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County Makes Plea to Residents:  Take COVID Seriously

GASTONIA, N.C. – Gaston County Manager Dr. Kim Eagle, along with leaders from Gaston County’s Public Health Department, CaroMont Health and Kintegra Health, spoke with a unified voice Wednesday morning, asking Gaston County citizens to take COVID-19 and the needed safety precautions seriously.

This comes as the County has seen a continued spike in cases, percentage of positives and hospitalizations since the end of May, when the state moved from Phase 1 into Phase 2 of Gov. Cooper’s reopening plan. In that time, the County has gone from a percent positive rate of 5 percent at the end of May to more than 12 percent today.

COVID-19 Key Metrics

Gaston County Public Health Director Steve Eaton said that while Gaston County noted clusters of positive cases at five congregate facilities last week, the larger issue is the pervasive community spread of the virus and the nonchalance with which some in the community have regarded the protective measures.

“This is truly affecting everyone in our community,” Eaton said. “We need more people to follow the 3 Ws. This is about making simple, every day decisions to help prevent the spread.

“Every decision we make has an impact on our community, our families, our friends, our co-workers and our loved ones.”

Eaton said those who have been tested for COVID-19 need to act as though they have it until results come back showing otherwise. That means quarantining and not putting others at risk. Gaston County Medical Director Dr. Tia Robertson said that’s even with the longer wait times for test results.

“This has been a national issue,” she said. “We are in this pandemic for the long-haul at this point in time. There are going to be cycles where resources are going to be depleted and then replenished… until we get a better handle on things and more companies who can help resource all the testing needs we are requesting.”

Eagle said the County stands ready to consider any new strategies to help curb the spread, but for now, the County remains to monitoring and following the state guidance.

She echoed Eaton’s plea to the community that residents need to be dedicated to following simple guidelines to protect the most vulnerable members of society.

“We all know this is really hard. It’s hard on everyone,” Eagle said. “But as we’re seeing, not doing these simple things can make this bad situation so much worse.”

Dr. Shirley Ocloo, medical director at Kintegra Health, said this has been seen with Kintegra’s mobile testing clinic. Kintegra saw the percent positive rate rise from around 1 percent when they began offering the service in April, to now more than 18 percent.

“I don’t have to say what a big jump that is. That’s obvious,” she said. “This is real. It’s really real and it’s very concerning. The people in the county have to be aware of this and they have to do what is being asked to help the problem.”

CaroMont Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Todd Davis said that while the number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 has risen from single digits in most of May to more than 40 on a regular basis this month, there are some bright spots. One, he mentioned, is learning from previous hotspots and how they treated patients stricken with this virus.

“What we’ve learned from managing the disease, particularly the critically ill patients, over the past few months has been significant,” Davis said. “We have been able to share information throughout health care systems and physicians and so now we’re able to do some things to reduce the likelihood that people need (to be) ventilated.”

The county is finalizing a plan with a marketing firm to begin a media campaign to encourage adherence to these life-saving measures. Eagle also announced the County is continuing its pause on the re-opening of County facilities. In-person appointments for a variety of services continue to be available on an as needed basis.

“This is a marathon, and not a sprint,” Eaton said. “And we can make change.”

The video to Wednesday morning’s press conference can be viewed here: