Fauci: Next few weeks critical to tamping down virus spikes

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci wears a face mask as he waits to testify before a House Committee on Energy and Commerce on the Trump administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

The coronavirus count in Pitt County rose by another 26 cases on Tuesday as infections increased at county nursing homes and health leaders expressed concerns about worsening trends in the state and nationally.

The next few weeks will be critical to tamping down a disturbing coronavirus surge, Dr. Anthony Fauci told Congress on Tuesday while issuing a plea for people to avoid crowds and wear masks.

Fauci and other top health officials also said they will continue to ramp up virus testing, the Associated Press reported. “We will be doing more testing,” Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health, pledged to a House committee conducting oversight of the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic.

The leading public health officials spent more than five hours testifying before the committee at a fraught moment, with coronavirus cases rising in about half the states and reopening concerns competing for attention with public health recommendations.

Fauci told lawmakers he understands the pent-up desire to get back to normal as the U.S. begins emerging from months of stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns. But that has “to be a gradual step-by-step process and not throwing caution to the wind,” he said.

“Plan A, don’t go in a crowd. Plan B, if you do, make sure you wear a mask,” Fauci said.

The case count in Pitt County has shown regular increases in the number of new cases reported daily. The count was at 557 on Monday and jumped to 583 on Tuesday. Six people are now dead in the county from the virus, the two latest deaths reported on Monday. The county estimates 419 people have recovered.

Sixty people are now infected at East Carolina Rehab and Wellness in Greenville, according to a state Department of Health and Human Services report updated on Tuesday. The report now says 18 staff members and 42 residents are infected from an outbreak at the facility. Previously a total of 18 staff and 38 residents were infected.

The report also indicated that a new outbreak has occurred at Ayden Court Nursing and Rehabilitation, with one staff member and two residents infected. The facility previously had two staff members and one resident infected, but those cases were removed from the report last month.

Another new outbreak was reported at Care One Assisted Living in Greenville, where two staff members and nine residents have been infected. The report continues to indicate that six staff members from PruittHealth-Farmville are infected. No deaths have been tied to any of the nursing home outbreaks, according to the report.

North Carolina on Tuesday saw another record high for hospitalizations from the virus, with 915 people in hospitals statewide. Vidant Health reported 44 people hospitalized in its facilities across eastern North Carolina. The system has seen a gradual decline from a high of more than than 70 earlier this month.

The state reported 848 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, bringing the cumulative total to 54,453. A total of 773,828 tests had been administered as of Tuesday, with about 10 percent of them being positive.

Trends statewide are raising concerns as Phase 2 of the state’s reopening effort is set to expire on Friday. “As we’ve reopened, we’ve seen our trends go in the wrong direction,” DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said during a media briefing on Monday.

Gov. Roy Cooper on May 22 lifted a stay-at-home order, allowed restaurants to open their dining rooms, let barber shops and salons reopen, but kept bars, gyms, movie theaters and bowling alleys closed. Cooper has said he would announce this week how he’ll modify the restrictions, which also prevent outdoor mass assemblies above 25 people.

“We’re trying to make sure that we are always looking at that data, but ... we want to reiginite the economy, we want folks to be back with their loved ones and being back at work,” Cohen said. “So we’re trying to find that right balance between that reopening and protecting public health.”

Surges outside of North Carolina worsened Tuesday, with Arizona, Texas and Nevada setting single-day records for new coronavirus cases, and some governors saying they’ll consider reinstating restrictions or delaying plans to ease up on them.

Arizona, where President Trump was headed for a rally at a Phoenix megachurch, reported a new daily record of nearly 3,600 additional coronavirus infections Tuesday. Arizona emerged as a COVID-19 hot spot after Republican Gov. Doug Ducey lifted his stay-home orders in mid-May. Last week he allowed cities and counties to require masks in public places and many have done so.

Another worrisome trend: an increase in infections among young adults. Fauci said while COVID-19 tends to be less severe in younger people, some of them do get very sick and even die. And younger people also may be more likely to show no symptoms yet still spread the virus.

If people say, “’I’m young, I’m healthy, who cares’ — you should care, not only for yourself but for the impact you might have” on sickening someone more vulnerable, Fauci said.

About 2.3 million Americans have been infected and some 120,000 have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Contact Bobby Burns at baburns@reflector.com and 329.9572.