COVID-19

State lab can test 1,300 people for COVID-19; health director says, “We’ll see more cases”

Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, state health director (Photo: Clayton Henkel)

State health officials are recommending that North Carolinians follow federal guidelines for mass gatherings — no more than 50 people — but that is not yet legally enforceable.

Gov. Roy Cooper recently signed an executive order prohibiting mass gatherings of 100 people are more; local sheriff’s departments and police can enforce that order. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended no more than 50 people gather in one place for the next eight weeks, which would extend into mid-May.

North Carolina could tighten restrictions, though, said state Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Tilson at a press conference this afternoon. “It could change as we go forward.”

As of 11 a.m. today, there have been 33 cases of COVID-19 reported in 14 counties in North Carolina. One person has been hospitalized.

The state laboratory has conducted 329 tests, Tilson said, and can test an additional 1,300 people.

Commercial and hospital labs have expanded their testing as well.

However, some people have reported to the media that they have been denied testing, even though they have symptoms: cough, fever, and a negative test for flu.

Tilson said DHHS has been “developing more health provider guidance,” which includes submitting tests to laboratories that can handle the workload.

“We know there’s a demand for testing,” Tilson said. “We’re in a better place today [in terms of barriers to testing] than we were yesterday.”

Although the number of reported cases has increased by only one over the last day — the latest being a student at Campbell University — Tilson said it’s important not to read too much into the pace of the disease’s spread.

“We’ll probably see more and more cases,” she said.

DHHS’s coronavirus hotline has been overwhelmed with calls from people, many of which have not been returned. “We’re working on tackling that,” Tilson said.

It’s important to distinguish the difference between isolation and quarantine. A person in quarantine has been in contact with an infected person — or might have been — and should stay home without face-to-face contact with other people for 14 days. Health experts believe that is the extent of the incubation period.

A person in isolation has tested positive for coronavirus or been diagnosed with COVID-19, the virus that causes the disease. Before people can be released from isolation, they must meet certain criteria.

The CDC recommends releasing people from isolation should be made” on a case-by-case basis in consultation with clinicians and public health officials. This decision should consider disease severity, illness signs and symptoms, and results of laboratory testing for COVID-19 in respiratory specimens.”

But at a minimum, patients should not leave isolation until their fever is gone, without the use of medication; an improvement in symptoms, and negative results from two consecutive sets of nasal and throat tests collected 24 hours apart.

“Once they’re released from isolation, their risk of being contagious is very low to nothing,” Tilson said. “We should make sure those people are welcomed back to our communities.”

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