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A COVID-19 test is administered to a patient in a car. (Star Tribune file photo: Alex Kormann/Minneapolis Star Tribune)

As businesses across North Carolina reopened after Governor Roy Cooper’s Phase 2 order, COVID-19 cases across Pitt County continue to increase.

Public Health Director for the Pitt County Health Department John Silvernail said the county has a 7.5% positivity rate with around a 1% asymptomatic rate. He said Pitt County started off with a very narrow testing definition and it is now at the point where anyone can be tested for the virus.

Testing is available through Vidant Health, ECU Physicians, Physician’s East and several other places, according to Silvernail.

“Vidant has testing through the emergency department and they have several different platforms with turn around times from a few hours to 24 hours,” Silvernail said.

Although Silvernail said he does not speak on behalf of Pitt County decision makers, he shared there has been some discussion about whether there should be a community masking ordinance put into place. He said as the health director it would not be under his power to issue that order.

East Carolina Rehab and Wellness witnessed a large spike in Pitt County COVID-19 cases with 50 positives in a two-day period in early June, according to Silvernail. He said outliers like this play a role in rolling averages for COVID-19 cases but the climb in case numbers has been gradual.

Silvernail said without a vaccine nor set treatment method for COVID-19 there is only so much a community can do to keep case numbers slow and stop the spread.

“Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) were probably less adapted to the human host and burned themselves out. This virus seems very well adapted to us and is as transmissible as Influenza and the common cold,” Silvernail said.

Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Infectious Diseases division at Brody School of Medicine Paul Cook said he joined a clinical drug trial in hopes of finding a treatment for COVID-19 patients.

Cook said the trial with Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals and Vidant Health will look at a drug treatment for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a coronavirus complication leading some patients to ventilation.

People in the community need to take the safety precautions related to COVID-19 more seriously, according to Cook. He said masks are not foolproof but there’s no question that if people wear masks and wear them properly it will greatly reduce the risk of transmission of the virus.

“I was riding my bicycle into work and I saw people standing outside a doctor’s office without masks on. Some were wearing masks and some of them were not. All of them need to be wearing masks. It is basically a no brainer and I don’t understand why people don’t wear masks,” Cook said.

The COVID-19 pandemic was very predictable, according to Cook. He said people have learned about things like this for a long time and were warned about Influenza and pandemics related to that within the last five years.

The US was not prepared for this but they should have been. He said a lack of testing in the beginning resulted in over 100,000 deaths across the country which could have been prevented, according to Cook.

Cook said he can see the community falling back into quarantine restrictions if measures are not taken to stop the spread. He said the US needs more testing, more people wearing masks and to be more cognizant of the transmission of this virus than they have been in the past.

“When the governor relaxed the restrictions, which I thought was completely appropriate, people sort of took the ball and ran with it. What really should have happened was people really should have been wearing masks more. Wearing masks is not mandatory but it should be,” Cook said.

More information on specific case numbers and other coronavirus related updates are located on the Pitt County Health Department’s coronavirus information page.

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