RALEIGH — The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported on Nov. 19 the state’s highest one-day number of COVID-19 cases with 4,296 new cases reported. The record-high day follows several days of increasing trends in new cases, the percent of tests that are positive and hospitalizations. The weekly COVID-19 Surveillance Summary report released today on the number of people visiting the emergency department with COVID-like illness also showed an increase.
“I am very concerned. We are seeing warning signs in our trends that we need to heed to keep our family and friends from getting sick and ensuring our hospitals are able to care for those that have serious illness,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D. “We can do that if each North Carolinian wears a face mask over their mouth and nose anytime they are with people they do not live with; waits six feet apart and avoids crowds; and washes their hands often. We have reasons for hope. With promising news on vaccines, this pandemic will end. Until then, North Carolinians need to do what we’ve done throughout this pandemic — take care of one another.”
COVID-19 is highly contagious, and more than half of North Carolinians are at high risk for serious illness. Studies are also finding that some people, including those who had mild illness, experience symptoms for weeks or months following infection.
State health officials advise people to avoid travel over Thanksgiving and only gather with people in your household. For those that do plan to travel or get together with others, NCDHHS has issued guidance outlining steps to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, including getting tested three to four days ahead of time. A test can help someone know if they have COVID-19 even if they do not yet have symptoms. However, a test can miss some infections. Furthermore, a negative test only gives you information for that point in time. Community testing events and other testing sites are listed online at ncdhhs.gov/testingplace.
People who have been recently diagnosed with COVID-19, have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been around a person with COVID-19, should not host or participate in any in-person gatherings until they complete their isolation or quarantine period.
Interim guidance for the Thanksgiving holiday
Any scenario in which many people gather together poses a risk for COVID-19 transmission. This guidance is intended for people celebrating Thanksgiving outlining lower and moderate risk activities, as well as the higher risk activities that should be avoided to keep our communities safe.
While the holidays are a time when families and others gather together, you should be careful, particularly if gatherings include individuals at higher risk for severe illness (e.g., people over the age of 65 or who have underlying health conditions), and if there is an increasing or high number of cases in the community. If you have been recently diagnosed with COVID-19, have symptoms of COVID-19, or have been around a person with COVID-19, then do not host or participate in any in-person gatherings until you complete your isolation or quarantine period.
Decreasing risk during the holidays:
• The best way to reduce your risk of viral transmission is to limit travel during the holidays and limit physical contact with people who do not live in your household.
• You should practice the 3W’s and wear a face covering, keep 6 feet of social distancing, wash hands well. The 3Ws are even more important if you are getting together with someone at high risk of complications with COVID-19.
Travel and gathering during the holidays:
If you are traveling and/or are planning to be with family members you do not live with during the holidays, there are steps you should take to reduce the risk of viral spread.
• You should consider having a screening COVID-19 test prior to travel or attending family gatherings. If you do have a screening test, consider the following important information:
• A negative test only gives you information for that point in time. A negative test does not mean you will remain negative at any time point after that test.
• Screening tests may miss some infections, particularly if done using rapid or “point of care” tests.
• Even if you have a negative test, you should wear a mask, physically distance, avoid crowds and indoor crowded places, wash your hands frequently, monitor yourself for symptoms, and minimize contact with people at high risk of complications of COVID-19.
If you are planning in-person holiday gatherings with people outside of your household before the event:
• You should consider asking all guests to strictly avoid contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the gathering.
• Remind invited guests to stay home if they have been exposed to COVID-19 in the last 14 days or are showing COVID-19 symptoms.
• Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces (e.g., door handles, sink handles, bathroom surfaces) before guests come over and between uses.
• Keep the guest list small. When deciding how many people to invite to your gathering, consider the amount of space you have and the ability to maintain social distancing during the event.
• Higher risk guests should consider attending events virtually, so they can remain safely at home.
• If higher risk individuals do attend gatherings in person, ensure the 3Ws are practiced by all guests and limit the number of other guests in attendance as much as possible.
• The day before the event, all guests should screen for symptoms and stay home if they are not feeling well.
During the Thanksgiving event:
• Host your gathering outdoors, when possible. If this is not feasible, make sure the room or space is well-ventilated by opening windows and doors to the extent that is safe and feasible based on the weather.
• Arrange tables and chairs to allow for social distancing between guest. People from the same household can be in groups together and do not need to be 6 feet apart — just 6 feet away from other groups or families.
• Practice the 3 Ws (Wear, Wait, Wash) during the event: Wear a face covering when not eating or drinking, Wait six feet apart from others, and Wash your hands regularly.
• When guests need to remove a face covering to eat or drink, it is recommended they maintain 6 feet distance from people outside their household and put their face coverings back on after they are done eating or drinking.
• Limit people going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as in the kitchen or around the grill, if possible. Have one household approach the food serving area at a time to prevent congregating.
• Consider identifying one person to serve all food so that multiple people are not handling the serving utensils.
• Use single-use options or identify one person to serve sharable items, like salad dressings, food containers, and condiments, so that multiple people are not handling the items.