RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper announced Nov. 10 that North Carolina’s indoor mass gathering limit will be lowered to 10 people in an effort to drive down North Carolina’s key COVID-19 metrics. Executive Order 176 went into effect on Friday, Nov. 13, and will be in place through Friday, Dec. 4.

“This reduction in our indoor gathering limit aims to slow the spread and bring down our numbers,” Cooper said. “It also sends a serious signal to families, friends and neighbors across our state. Success in slowing the spread will help our businesses.”

As the weather gets colder, more people will be gathering indoors. Science has shown that indoor gatherings increase risk of transmission of COVID-19, and this Executive Order seeks to limit indoor gatherings that could rapidly and dangerously spread the virus, the governor’s office said in a press release. The order does not change the reduced capacity limits for certain businesses that have already been laid out.

Cooper and NC DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen also underscored the need for people to wear a mask anytime they gather with people outside of their immediate household. As the holiday season approaches, NCDHHS released health guidance to help people celebrate as safely as possible without spreading the virus.

“Let’s keep our friends, family, and loved ones safe this holiday season. If you are going to travel or get together, plan ahead to reduce the risk to your family and friends,” Cohen said. “Remember, it’s not how well you know someone when it comes to wearing a mask. If they don’t live with you, get behind the mask.“

Health department announces Avery COVID deaths at six; additional classrooms quarantined

Avery County Health Department, a part of Toe River Health District, was notified on Friday, Nov. 13, of its fifth and sixth CoVID-19-associated deaths in Avery County, according to a release from the district. One individual was in their 60s. The second individual was in their 50s. To protect the family’s privacy no further information about the patients will be released.

“We want to extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of these individuals,” Toe River Health District Health Director Diane Creek said. “This virus continues to spread within our communities and has the potential to cause fatal results to anyone infected. This is one reason why it is important for everyone to comply with the face covering requirement and reduce the spread of this virus.”

“The cases of community spread continue to rise within our counties. Remember to practice the 3 W’s at all times: Wear, a face covering when out in public and you cannot physically distance yourself from others, Wait at least six feet away from others and Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use hand sanitizer if you do not have access to soap and water. It is also imperative for those testing positive to stay at home.”

Additionally, on November 13, Avery County Schools announced in a press release that a teacher at Riverside Elementary School and a student at Avery County High School tested positive for COVID-19.

The classrooms affected by the positive result in each of the two schools were placed on remote learning through Friday, Nov. 27, to allow for a quarantine period, according to the release. Students in these two classrooms will return to class on Monday, Nov. 30.

While masks have been worn consistently by all students and staff, the school system is proceeding with the highest level of caution and is working under the recommendations of the Avery County Health Department, according to Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman.

“School administration or the Avery County Health Department will contact any student or staff member who may have been directly exposed at either of these locations,” Brigman said. “All schools have been and will continue to be deep cleaned. We will continue to follow safety protocols and work in partnership with the Avery County Health Department to ensure a safe learning environment is maintained throughout our school system.”

Local, state and national statistics

As of Tuesday, Nov. 17, according to latest available dashboard data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, COVID-19 cases in North Carolina had increased by approximately 20,000 cases over the previous seven-day mark, as the state has more than 314,207 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The state has experienced an increase in hospitalizations of close to 300 individuals over the span of the last week, as NCDHHS reported on Nov. 17 that 1,424 people were hospitalized. NCDHHS reports an additional 199 North Carolinians have died related to the virus over the past seven-day period, as the agency reports 4,814 overall deaths.

Following Toe River Health District’s latest release of county statistics on Monday, Nov. 16, TRHD reported Avery County with a cumulative total of 536 positive community cases, with 353 community members having recovered and six deaths.

NCDHHS reports in its November 13 report of ongoing outbreaks that Cranberry House reports 17 total cases among residents.

NC Department of Public Safety reported on Nov. 17 that the local prisons have 368 total positive cases between Mountain View Correctional and Avery/Mitchell Correctional facilities, with 327 cases having recovered and two active cases.

According to NCDHHS Dashboard data on Nov. 17, Avery reports 48 cases per 10,000 residents over the previous 14-day period. In comparison, Mitchell County reports 105 cases per 10,000 residents, while Yancey County reports 43 cases per 10,000 residents. Watauga County reports 26 cases per 10,000 residents, while Ashe County has 50 cases per 10,000 residents during the same 14-day period.

“Public health staff is working to complete the investigations and they are contacting close contacts to contain the spread of disease. To protect individual privacy, no further information about the cases will be released,” TRHD reported. “The Yancey, Mitchell and Avery County health departments will keep the public informed by announcing any additional cases that may arise through our local media partners.”

TRHD reports that Yancey County has 475 total positive cases of COVID-19 as of its latest release of statistics on Nov. 17, with 412 having recovered and three total deaths.

Mitchell County reported a total of 423 positive cases, with 323 having recovered as of TRHD’s Nov. 16 statistics. Mitchell County Health Department reported on Nov. 16 that a sixth individual in the county had passed away from the virus. The department reported the individual was in their 80s. NCDHHS also reported on Nov. 13 that among ongoing outbreaks, Brian Center Health & Rehabilitation in Spruce Pine reports 14 positive cases (six among residents, eight among staff).

Nationwide, Johns Hopkins University & Medicine reports more than 54.82 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with a total of 11,190,611 cases in the U.S. as of November 17. Johns Hopkins reports 247,116 reported deaths nationwide and more than 4,244,811 individuals across the country reported as having recovered from the virus.

The N.C. State Laboratory of Public Health, reporting hospitals and commercial labs report 4,644,683 completed tests as of Tuesday morning, Nov. 17, according to N.C. DHHS. The estimate of people presumed to have recovered from the virus as of Nov. 16 is more than 276,132 statewide, with the estimate provided each Monday by NCDHHS. NCDHHS estimates a median time to recovery of 14 days from the date of specimen collection for non-fatal COVID-19 cases who were not hospitalized, or if hospitalization status is unknown. The estimated median recovery time is 28 days from the date of specimen collection for hospitalized non-fatal COVID-19 cases.

In neighboring counties, Watauga County reports 2,040 positive tests and 16 deaths among residents, while Ashe County reports 726 positive cases and 15 deaths as of Nov. 17, according to AppHealthCare statistics.

Caldwell County has 3,052 positive tests as of Nov. 17 with 21 deaths, while Wilkes County has 2,281 reported cases and 43 deaths, according to NCDHHS Dashboard data.

NCDHHS reports McDowell County with 1,577 cases and 34 deaths. Burke County reports 3,245 cases and 60 deaths attributed to the virus, according to NCDHHS.

In Tennessee, Johnson County reports 1,335 cases with 17 deaths, while Carter County reports 2,294 cases and 44 deaths as of Nov. 17, according to statistics from the Tennessee Department of Health.

Statewide, Mecklenburg County has reported the most cases with 38,526. Wake County is reporting 24,849 cases and Guilford County reports 14,115 cases, according to Nov. 17 NCDHHS statistics. At least 64 of North Carolina’s 100 counties report at least 1,000 COVID-19 cases.

The reported testing numbers could be incomplete due to differences in reporting from health departments and other agencies. Sources include Toe River Health District, AppHealthCare, NCDHHS, Caldwell County Health Department and Tennessee Department of Health.

Updated news and information on the coronavirus pandemic and the state’s response can be found by clicking to covid19.ncdhhs.gov/dashboard.

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