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County’s COVID-19 metrics trending positively

Beaufort County’s COVID-19 numbers have been trending in a positive direction following a spike in positive cases two months ago, giving local health officials some optimism as they await the phased release of a potential vaccine for the coronavirus.

In the meantime, those officials are continuing to promote their COVID-19 awareness and testing efforts in what they call an ongoing battle with complacency. Emergency Management Deputy Director Chris Newkirk said the battle against COVID-19 is “a marathon, not a sprint.”

“That’s why you see us giving the same reminders over and over again,” Newkirk said,” because it’s kind of natural for us to fall into that complacent peace. ‘Well, I didn’t wear my mask when I had supper with my family last night, so maybe I don’t need to wear it today. We were in our workspace today without a mask, why can’t we do that tomorrow.’

“You just start to really drop your guard on some of the simple preventative things that really pay dividends.”

As of 4 p.m. Monday, the county’s total confirmed cases had climbed to 1,547— an increase of seven from the most recent update. The county had 96 active cases of COVID-19, and 51 coronavirus-related deaths had been reported.

Beaufort County Health Department Director Jim Madson has seen three waves of COVID-19 case spikes this year. The largest spike — which Madson attributed to outbreaks at local congregate care facilities — happened in September. On Sept. 10, the county set a new record with 57 COVID-19 cases reported.  The previous record was 36.

Around that time, in late August and early September, the county’s COVID-19 testing totals spiked from approximately 1,000 tests administered per week to roughly 1,800 tests per week.

“I think it was a response to the cases going up,” Madson said of the surge in testing. “A lot more people were concerned, so they were getting tested, and then I think a lot of people got burnt out on testing.”

After the September spike, the county’s case count and testing numbers decreased. There have been smaller spikes at times — the daily case count peaked into the 30s in mid-September, and almost broke 30 again in mid-October. But the positive case counts have trended down to where the county is reporting less than 10 cases per day in some instances.

“We’re one of the counties that is really starting to see a good trend in the downward trajectory of our cases,” Madson said.

How can Beaufort County keep that trend going? Madson said it starts with continued vigilance as the holiday season progresses.

“From a practical sense, I would scale back things,” Madson said. “I would love for people to continue to have Thanksgiving and Christmas and holidays that they celebrate.

“But I think the prudent thing to do would be to cut it back to more of your immediate family, and try to be careful with your vulnerable family members — maybe find other ways of celebrating, perhaps through Zoom. I know it’s not as personal. But if it’s going to save, for example, my mother from catching COVID, then I think I can sacrifice a year.”

Starting next week, the health department is moving its COVID-19 testing system from a by-appointment format to a drive-thru format. Testing will be available from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday, behind the health department building at 1436 Highland Drive in Washington.