes one asymptomatic person to (make) contact and it can spread quickly.”
Later during the meeting, Commissioner Louis Gregory told Wittmann that the “public is looking at this board to make sure the health and welfare of the people are being taken care of.”
“As you know, since Day One we have provided you with funding and have said to you that if there is anything else that is necessary for you to be successful in protecting our citizens, we’re willing to step up to the plate and do all we can,” Gregory said. “And I want that message to be communicated not only by us, but by you to the public: that this board is concerned and (is) willing to do anything possible to be able to reduce some of these stats that continue to increase from one day to the next.”
He added: “We need to make sure that all we know that we can do, we do.”