NEWLAND — Since the Avery County Health Department recorded the first case of COVID-19 in the county on May 18, the county has seen its total number of cases increase to 73 as of Monday, July 27, with 62 people having recovered and 11 cases still currently active.

According to recent data released by the Toe River Health District, positive coronavirus cases in Avery County steadily increased throughout the month of June. However, the number did not rise above 10 confirmed cases until June 22 when the number of positive cases began to increase sharply. In the span of a month, confirmed cases rose from 10 to 73 as the health department increasingly received positive test results.

Overall, the department has completed 1,864 tests, the vast majority of which have come back negative. Of the 73 total positive cases, nine have been hospitalized.

As COVID-19 cases rise in and around the county, it is important to reiterate how someone can go about getting tested. The Avery County Health Department remains as the main source within the county for access to COVID-19 testing.

“We will test anyone that would like to be tested,” TRHD Public Information Officer Mason Gardner said. “They do not have to be referred by a provider. We will ask you to fill out some paperwork and if you are experiencing any symptoms. That’s it. We ask you to bring a copy of your insurance, but there is no charge for the test.”

The ACHD is continuing to offer drive-through testing every Tuesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. Department staff will test whoever is in line at that time, yet due to the increased demand for testing, as well as the influx of tests the state’s lab has received, it currently takes five to 10 days to receive the results of the test.

Other COVID-19 testing sites in and around the county include Appalachian Regional Healthcare System facilities. ARHS recommends that anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 or has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 should get tested. In order to be tested, patients must have a referral from a provider. Patients can get tested at the following medical facilities: Cannon Memorial Hospital, Elk River Medical Associates, Appalachian Regional Internal Medicine Specialists, AppFamily Medicine or Davant Medical Clinic. For location and contact information, click to apprhs.org/covid19-screening/.

Ballad Health’s new location in Banner Elk is also offering testing for COVID-19. Patients do not need a referral from a provider as they are able to walk in and get tested. Patients will be screened for any potential signs of the virus and will be required to wear a cloth face covering. Ballad Health’s Urgent Care Clinic in Banner Elk is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, click to balladhealth.org/urgent-care/banner-elk.

Additionally, ACHD has partnered with Community Care of North Carolina in order to help conduct contact tracing in Avery County. CCNC provides case investigators and contact tracers to health departments across the state in order to assist with these department’s expanding workload. Contact tracers help individuals who have been potentially exposed to COVID-19 by notifying them and informing them on what actions and precautionary measures they are supposed to take. Contact tracing can be done from home, and those interested in applying for a position can email ACHD at averyhd@toeriverhealth.org.

In a letter sent to ACHD, one of CCNC’s newest contact tracers, Elizabeth Damico, explained what one can expect if they are ever contacted by a contact tracer.

“They will let you know that you may have been exposed and see if you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19. First, verify your identity, because, I need to make sure I am talking to the right person. We will put you in contact with any resources you might need, and we will check on you throughout the possible contagious period and make sure you continue not to experience symptoms or, if you do help you with whatever you may need,” Damico said.

A contact tracer will never ask anyone for financial information, never release the identity of the individual a person may have been exposed to, nor violate one’s right to autonomy.

As usual, the ACHD recommends residents to take the following precautions to prevent the spread and contagion of COVID-19: Stay home as much as possible, especially when sick, practice social distancing (at least six feet), wear a mask when out in public, avoid contact with persons that you know are sick, cover your cough (cough into the crook of your elbow; or use a tissue and throw in trash), practice good hand hygiene (wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing), use hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol and routinely clean frequently touched surfaces with household cleaners.

For more information, call the North Carolina Coronavirus Hotline at 1 (866) 462-3821 (staffed by nurses and pharmacists 24/7).

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