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Halifax County Health Director Bruce Robistow told commissioners today there have been four positive cases of the novel coronavirus among staff members of a nursing home.

He did not disclose the name of the facility to the board during its meeting and declined to disclose that information in a follow-up phone call this afternoon.

The state Department of Health and Human Services updates positive COVID-19 in congregate living facilities on Tuesdays and Fridays so specific information will be available at that point.

It is the first reported case of an outbreak occurring in a congregate living facility in the county, other than one at Caledonia Correctional Institution in Tillery which the state now considers over.

In his report to the board he said he was in a position to tell commissioners, without disclosing the name, “We had a facility, a nursing home in Halifax County that has four cases, that are all employees and has been reported to the state as an outbreak.”

The definition of an outbreak is two or more, he told the board.

In accordance with established procedures, the nursing home tested 94 people Saturday. “I’m happy to report that 92 of them have come back negative.”

The results of the other two tests remain pending, he said. “Nursing homes have been a challenge in many counties throughout the country, let alone here in North Carolina and our neighbors.”

Robistow gave the board a summation of the report he sent out Friday. He said this afternoon he is still working on his report for today.

He told commissioners there have been more than 100 tests since his report last week, of which the most of these reflect the nursing home.

Robistow said many of the 177 people who have been reported as positive have recovered — 123 — so they have been deemed symptom-free and have been released from isolation. “We’ve had 775 known negatives and you add those 92 known negatives.”

He explained to the board the health department reports on any citizen who lives in Halifax County. “Someone could work out of state, out of this county, but no matter where they’re tested it is reported back to the health department and we take it from there.”

The county is doing contact tracing, Robistow said. “We are cross-training several different groups of people at the health department so we can assure we have an appropriate need to handle a potential increase in positives from increased testing and hopefully not from increased positives from further outbreaks.”

Robistow said the health department continues to work closely with Vidant North Hospital, Vidant Medical Group and Rural Health Group. “We meet weekly to discuss how we work together, plan and that’s going very well.”

The health director continues to strongly encourage people to practice the three Ws — waiting 6 feet apart, hand-washing and wearing a protective facial covering in public. 

He said he recommends wearing a cloth facial covering because they are much more tolerable to wear. “Please be reminded a mask does not protect you. Very few masks will protect you. We wear a mask to protect everyone else. I can’t stress the importance of that. If everybody in a room had a mask on nothing could be spread.”

The mask prevents the droplets from leaving the nose and mouth when laughing, coughing, or sneezing, “and it’s a great thing to do.”

Robistow said wearing a mask or facial covering is not an order — it’s a recommendation. “We’re being told as citizens to help each other as this country has been called on many times before. Please know this is a request for anyone to do what they can to help each other.” 

Testing has increased considerably, Robistow said. “It’s been an interesting trend line to follow. This has gone up, it’s gone down. Because at the end of last week we had a couple of spikes of apparently high numbers the trend line went from going downward to basically flattening out. It still remains a positive sign.”