Columbus County tops the state for highest COVID-19 case rate, positivity rate

Columbus County has 'red alert' COVID-19 status

WHITEVILLE, N.C. (WECT) - State leaders released an updated COVID-19 county alert system map Monday afternoon.

Pender and Bladen counties are now in the orange, and Columbus County remains in the red, signifying critical community spread of the virus.

Columbus County has the highest 14 day case rate in the entire state’s 100 counties and the highest 14 day percent positive, according to the state’s latest list released Monday.

The county has seen both of those indicators worsen since this second map came out, too; last week’s positivity rate of 15 jumped to 18 percent Monday.

Between outbreaks in correctional centers and Halloween gatherings, health experts say they weren’t exactly surprised when the map highlighted the region for being a place with critical community spread.

As it stands, approximately 20 percent of the county’s active cases are directly linked to Tabor Correctional Center. However, the health department director believes the county would still be in a critical spot even if congregate living facilities like prisons and nursing homes were left out of the counts.

“I’ve never had this many positive cases …our numbers have not been this high before and if you take out the congregate living, they’re still on the high side… would we be in the red? We might be just over the red, we might be falling on the fence, over towards the red, but I don’t think we would be one of the highest or the highest in the state,” said Health Department Director Kim Smith.

Health leaders have been in constant motion in Columbus County since the pandemic started, jump-starting educational campaigns, organizing free testing events and strengthening their contract tracing program.

Since the first county alert map went out last week, local leaders have been on calls with state officials. While DHHS leaders have offered them more testing resources, Columbus County has been focusing their efforts on expanding testing for some time now.

Lately, they’ve pivoted to address the gap where people were unable to get a COVID test Friday through Sunday, by starting free testing on Fridays on a trial basis.

On their first Friday testing event last week, they saw 57 people.

“In our drive-through on Friday, we had some that were symptomatic but their test was negative and then we’ve had some that had no symptoms, but yet they were positive and they just happened to be in the car with three other people,” said Smith.

With a vaccine finally in reach, all eyes are on the future, but in the meantime, health leaders are reminding people not to get complacent now. Health leaders say mask wearing is more critical now than ever before.

“We can see the vaccine at the end of the tunnel it’s there we’re getting there we just need to wear a mask until then,” said Smith.

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