GASTON COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - Health officials in Gaston County say they are concerned about the drastic uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations over the past couple weeks, and they’re urging citizens to remain vigilant to help stop the spread of the virus.
The county saw a 312 percent increase in positive tests between May 30 and June 12, officials said Wednesday morning. During that same period, the percentage of positive tests out of total tests increased from 5.14 percent to 11.17 percent.
“Perhaps of most concern,” officials said, the number of hospitalizations increased from single digits in mid-May to more than 20 over the past week.
While the rise was expected with the lifting of restrictions and additional testing, health officials said, “the sharp increase in positives, hospitalizations and the percentage of positives out of total tests have local health officials concerned.”
“We know this has been hard on our community, but we really need people to stay diligent right now,” shared Gaston County’s Public Health Director, Steve Eaton. “We are working as hard as we can to track cases and educate the community, but we need for the public to help us by staying home, especially if you’re sick, wearing masks in public, and practicing social distancing. We cannot do this alone.”
Total number of hospitalizations is a measure that is largely unaffected by an increase in testing and suggests that COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in the area.
“While we expected and prepared for an increase in hospitalized patients, the significant uptick in a matter of weeks is troubling,” said Dr. Todd Davis, Chief Medical Officer for CaroMont Health. “It is critically important that people take measures to protect themselves and help control the spread of this virus. It does not require that you change your entire life, it’s simply a matter of making choices that help minimize your risk of contracting COVID-19 and spreading to others.”
At the end of April, Gaston County leaders appeared to backtrack slightly just hours after announcing a plan to sign an order reopening businesses in the county, which contradicted Gov. Roy Cooper’s Stay at Home order extension that lasted until May 8.
County Commissioner Tracy Philbeck said he planned on signing the order, which would have gone into effect the same day - April 29.
After talking with local health officials, Philbeck said the county’s numbers did not warrant a Stay at Home order to continue. “Staying home is not a solution,” he said. “People need to go back to work.”
This move caused confusion for local businesses and municipalities in the county.
The mayors of 12 municipalities in released a joint statement emphasizing that all businesses and residents of cities and Gaston County are required to comply with the orders issued by Gov. Cooper.
Cooper said the county’s move only had one effect: “to create confusion during a public health emergency, which is dangerous.”
On Thursday, Philbeck released a statement on the rising numbers in the county, saying they were a “direct result of Governor Cooper’s leadership.”
Now, Gaston County officials are urging residents to wear a mask or face covering, wait six feet apart to avoid close contact and wash their hands.
“I know a lot of people don’t want to wear a mask,” said Dr. Davis. “But, it really is one of the most important things you can to do protect yourself and others."