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The trend of positive COVID-19 cases in Halifax County is starting to go down, Halifax County Health Department Director Bruce Robistow told commissioners today.

As of last week there were 657 positive cases, 99 active cases and 563 recoveries, he told the board.

He noted that after his report to the board was prepared last week, the state, as of Sunday, reported there are now 700 positive cases. There have been six deaths — one within the Weldon area ZIP code and five within the Roanoke Rapids area ZIP code.

But, he said, “The test numbers have climbed significantly. The state has contracted with several private labs so there have been mass numbers of tests going on. The trend of positive cases is finally starting to go down. It looks like now we’re running 7.5 percent positive which is down substantially. In light of the positives we are seeing some improvements.”

The significant testing led to the health department’s decision to go to weekly updates rather than daily reports. “Up until about 10 days ago we were giving daily reports on our numbers of positive cases, recovered cases. We have since changed that to a weekly report, adding more information to it. Because of the increased amount of testing that’s going on the test results are taking a long time to get into the state system. The state still does report numbers on a daily basis but they’re going to be complicated if you look at them on a daily basis because they will change. Numbers two weeks ago are going to change.”

In the gallery: The state ZIP code map information reported Sunday and the slide presentation from Robistow's report to commissioners today:

Robistow said the African-American population covers more than twice the number of positives than whites or caucasians, information which he said was vital when he worked with the county school system on a reopening plan.

The majority of positive cases in Halifax County is among the 25-49 age group. “A lot of people think it’s only the elderly people affected. The number actually decreases as you get to the 65 to 74 (age category).”

Asked by Commissioner Carolyn Johnson his take on the higher numbers within the 25-49 age category, Robistow said, “Activity, not following the guidelines. I spend a lot of time in the communities and watching the compliance where the biggest number of crowds gather. I see a lot of non-compliance in those age groups. I see the people above those age groups doing very well, mask-wearing and are social distancing. There’s got to be a better way.”

He said the Navajo Nation went from 50 percent positive “to next of nothing simply by following the guidelines.”

Robistow said the one thing proven to mitigate the novel coronavirus is social distancing, mask-wearing and frequent handwashing. “We want to continue getting that education out there.”

With limited staff at the health department, contact tracing has been difficult but the state is providing some and the department is trying to come up with more people. “Contact tracing is a vital source of preventing other people who may have been in contact from getting out and spreading COVID-19,” he said.

The state is coming out with a community health worker whose job will be to come into counties to help with education.

The health department reviewed different school plans, he said. “We received so many different school plans, incredible school plans. A lot of people put a lot of work into assuring that they follow the guidelines presented by the state and our federal government. They worked very hard in getting that done. We went over all those and had a lot of deep discussions. I supported their plans as they were written because they did follow the guidelines.”