With holiday weekend on deck, Cape Fear region sees uptick in virus cases after students return

Cape Fear region sees uptick in virus cases after students return

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Daily increases in coronavirus cases in the Cape Fear region had somewhat plateaued, or even started to trend downward by the beginning of August.

A month later, the rolling average for Southeastern North Carolina is back up to 79 cases per day.

Most of that is thanks to New Hanover County which, after seeing a steady average of 30-35 cases in late July, is now back to around 50 new cases per day.

“What we’re seeing is the same as what we’ve been seeing across the state at colleges and universities,” said Carla Turner from the New Hanover County Health Department.

Another change—people 18 to 24 now make up just over 31% of New Hanover County’s positives, compared to just under 25% at the beginning of August.

“These residents in this age range are coming back to town, and based on some of our contact tracing, and what our positives have shared with us, is that there is some some gathering socially...some social gathering is happening...they are getting together.”

Turner did not name any institutions of higher learning, but the county said it is working with UNCW, which has self-reported several clusters of coronavirus in residence halls, and a total of 161 students testing positive since Aug. 23.

Katrin Wesner-Harts, with student health at the university, said officials are watching those numbers and are in constant communication with local health officials.

“Campus has been working on this diligently since March, along with, you know, advice from the county and the hospital and others, and that we work closely with the system, the UNC system,” she said.

She said the university has a variety of metrics it is watching—from case counts and quarantine space to how many students and faculty members are absent from class.

Those will be considered in tandem when it comes to making any future decisions about what to do.

“We don’t have a specific number that says, this is the spot where it’s going to automatically pivot,” she said. “Again, we’re going to use that sort of compilation of factors and know that people are looking at literally every day to make...to see how we’re doing.”

Turner said the increase in cases after the return of students and going into the Labor Day holiday weekend has them concerned, but that if people will follow the “3 W’s” of wearing a mask, washing hands frequently and waiting six feet apart, the numbers can remain stable or even go back down to where they were before.

“We were getting there, and we can get there again. We just have got to do what we’re being told to do, encouraged to do,” she said.

“I believe [the 3 W’s are] part of the reason we had less issues after July 4. Because we saw what happened over Memorial Day weekend, we realized that this does work. Wearing this mask does work, staying six feet away does work, washing our hands does work.”

Copyright 2020 WECT. All rights reserved.