Four more people had been diagnosed with the COVID-19 coronavirus in Pitt County on Thursday, bringing the local total to 10 as numbers continue to increase dramatically across the state.
The total jumped from six on Wednesday, Pitt County Public Health Director Dr. John Silvernail said during a news conference of local government and health leaders. Two of the new patients are young and are recovering at home in isolation, Silvernail said.
Details about the two others were not available as Silvernail was informed about the cases moments before the news conference, he said. Interviews with the new patients would be conducted later in the day, he said.
More than 630 people had tested positive statewide as of Thursday morning, about 130 more than Wednesday. Two of the Pitt County patients are hospitalized; one is expected to be released the next few days, Silvernail said. The remaining cases are recovering in isolation.
“One person was in their 70s, that’s probably the oldest of the cases, the youngest, I believe, is 22, so that’s kind of the range on this,” Silvernail said.
The virus is spread mostly by respiratory droplets, which is coughs and sneezes, Silvernail said. Respiratory droplets travel four to six feet, which is why six feet of separation is recommended, he said.
“The more that we can separate ourselves, the harder it is for this infection to spread. We talked about six feet as a distance for respiratory droplets, so if we can, temporarily stay apart. I know that’s hard, there’s a need for human contact and human interaction, but the more we can stay apart and avoid that contact and and keep that virus from spreading, the better off we’re all going to be on the other side of this,” he said.
Chief operating officer for Vidant Health Brian Floyd said the virus is spreading here like it has in every other area, by doubling every two days. He said there will be no change unless citizens change their behavior. He said everyone who enters Vidant Medical Center is screened.
“There’s only three ways to get into the hospital now. When I go to work, I get screened every time I walk in the hospital at this point,” he said.
As of Thursday, 174 people had been tested for the virus in Pitt County. Sixty-eight tested negative and the results of 96 tests are pending.
Silvernail said most of the patients have been younger adults who have had a mild illness. One was an ECU student who had traveled to Florida. He did not return to campus, Silvernail said.
Most of Pitt County is now under stay at home orders that allow only residents to leave home only for exercise and essential business. The county’s order went into effect Wednesday followed by similar orders in Greenville, Ayden and other municipalities. Farmville and Winterville had not enacted orders.
No statewide order is in place, although Gov. Roy Cooper has gradually expanded restrictions and extended the closings of public schools through May 15. Cooper has said he expected additional guidance and orders soon.
Trade groups representing the state’s hospitals and doctors have urged Cooper to issue statewide directives. They are worried an expected surge in cases could overwhelm hospitals and endanger health care workers.
The White House late Wednesday approved Cooper’s request for a major disaster declaration, which clears the way for federal aid, including unemployment and small business assistance, crisis counseling and other programs.
Unemployment benefit claims in North Carolina reached 166,000 from March 16 through Wednesday morning. This total compares with 100,000 claims received per month during the Great Recession in the late 2000s.
The state has several pots of money from which to locate extra cash to address the surge in jobless claims and the economic downturn. That includes $1.1 billion in the state’s rainy day reserve fund.
There’s also $2.2 billion in the state’s total unreserved cash balance, or money that isn’t already earmarked for something. That balance is larger because of a budget impasse between Cooper and the Republican-controlled legislature.
The virus has disrupted every aspect of life in the state and in Pitt County. Rick Owens, Pitt Community College vice president, said Thursday that year’s graduation ceremony will be held in an alternative format, most likely online.
Owens said the college is providing classes online, although some students are still completing clinical components in person, including students pursuing health care careers. He said the students were in minimal risk areas.
Precautions involve adhering to the health care providers recommendations, Owens said. Students on campus are supposed to practice social distancing, he said.
“We have pushed through last week to get most of those clinical programs wrapped up,” he said. “We are still running some programs, public safety and some of the health sciences programs, to get those completed and out into the workforce to assist with this,” Owens said.