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Officials this morning spoke to Halifax County commissioners not only about the economic impacts the novel coronavirus is having on the county, but the continued health impacts of the disease.

Of the 739 unemployment claims filed in Halifax County in March, 622 were related to the novel coronavirus, economic development Director Cathy Scott told commissioners.

The meeting was held via the GoToMeeting format to comply with social distancing and limits on gatherings due to COVID 19.

Scott told the board 257 of the claims in the county were from the leisure and hospitality industry.

Scott said the negative impact of the pandemic peaked the week of March 30 through April 5 with a 41 percent decline in visits to county shopping centers during that time.

But, she said, the county is expected to get current information later this week. The last dates reported — April 27 through May 3 — does show an uptick in shopping center visits. 

Meanwhile, county health system Director Bruce Robistow led off the meeting with an update on the pandemic.

The information he presented to commissioners this morning mirrored the report he sent out Saturday in his regular updates.

Robistow said the health system is working closely with Vidant North Hospital, Rural Health Group, Vidant Medical Group and Vidant Health. “We’re coming up with new processes to get in reports quicker so I can give you more data.”

He said the data he presents in his graphic updates can change. “After four or five days later I might get a notification on something. I want that graphic to be accurate every time I post it.”

In breaking down the numbers he sent out Saturday, the health director presented the following:

In a county of 50,010 people, 1.11 percent of the total population has been tested. “Obviously, a very small number.”

Of those tested, .18 percent have tested positive.

Also of those tested, .91 percent of the total population have tested negative. 

Of the positive cases, 57.5 percent have recovered.

Robistow said for the first time since reporting began the county had six positive patients in one day. “We’ve had five three different times, but our trend continues to go up. I can attribute some of this to increased testing. But it’s not been a dramatic volume in increased testing. The primary take away here, in my opinion, is the fact we are still finding the majority of people who are being tested are coming in symptomatic.”

He said in his professional opinion as some restrictions are slowly lifted, “Everyone needs to reinforce the importance of social distancing, of wearing a mask when you can’t distance, washing your hands, coughing into your elbow — these are things we need to take serious.”

In his basic travels around the county, Robistow said, “In some of the retail stores that have opened, some of the people are becoming complacent and I’m just asking everyone to continue to promote and to practice all of the standards that need to be followed, all the executive orders and recommendations.”

He said he wanted to thank everyone on the frontlines of the pandemic. “Our young ladies in the health department that are working seven days a week multiple hours, the entire health department, are just doing remarkable work. Our hospitals, all of our healthcare providers.”

Hospitals, Robistow said, are like small cities and have a range of employees who have to work because they are essential. “Because they have to work, because they are essential services, it is our responsibility to ensure that we practice the social distancing, the mask wearing, everything we can do to protect those that aren’t allowed to stay home.”

Commissioner Carolyn Johnson asked Robistow about shortages of testing kits. “It’s so much contradictory information out there. The White House says we have all the tests we need, the governor says we don’t . Do we have enough kits for our community?”

Robistow said the county doesn’t have the tests or the equipment to test everyone in the county. “There’s lots of discussion going on planning for that, but along with the test numbers, although we have more tests available, there’s personal protection equipment to go along with that. With the relationship we have with our hospital, Rural Health Group, Vidant Medical Group, all the different providers, we’ll be more than able and ready to do all the testing we can do as soon as all of that equipment becomes available.”

Robistow, in response to a question from Commissioner Rives Manning, said, “As health director, I have full authority to issue writs of isolation orders. Violations of those orders are punishable by fine and imprisonment. But, that’s a last resort situation. I’ve only had to do that one time since all of this was started.”

The one isolation order written ended up being successful.

He said the health system is in constant communication with the people who test positive. “We’re going to isolate you. We’re going to tell the others they need to quarantine in place until 14 days or until symptoms arise. We call them every day, once, twice a day. We’re always checking with them, checking symptoms, checking progress. When one of the positive patients becomes asymptomatic, when their fever stops, after a certain time frame our nurses who are doing all this work will release that person and call them recovered as we have in the past.”

Robistow said should there be non-compliance, “We are very good about warning and as a last resort, if necessary, we can issue an isolation order.”

He said the county jail is prepared to isolate any case that they may have or for anyone they may have to bring in.

After listening to the report, Commissioner Patrick Qualls said: “This is real. I know there are a lot of people who get it that get really, really sick. It’s not a joke. It’s not something to play with.”