ASHEVILLE – COVID-19 levels around Buncombe County and North Carolina are rising, but hospitalizations in the western part of the state are still low.
According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, which tracks the levels of the virus that causes COVID-19 from wastewater treatment plants around the state, viral levels in Buncombe County are the highest they’ve been since April 14. COVID-19 levels tracked in the Buncombe County Metropolitan Sewer District are currently between the 40th and 60th percentile relative to past levels measured at the same site.
That’s based on data from Aug. 2, the most recent information available as of Aug. 10.
“We’ve seen COVID wax and wane, rise and fall, over the years,” Buncombe County Health and Human Services Medical Director Jennifer Mullendore told the Citizen Times Aug. 10. “We’ve seen an increase in cases or increase in COVID trends during summer months, frequently during winter months. This is just a natural course of rising and falling we’re seeing since it started.”
Hospitalizations across Western North Carolina are still low. As of Aug. 5, the most recent seven-day average of patients hospitalized with COVID in the state is 21 patients, according to NCDHHS. Buncombe County is still in the Center for Disease Control’s “green zone,” the lowest level of hospitalization in its three-colored system. The number of serious cases of COVID-19 in local hospitals has not risen recently.
According to a statement from AdventHealth Hendersonville spokesperson Victoria Dunkle, the number of people coming into the hospital’s emergency department with COVID-19 has increased, but none of the cases were severe enough to require hospitalization. A total of eight patients have tested positive for COVID-19 at the hospital in the past week, according to Dunkle, but all were discharged home.
Medical Director for UNC Pardee Center for Infectious Disease Chris Parsons, said in a statement that UNC Pardee has also not seen a dramatic increase in hospitalizations. Parsons said that the hospital is still averaging two to three admitted COVID patients each day. Less than 10% of PCR tests administered at the hospital turned up positive.
Mission Hospital spokesperson Nancy Lindell said in a statement that the hospital has not seen an increase in COVID-19 patients and that during the past week “no more than 11 patients” are hospitalized with COVID-19 at Mission.
Parsons noted that “while other areas of the state ― particularly the larger metro areas ― are experiencing surges in cases, our community typically doesn’t see those types of increases until a few weeks later.” Many of the wastewater facilities in the Charlotte area currently have the highest percentile of COVID-19 viral levels, between the 80th and 99th percentile. Many of Raleigh’s have between the 60th and 80th percentile.
Mullendore said that she can’t make predictions about whether numbers will continue to rise, but pointed to ways people can protect themselves from getting sick.
“Hopefully we have learned through this pandemic that we have great tools to keep ourselves safe from severe illness,” Mullendore added. She said that there are COVID-19 boosters available and pointed to an updated vaccine that will be available in late September. Mullendore also said that people need to wash their hands, cover their coughs and sneezes, getting tested for the disease and staying home when people are sick.
“COVID is part of our lives. It’s not going away any time in the near future. We just need to have a healthy respect for it and take appropriate action,” Mullendore said.
Mitchell Black covers Buncombe County and healthcare for the Citizen Times. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MitchABlack. Please help support local journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.