A dozen East Carolina University students are quarantined in off-campus housing and at least 14 others have tested positive for COVID-19 since Aug. 2, the university reported Wednesday.
The news was among a string of virus-related developments including temporary suspension of Pitt County courts and cancellation of the Pitt County Fair. A person at Innovation Early College High School at ECU also tested positive for the virus, the school reported on Wednesday.
The average number of new COVID-19 cases reported daily statewide has been on a steady decline since mid July, when the new case total peaked at 2,481, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. On Monday, there were just 626 new cases, followed by 1,051 on Tuesday and 1,166 on Wednesday. Hospitalizations also have declined steadily to 1,062 on Tuesday, down from a peak of 1,236 on July 28.
In Pitt County, the average daily number of new cases began to increase again last week, after declining from July 30 to Aug. 4, when just six new cases were reported during Hurricane Isaias. Sixty-three new cases were reported on Saturday, matching the one-day high on July 24. The county passed 2,000 total cases on Sunday, when 58 new cases were reported, bringing the total to 2,020.
Fifty-one new cases were reported on Wednesday, bringing the total to 2,105. Eleven people have died from the virus locally, and the county health department estimates 1,548 have recovered. Vidant Health reported Wednesday that 89 people were hospitalized at its facilities in eastern North Carolina, down from a high of 101 on Aug. 4.
ECU officials said 28 students and two staff members tested positive between Aug. 2-8. More current data was not reported. Most students began moving into residence halls on Aug. 5.
Since July 5, 70 students and 11 employees had tested positive, according to ECU’s coronavirus page. Before classes started on Monday, some students had already began to quarantine at off-campus housing, Chief Communications Officer Jeannine Manning Hutson said.
Twelve dorm residents were in off-campus housing to isolate or quarantine as of Wednesday. The first ECU student began to isolate in off-campus housing Aug. 4, Hutson said.
Students who test positive for COVID-19 are encouraged to isolate at home, ECU News Services Assistant Director Jamie Smith said. The 12 who are in off-campus housing did not have other options, she said.
In all, 48 beds are available for quarantine with the option to increase the number of beds if necessary, she said. While out of school for quarantine, students work with their professors and, if necessary, the dean of students office to continue their coursework.
ECU Emergency Manager Kathy Delk said the number of COVID-19 cases reported include a mix of students who live on-campus and off-campus.
Pitt County Schools reported Wednesday that a positive virus case is affecting operations at Innovation Early College High School at ECU. The school is one of two county public schools that opened this week, the other being Pitt County Early College High School at Pitt Community College. The remainder of the county’s 40 schools open Monday for limited in-person instruction.
The schools system withheld details about the positive case, citing privacy concerns. It would not say if a student of staff member was infected or provide specifics about how many people will have to quarantine.
“Although mask-wearing and social distancing reduces the spread of COVID-19, out of an abundance of caution, the health department has advised us to require a quarantine for any school community member who was present on a bus or in a classroom where a student or staff member has tested positive for COVID-19,” a statement on the school’s website said.
The system is offering remote learning to students in quarantine and telework for quarantined staff members where possible, it said.
Pitt County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Marvin Blount announced Tuesday night that all Wednesday sessions of small claims, district and superior court would be canceled due to an employee testing positive for COVID-19. Court cases that were scheduled to be heard on Wednesday were rescheduled.
The district attorney’s office and the criminal division of the clerk of superior court also were closed. The clerk of court cashier, estates-special proceedings and civil divisions remained open, as did the sheriff’s office and register of deeds also remained open. The decision to cancel court was made in consultation with Pitt County’s health director.
“We are disheartened that this virus has affected our Pitt County courthouse community,” Blount said. “We are working quickly to protect the health of other personnel as well as the people that we serve and to have affected areas of the courthouse cleaned so that we can hold court again soon.”
Officials learned about the positive test at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. All spaces that the employee may have been in were disinfected on Wednesday. The employee had minimal interaction with others at the courthouse over the past few days, Blount said, but further testing and isolation may be possible.
Some court may be reopened today, Blount said. All superior court cases this week have been continued to a later date.
Directors of the 101st Pitt County Agricultural Fair, scheduled for Sept. 22-27, announced Wednesday they decided to cancel the event out of safety concerns after consultation with the county health director.
Fair Manager Kenneth Ross said organizers were discussion ways to modify the fair but decided it would be impossible to hold the event and without spreading the virus further.
“We held off slightly longer than some fairs in the area in hopes of finding a safe way to make it happen,” Ross said. “But after extensive discussions with local health organizations, vendors and operators, the Pitt County Fair Board decided to face reality and cancel for this year. They will soon be making plans for fair in 2021.”