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Health director: there could be ‘light at the end of the tunnel’

Though Beaufort County active COVID-19 cases rose substantially after the Fourth of July weekend, fell briefly and now appear to be rising again, there is good news on the horizon, according to Jim Madson, Beaufort County Health Director.

“There’s a lot of good news statewide: hospitalizations are going down, active cases are going down and percent positive cases are going down,” Madson said. “We usually follow about a week behind the state average.”

The week of July 20, the new case count hit 109; two weeks later, that number was cut nearly in half, at 58. Last week, it spiked up to 73.

“We have a little bit of uptick at the end, which may be the normal way a virus moves through a community,” Madson said. “It will be hard to tell if it’s similar to the wave that went through a few weeks ago or if it’s a smaller bump, or a larger bump.”

Where Beaufort County’s percentage of tests being returned positive hit a high of 10% on July 24, that percentage has since decreased to 7%. Madson said 17 people, including Beaufort County Health Department staff and a several employees contracted by the health department are tasked with contact tracing: tracking the residents who have tested positive and the people they’ve had  contact with, making sure they’re isolated and following their recovery.

“The staff member follows that cluster of people for about 14 days,” Madson said. “(Each one) can have as many as five that they’re tracing.”

Until this week, the daily update sent out by the health department and Beaufort County Emergency Services has included a count of how cases have spread throughout the county: close contact with another known positive case, travel to an area of outbreak, community spread, as well as how many cases are still under investigation. But with the case numbers contact tracers have seen over the past month, that data has been difficult to collect on a daily basis, Madson said.

Madson said the decreasing COVID-19 state statistics are not the only potential good news.

“Just yesterday I received the first hints about vaccinations,” Madson said. “We got notified by the state to start looking into planning vaccinations in the county.”

Madson said that message came from Public Health Preparedness and Response branch of North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

“We’re just waiting for a little bit more guidance on how they want to do this, so when we start our planning, we’ll know how many people we need to bring on to accomplish this,” Madson said. “There may be a light at the end of the tunnel.”