Pitt County health care leaders are offering more COVID-19 testing sites as a means to encourage residents to check their infection status prior to Thanksgiving gatherings after a slight uptick in cases over the weekend.
The Pitt County Health Department on Monday urged residents to keep safety in mind during the holiday season. Dr. John Silvernail, Pitt County Health Director, recommended individuals get tested for the virus before they gather.
“We have come so far and we are moving in the right direction to mitigate this virus that has completely changed our lives over the past 20 months,” Silvernail said. “Taking precautions when gathering for the holidays can help us get back to normal times.”
Silvernail spoke from personal experience when he said that holiday gatherings are a prime time for the virus to spread. Testing is a way to prevent the spread, he said, especially among large groups of people from outside of the household.
“Last year at Thanksgiving was when my wife and I got infected from family members,” Silvernail said. “Any time we bring groups of people together there is a chance of spread. It is very reasonable to get yourself tested even if you have been vaccinated.
“Vaccinated individuals are less likely to contract the infection and less likely to spread the infection, but they still can get the infection and spread COVID-19,” he said. “So getting tested is one more layer of protection between you getting COVID or giving COVID to somebody else.
“It is very reasonable to get yourself tested to make sure that you are not bringing COVID to Thanksgiving along with the mashed potatoes,” Silvernail said.
As part of the push for testing, the health department and OptumServe will be providing free, drive-through COVID-19 testing in the Greenville Mall parking lot. Testing is offered today through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The site will close Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving, but reopen Saturday and Sunday.
Case numbers saw a small increase between Friday and Monday. Silvernail said that on Friday there were 298 cases recorded over the previous two weeks. On Monday, that number was 301. The uptick could be a result of the season, Silvernail said.
“Sometimes there is a seasonality to these respiratory viruses that probably has to do with the combination of weather, more inside activities, more family gatherings and things like that,” Silvernail said. “It facilitates transmission. We do not always understand the ebb and flow of some of these cycles of respiratory viruses, but it is the season where we would expect them to increase.”
Numbers remain lower than those recorded even last month, however. Oct. 19, 333 cases were recorded over a two week period, according to stats tracked by The Daily Reflector. The number of deaths since then has increased from 141 to 146, with the most recent death occurring on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.
Now that COVID-19 boosters are approved for everyone 18 and older, Silvernail offered some insight into the state of vaccinations in Pitt County.
“If you had Johnson & Johnson it is recommended that you get one of the mRNA vaccine (boosters), either the Pfizer or the Moderna,” Silvernail said. “It seems that the booster response is a little greater with that in comparing to getting a J&J booster.”
Silvernail said that vaccines are still broadly available in the community. The Pitt County Health Department has provided 413,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine between first, second and booster doses according to Silvernail. He said the Pfizer BioNTech vaccines for 5 to 11 year-old children are also being administered by the county, Vidant, ECU Physicians and many pediatricians, he said.
“That vaccine requires some special handling and it is a different dosing regime than other vaccines, so we have a couple days a week where we have a dedicated clinic for the 5- to 11-year-old vaccine and a nurse who administers only that vaccine so they do not get a different number in their head,” Silvernail said.
“We were told that it would be available through the chain pharmacies as well, but I do not have a list of which pharmacies have that vaccine.,” he siad. “If you want to receive it through a pharmacy I would suggest you check with the pharmacy to see if they have that in stock.”
Silvernail said he was “pretty pleased” that 7 percent of Pitt County 5- to 11-year-olds already have been vaccinated since the vaccine was approved about two weeks ago.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported Monday that 95,891 Pitt County residents age 12 and up had received at least one dose of the vaccine, 52 percent of the population. A total of 89,265 had received two doses, 49 percent of the population.
Individuals looking to get tested for COVID-19 can now schedule an appointment at Vidant Health’s 2610 Stantonsburg Road site, at the corner of Stantonsburg Road and Wellness Drive, between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Testing is offered on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
People with an appointment will have access to a separate lane at the testing site and have much of the paperwork completed in advance, a release said. Drive-ups are still available for those without appointments.
An appointment must be scheduled through MyChart. Information on how to do that can be found at VidantHealth.com/patient-portals. Individuals may only schedule an appointment for themselves.
The site will be open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, closed on Thursday and open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday.