State waits on COVID-19 testing tools, county encourages “social distancing”

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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — New Hanover County leaders are monitoring the spread of the Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, issuing some new precautions.

County health leaders say COVID-19 started out as a travel-related virus, but now there is more community spread, so that’s why they are ramping up what they call “social distancing” efforts.

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At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Governor Roy Cooper and state health officials addressed the spread of the virus and testing efforts.

“All of our lives are going to change in some way in response to this virus,” Cooper said.

In North Carolina, there are seven cases of COVID-19. There is one confirmed case in Chatham county and six presumptive cases in Wake County.

New Hanover County Health Director Phillip Tarte says from what they’ve seen so far, the majority of people who get it are okay.

“We’re seeing about 80% of those individuals who seem to be exposed do very well,” Tarte said.

Tarte says it’s those people over 65 years old, with an underlying health condition or compromised immune system who are still at the highest risk. The county is now encouraging social distancing.

“Avoiding those close contacts and those large crowds that could potentially spread an illness,” Tarte said.

Several meetings and events in the county have already been cancelled due to COVID-19, and Tarte says we could see more of that.

“It would be really prudent to do some social distancing when we talk about meetings and doing some phone conferencing,” Tarte said.

At the county level, Tarte says they have enough supplies to take samples from potential patients to send off to the state for testing.

“But understand, you cannot walk into and office and be tested at this time,” Tarte said. “It has to be under a doctor’s order.”

The biggest challenge Governor Roy Cooper says North Carolina faces right now, is a key piece needed for testing is missing.

“There is a shortage of this extraction agent,” Cooper said. “However, there are other ways to try to test for COVID-19, and LabCorp has a way that doesn’t require this particular extraction agent.”

Cooper says they were promised the supplies from the CDC, but that hasn’t happened, so they’ve reached out to other labs. He says LabCorp can run tests in a way that do not require that agent.

In the meantime, you can still take precautions wherever you are.

“If you don’t have to be out in large crowds, don’t,’ Tarte said. “Certainly doesn’t restrict you in any way, but take those precautions you would for any other illness.”

Since Tuesday night, state health leaders say they were able to raise the number of people they can test to 250.

Tarte also says the general Coronavirus is typically worse and spreads easier in winter weather climates, because there are often bigger groups of people indoors. However, there is no proof.