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Grim COVID warning, numbers ahead of Thanksgiving; CRHS limits visitors

Double the red: In less than a week, the number of North Carolina counties listed with Critical Community Spread on the state’s COVID-19 County Alert System map rose from 10 to 20. Columbus County, among the first ten shown in red, remains with that ranking.


     A grim holiday warning from Gov. Roy Cooper Monday reflected starkly higher COVID-19 numbers across the state ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

     Those numbers have prompted visitor restrictions at Columbus Regional Healthcare, and are reflected across the state line in Horry County.

     This post will cover these topics and may be updated:

  • Gov. Cooper: ‘We are in danger’
  • Visitor policy tightens at CRHS
  • Columbus reports 131 new COVID cases
  • Horry COVID case surge stays above 50 per day

Gov. Cooper: ‘We are in danger’

     With a stark assessment of COVID-19’s growing toll on North Carolina lives and its potential impacts on the economy, Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday issued additional safety measures to tighten mask requirements and enforcement.

     Gov. Cooper and state Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen also unveiled a revised COVID-19 County Alert System map that doubled the number of counties in the Critical Community Spread” category from 10 to 20, adding neighboring Robeson County to the list revealed just last Tuesday when the new system debuted.

     “I have a stark warning for North Carolinians today: We are in danger,” Gov. Cooper said during a news briefing in Raleigh. “This is a pivotal moment in our fight against the coronavirus. Our actions now will determine the fate of many.”

     Gov. Cooper’s Executive Order No. 180, effective Wednesday, will run through Friday, Dec. 11. See the full order here.

     In addition to extending Phase 3 capacity limits and safety requirements, the order tightens the existing statewide mask requirement – making it clear that everyone needs to wear a mask whenever they are with someone who is not from the same household.

     The order also adds the mask requirement to several additional settings including any public indoor space even when maintaining six feet of distance; gyms even when exercising; all schools public and private; and all public or private transportation when travelling with people outside of the household.

     The order also requires large retail businesses with more than 15,000 square feet to have an employee stationed near entrances ensuring mask wearing and implementing occupancy limits for patrons who enter.

     Alert System Map: Dr. Cohen updated North Carolina’s COVID-19 County Alert System map due to the rapid rise in cases and hospitalization over the past week.

     There are now 20 red counties and 42 orange counties, Dr. Cohen said.

     “The coming weeks will be a true test of our resolve to do what it takes to keep people from getting sick, to save lives, and to make sure that if you need hospital care whether it’s for a heart attack or a car accident or COVID-19, you can get it,” Dr. Cohen said.

     Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan spoke at the news briefing on steps her city has taken to step up enforcement of existing, strong statewide safety rules.

     State officials have encouraged local governments to take action to require compliance and help lower COVID-19 numbers.

Visitor policy tightens at CRHS

     Recognizing a “rapid increase in positive COVID-19 cases” locally in recent weeks, Columbus Regional Healthcare System implementing “additional temporary visitor restrictions” effective Tuesday, Nov. 24.

     Those restrictions mirror policies put in place at the CRHS flagship hospital in Whiteville earlier in the ongoing pandemic, and relaxed as COVID cases and hospitalizations declined during the late summer.

     Those trends have reversed in recent weeks, with Columbus County one of ten identified with Critical Community Spread as the state’s Department of Health and Human Services unveiled a COVID-19 County Alert System last Tuesday.

     By Monday of this week, the number of counties color coded red, including Columbus, had doubled to 20.

     “Due to increasing COVID-19 cases, the percentage of positive cases, and in light of Columbus County being in the ‘Red/Critical’ County status, we are, once again, implementing additional temporary visitor restrictions,” the CRHS news release said. “This is in an effort to protect patients, their families, and healthcare workers from the continued spread of COVID-19.”

     Under the new restrictions most patients admitted to CRHS will not be allowed visitor. In limited circumstances one visitor will be with each patient “in the following limited circumstances.:”

  • Patients who are at the end of life
  • Minor patients who are under the age of 18
  • Patients who are having a baby
  • Patients in need of a healthcare decision maker
  • Outpatient Surgery Patients

     In these limited circumstances, the visitor must be an immediate family member who is 18 or older and has no fever, cough, or shortness of breath.

     Visitation hours are limited to 10 a.m. until 7 p.m.

     Patients and their families are encouraged to use phone calls and video chat to maintain contact and support of their loved ones. CRHS has iPads that can be used for that communication.

     Calling the current COVID situation “rapidly evolving,” the CRHS news release said it is following “local, state and national guidelines and best practices to help prevent more spread of COVID-19.”

     “We know these changes may be difficult or inconvenient for patient and their loved ones, and do not take them lightly,” the news release said. “However, these changes are to ensure we are doing everything we can as a system to keep our patients, their families, our teammates, and our community safe and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses.”

     CRHS will post updates as warranted here and on the CRHealthcare Facebook page here.

Columbus reports 131 new COVID cases

     Another 131 Columbus County residents have tested positive for COVID-19 since Thursday, with no new coronavirus associated deaths, the Columbus County Health Department reported Monday.

     That brings the pandemic total to 2,586 confirmed COVID cases with 70 associated deaths, the health department report said.

     For the first time since the department began reporting COVID-19 numbers, a daily count of when new infections were reported was not included Monday, and will not be part of the twice-weekly reports going forward, the department’s news release said.

     Outbreaks at Tabor Correctional Institution and other congregate care facilities in the county were responsible for 70 of the 131 newly confirmed COVID cases, the health department reported, the other 61 were spread across the county.

     Nine county residents are currently hospitalized due to COVID-19, the county agency reported.

     There will be only one county report on COVID-19 this week, the report said, with Thursday’s cancelled due to the Thanksgiving holiday.

     Zip Code data showed from the NC Department of Health and Human Services indicated a slowing of the virus spread in the Tabor City area, including at TCI which has fueled sharply higher case counts for the county during the past two weeks.

     Only three newly confirmed cases in the Tabor City area were indicated in Monday’s DHHS count, five more from the Whiteville area which includes Columbus Correctional Institution which has also recorded a COVID outbreak, though not as severe as TCI’s.

     Those new cases bring the pandemic case/death totals for Tabor City to 766/21, Whiteville to 744/16.

     Protect: Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday issued a new executive order to toughen his mask mandate and encourage more rigorous local enforcement of that and other COVID-19 measures, including limits on mass gatherings and of customers in businesses.

     Kim Smith, the Columbus County Health Director, said her options on enforcement are limited, though an injunction could be sought if she was aware of a planned or ongoing mass gathering in advance.

     Health officials typically work to educate business owners if they are found to be violating the mask mandate or capacity limits as set forth by the governor, Smith said.

     Health department leaders are “urging county residents to take the measures necessary to protect themselves, their families, and their community from COVID-19,” the news release said. “If you leave home, practice your Ws: Wear, Wait, Wash. Wear a mask over your nose and mouth. Wait 6 feet apart and avoid close contact. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.”

     “We’re really close to a vaccine,” Smith said. “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It may be dim, but we can see it.”

     State numbers: North Carolina recorded 2,419 new COVID infections Monday, and 5 associated deaths, bringing those pandemic totals to 339,194 and 5,039 respectively. Statewide 1,601 people were hospitalized due to the coronavirus, hospitalizations up by 30 from Sunday and reaching the highest total of the pandemic to date..

Horry COVID case surge stays above 50 per day

     Newly confirmed COVID-19 cases among Horry County residents, ranging from more than 50 to nearly 100 for weeks now, continues with that trend, the latest South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control data shows.

     Horry topped 13,000 confirmed COVID cases Sunday, and with another 54 cases confirmed in Monday’s data the county has recorded 13,059 residents with the virus since the pandemic began in March.

     Two COVID associated deaths reported Saturday brought Horry’s total of lives lost to the coronavirus to 225, that number unchanged as of Monday’s DHEC data.

     Two of the newly confirmed cases were from the Green Sea area, Zip Code data from DHEC indicated, one from the Loris area since Saturday.

     Pandemic total reported COVID-19 cases for those area, as of Monday, were 736 for Loris, 74 for Green Sea.

     South Carolina has recorded 194,902 COVID cases during the pandemic, 3,987 deaths, those numbers up by 1,095 and 5 respectively since Sunday.

     Statewide 844 people were hospitalized due to the coronavirus Monday, that number up by 35 from Sunday.


     Look for continuing coverage on local impacts from the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak here and in the Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.