LUMBERTON — Thursday morning ushered four more COVID-19 cases into the county, bringing the count of confirmed cases to 15, and the county’s Health Department director expects more to come.
“The total cases reflect people who have an address of St. Pauls, Lumberton, Fairmont, Parkton, Lumber Bridge and Pembroke, among others, which may have nothing to do with where they worked or frequented,” Bill Smith said. “It is safe to say it is distributed countywide.”
Smith predicts the new coronavirus will infect more county residents in the near future, based on the county’s population.
“Long-term care facility issues have skewed positive cases for many rural counties, which to date we have fortunately avoided,” Smith said. “Still with a population over 130,000 we can anticipate more cases will be found in Robeson County to reflect the population size.”
One of the four people who tested positive Thursday is a 76-year-old woman who remains hospitalized at an undisclosed location, according to the county Department of Public Health.
A 51-year-old man, 53-year-old woman and 39-year-old woman also were diagnosed with the virus in separate visits to the Emergency Department at a local hospital, according to the Health Department. All are home recovering and quarantining themselves from others.
People who tested positive Thursday were showing symptoms of headaches, fevers, shortness of breath and loss of taste or smell. The Health Department reports there are several other people with similar symptoms whose tests have not been processed.
Health Department staff are working to identify people who have been in contact with the infected patients.
“None had travel history, but several had worksites with symptomatic individuals,” Smith said.
The county’s Health Department is not advocating for restrictions above and beyond those put in place by Gov. Roy Cooper, Smith said. But, lack of social distancing is adding to the problem.
“The key is that people with symptoms should remove themselves from the workforce and the company of others. This is not happening as the latest cases can relate to,” Smith said.
Although he is unsure if Thursday’s spike in cases should be classified as a surge, Southeastern Health is prepared if one occurs in the future, said Jason Cox, Southeastern Health vice president and Southeastern Regional Medical Center chief operating officer.
“Only time will tell if this is the surge or not,” said Cox, who also is Southeastern Health’s COVID-19 Incident commander. “Southeastern Health has developed and resourced plans for a surge in COVID-19 patients over the past eight weeks. We are fully prepared to take care of our community whether they need clinic visits, emergency medicine, surgery, hospitalization, and/or intensive care related to COVID-19.”
In addition to the 18 negative pressure rooms that already were in use at the hospital, SRMC maintenance crews recently converted 121 patient rooms to negative pressure rooms for use by COVID-19 patients, said Amanda Crabtree, Public Relations coordinator for Southeastern Health.
Southeastern Regional Medical Center has 28 ventilators, including three borrowed from Robeson Community College, Cox said. The hospital also has 14 anesthesia machines and eight BiPAP machines to provide ventilator support to patients in a crisis. More ventilator support can be requested from the North Carolina Emergency Operations Center, if needed.
“Southeastern Health stands ready to provide quality, safe and compassionate care to all of our community,” Cox said.
Robeson County residents should continue to follow prevention measures set forth by health-care officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stop the spread of the virus, said Dr. Obiefuna Okoye, an Infectious Diseases specialist at Southeastern Health.
“Knowledge about the virus continues to evolve and we will continue to advise the public to continue to heed advice from public health officials; continue to use face masks or covers while out in public; continue with social distancing; stay home, especially if sick; always wash hands with water and soap, but if soap is not available use alcohol wipes; cover mouth/nose when sneezing,” Okoye said.