Cases in Camden top 200

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Camden hit an unwelcome milestone this week, recording its 200th coronavirus case on Monday. The total confirmed case count now stands at 233 as of 3 p.m. Wednesday. This doesn’t mean that 233 people are currently infected because the total number includes every reported case since March. It...

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  • Seven-day rolling average
    Seven-day rolling average
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Camden hit an unwelcome milestone this week, recording its 200th coronavirus case on Monday. The total confirmed case count now stands at 233 as of 3 p.m. Wednesday.

This doesn’t mean that 233 people are currently infected because the total number includes every reported case since March. It does indicate that dozens of people have tested positive in the last few weeks. The total has more than doubled from 104 cases two weeks ago on June 24 and increased by 73% from 135 cases on July 1.

Cases have been steadily rising — along with hospitalizations for COVID-19 — across the eight-county Coastal Health District and may continue in the weeks after a holiday weekend that saw many people out and about.

“We cannot point to one single reason for the steady increase in cases. We are doing more testing, which means we are finding more positive cases, but at the same time, I think that some pandemic fatigue is setting in and people may be relaxing their standards and socializing more,” health district director Lawton Davis said in answer to questions from the Tribune & Georgian. “It’ll take a couple of weeks to see what kind of impact that might have on the number of positive cases. The bottom line is, the fewer precautions we take, the more this virus can and will spread.”

More people are getting tested across the Coastal Health District, prompting officials to move to appointment-only testing on Tuesdays in Camden and hire 17 more contract nurses and 42 temporary admin staff to support testing. More testing doesn’t completely explain the higher case count though.

“The more you look for something, the more you find it. What’s of higher concern, however, is the significant increase in the percentage of tests that are coming back positive for COVID-19,” Davis said. “One would expect that by increasing the number of tests in the general population, we would likely see an overall decrease in the percent positive rate, however, that has not been the case.”

Instead the percent positive rate has been increasing too, growing from 6.9% in mid June to 10.5% by late June in the most recent numbers available. The percent positive measures the percentage of people who were positive out of the number that got tested. For example, the percent positive would be 10% if 100 people got tested and 10 were positive just like it would if 200 people got tested and 20 were positive. So the percent positive shows a more accurate picture of the current infection rate than just testing numbers or cumulative case counts.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases also helps to show what’s happening currently, even though the state isn’t tracking who has recovered and who’s still sick. Camden’s average had never been higher than single digits until July 4 but it has been increasing since June 29. The average was at 12.14 as of 3 p.m. Wednesday.

The health department updates its data each day at covid19.gachd.org.

Contact tracing

More positives also means more contact tracing for health department staff. Contact tracing helps to identify and notify people who were exposed to someone who has tested positive. The tracing team has grown from four epidemiologists in March to 56 people for the eight counties.

“We begin the contact tracing process as soon as we get notified of a positive case of COVID-19,” Davis said. “We interview people who have tested positive and work together to identify the people around them who may have been exposed to the virus. We then reach out to those contacts and let them know they may be at risk, but without identifying the infected patient. We also offer guidance on what to do next.”

Because of the landslide of new cases, it’s taking longer to reach out to contacts, Davis said. The district is working to hire more staff to help and talking to each person as quickly as possible.

“Here’s where we can use the public’s help,” Davis said. “If you get a call or message from public health staff, I urge you (to) respond. We will not ask for your Social Security number, insurance information or payment of any kind. We simply want to give you information that will help you and may prevent the spread of the virus.”

Staff may ask contacts for their email address, home address and date of birth or similar information to follow up during their quarantine period.

Anyone who thinks they may have been exposed should quarantine at home. If you have symptoms, get tested. If you don’t have symptoms, don’t get tested right away, Davis advised.

“It takes time for the virus to build up enough in your body to show up on a test. Wait 10 days after you think you’ve been exposed to get tested,” he said.

Keep it up

As cases rise, this isn’t the time to become complacent but to keep wearing a mask, washing your hands, disinfecting surfaces and staying at least 6 feet away from people, even when wearing a mask.

“People are getting weary of talking about and hearing about COVID-19, and I completely understand,” Davis said. “But right now, we don’t have a vaccine and we don’t have an effective treatment for this virus. What we do have are some simple ways to prevent it from spreading.”

Davis stressed the importance of wearing a mask to help protect other people because you can have the virus and not have any symptoms. The more people wear masks, the better protected we all are, Davis said. 

“It’s been a long road, but we are still very much in the thick of this pandemic,” Davis said. “We are doing what we can to provide testing and offer recommendations from the public health side of things, but people must take personal and social responsibility as well. We all play a role in protecting ourselves and our communities from COVID-19.”

How to get tested

Because of an increase in demand, the health department has moved to appointment-only COVID-19 testing. The testing criteria has not changed. Anyone can still be tested for free. Drive-thru testing will be done Tuesday mornings at the health department in St. Marys. To make an appointment, call (912) 230-9744. The call center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8:30 a.m. to noon Saturday. For more information, visit covid19.gachd.org.

Closures on base

Leadership at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base announced Wednesday that the base would be returning to the first stage of reopening, according to base public affairs.

“We’re still achieving and able to perform our mission here,” base public affairs officer Scott Bassett said. “Those support facilities are where we’re taking those measures to close them down or limit access.”

The gym, chapel and swimming pool are going to be closed again. Fast food restaurants will go back to drive-thru only service with no dining in. The galley will be open to only active duty personnel again at 50% capacity.

There are no changes to the Navy Exchange and commissary. Both stores had been requiring everyone to wear a mask and restricting access to ID card holders only, no guests.

The health clinic remains open along with the drive-thru pharmacy. Patients can also schedule virtual appointments.

Active duty personnel will be prohibited from doing things off base that have been restricted on base, such as visiting gyms, swimming pools, barber shops, tattoo parlors and dining inside at a restaurant.