Now that New Hanover County has seen its first case of the coronavirus spread within the community, area residents should expect to see the number of local cases start to increase, a medical official said Wednesday.
“Things are a little bit different now than they have been even in the last week because we absolutely know for sure that we have community spread of COVID-19,” Philip Brown, chief physician executive at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, said during a web-streamed talk with city and business leaders. “It's not a time to panic, but you can expect to see those case numbers at least double every two to three days.”
New Hanover County officials on Tuesday announced that the county’s ninth case
of the disease caused by the coronavirus likely was contracted locally because the person did not have a travel history or known exposure to others who had traveled from other places where the highly contagious virus is more prevalent right now.
Other presumptive positive cases in the area have been travel-related.
Brown, who spoke during a city-organized panel talk that streamed online, said the start of cases spreading within the community is what area providers have been keeping an eye on as the global pandemic has reached the U.S.
“That's what we expect. That's what we've been preparing for,” he said. “All the health delivery systems across our entire region … we are at a good level of preparation for what we expect to see in the next several days now.”
He added that now was a key time to try and “flatten the curve” of cases. Public health officials and health providers throughout the country have called for ways to slow the virus’s spread to not overwhelm hospital resources and capacity.
The social distancing policies enacted and sudden closures of many types of businesses and public places – met with mixed opinions – have been to that aim.
“What we really need is broad-based community help in making sure that that high level of preparation will extend over a longer period of time … What that means simply stated is to have as few people contract the virus,” Brown said. “That will allow our health care system to take care of all the people who get extremely ill from COVID-19. Currently, based on what we’re looking at across our state, we would expect somewhere between 15 and 20% of the patients who get COVID-19 to become sick enough to require hospitalization.
“We would expect somewhere between 4 and 6% of the total number of patients who get COVID-19 to require intensive care and mechanical ventilation,” he added.
As of Wednesday, New Hanover and Brunswick counties have each reported 10 presumptive positive cases. Pender County has not reported a case.
Statewide, there are 504 cases, the Department of Health and Human Services
reported Wednesday – an uptick of more than 100 from a day earlier. The rising figures also can be attributed to expanded testing.
North Carolina officials on Wednesday also reported the state’s first COVID 19-related deaths – a person in their late 70s in Cabarrus County with underlying health conditions and another person in their 60s who was in the state traveling from Virginia.
“It’s really important for our community to understand that the actions we’re taking today will actually show results, three to four weeks from now,” Brown said. “We know that this COVID-19 takes about five to 14 days to begin to manifest symptoms. And during any period of that time someone can be very contagious – with no symptoms.”
“So now that we know we have community spread everyone needs to conduct themselves in their day-to-day affairs as if every person they come in contact with is a host of COVID-19. So in order to manage that, the 6-foot spacing is extremely important,” he said, adding the advice about handwashing and using sanitizer with 60% alcohol in it to destroy the virus as well as avoiding groups.
The distancing changes have caused the economy to grind to a halt in many ways.
Wilmington Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Natalie English, who also participated in the talk, said that Brown's remarks were sobering to hear.
"I think we all need to take it very seriously, and I concur. I've said many times I will not argue with what my health professionals are recommending," she said. "And we've got to be really vigilant that we don't let these precautions be worse than the virus itself and that is hard to balance, that it's hard to know exactly when we reach that tipping point. But that those are the things that we're talking about in the business community."
"There are hundreds of thousands of people in North Carolina alone who have lost their job in the last seven to 10 days," English said, pointing to small businesses that have been required to close or are seeing their customer base disappearing for now.
She advised businesses to look into available resources being made and said leaders were already discussing how to help on the other side of the current situation.
"So what are we going to do? It's kind of a wait and see right now, but the mayor and I have talked about how we will pull together a group in this community as soon as it makes sense to do so to start working on those ideas," English said.
Besides Brown and English, Wednesday's talk also included Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and African American Business Council head Tracey Newkirk. The recorded video can be seen here