North Carolina officials, including Gov. Roy Cooper, have said COVID-19 cases are moving in the wrong direction.
So last week, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services sent out a letter to 36 counties who the department believes are seeing increased cases. The counties either had 300 or more new cases in the last 14 days and has been identified by the White House Task Force as a county of concern; their case rate is greater than 50 cases per 10,000 people; or their county is one of the top three most populous counties in the state.
Burke County was one of the 36 who received the letter.
The letter is asking those counties to consider local measures such as civil penalties for businesses that don’t comply with mask requirements and lower mass gathering requirements to improve compliance with executive orders.
But some county officials say they don’t understand why Burke was included on the list.
Rebecca McLeod, director of the Burke County Health Department, said Burke has had one day where it was over 300 cases in a 14-day period. She said the county’s weekly positivity rate is under 5 percent. For the week of Oct. 11 to Oct.17 it was 4.3 percent, from Oct. 4 to Oct. 10 it was 3.9 percent, and from Sept. 27 to Oct. 3 it was 6.9 percent but that was the week the county saw a lot of cases in long-term care facilities, she said.
McLeod said the county has been telling people not to go anywhere when they are sick and have been encouraging people to follow the three Ws - Wear a mask, wait 6 feet apart and wash hands frequently or use hand sanitizer.
“Don’t go to work sick, don’t go out sick and don’t congregate in large groups,” McLeod said. “Whatever your reason, wear a mask.”
Some of the new cases are due to folks who live in Burke County but work in another county where there are outbreaks. She said several furniture factories and distribution centers in Catawba County have outbreaks currently and a lot of people in Burke work in Catawba.
Other cases are due to church camp meetings, McLeod said.
Burke County will use electronic message boards along Interstate 40 to get the word out to commuters, she said.
“We’ve determined we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing,” McLeod said.
Johnnie Carswell, chairman of the Burke County Board of Commissioners, said he was surprised the county received the letter. He believes the county ended up on the list due to a one-day snapshot of cases.
He is satisfied the county health department and said the COVID-19 command team is doing everything it can to get information out to the community. He said they discuss everything and explore every avenue they can to bring down cases.
“I don’t think there’s anyway to legislate people’s behavior,” Carswell said.
He said the COVID-19 response also is being addressed on the state and federal level.
Carswell said the county has followed the orders from the state and federal levels. He said he doesn’t know what other ordinance the county can do that hasn’t already been addressed in executive and secretarial orders from the state.
He said any ordinances or penalties would need buy-in from local municipalities.
Carswell said his command team believes they are doing everything they can and he can’t think of an ordinance that would enhance anything that has already been done through state orders.
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