Separated by tape to keep proper social distancing, up to 10 nurses and staff at the Alamance County Health Department work in the case investigation and contact tracing command center. This staff investigates new coronavirus cases in the county and follows up with current cases and their close contacts to monitor symptoms, according to the director of the department Stacie Saunders.
“Days are long and they’re tiring,” Saunders said at the May 18 county commissioners meeting. “But we do have the capacity. We have enough staff to do contact tracing.”
According to Saunders, the county’s coronavirus call center has received 2,400 calls. 915 of them have been referred to the nurses at the command center.
The county declared a state of emergency and recorded its first case of the coronavirus on March 20. As of May 25, the county has 294 positive cases and 21 deaths. 153 people are still in isolation because of the coronavirus, while 120 are out of isolation.
Alamance County’s response includes the health department increasing access to sample collection and the county government working to secure additional funds from the state.
The county does not test for the coronavirus, it only collects samples that are sent to a state or private lab, where they are tested for the coronavirus.
“We’ve been working really hard to increase the access to collection,” Saunders said. “We do the collection; we don’t actually test at the health department and lots of other providers do collection as well. They don’t test necessarily in their facility and then that specimen is collected and either sent to a private lab or a state lab.”
Through targeted collection for vulnerable populations, the health department has been able to identify coronavirus outbreaks at long-term care facilities. In early May, the department collected samples from 120 people at the skilled nursing facility White Oak Manor, yielding 12 positive results. As of May 19, eight of the 11 coronavirus-related deaths in the county have been individuals at a long-term care facility.
Regarding coronavirus related deaths in the county, Saunders said at the May 19 board of health meeting that each death has an impact on the health department staff.
“We don’t take it lightly when there’s a death,” Saunders said. “These people had a life and were our neighbors … We are driven by science, but also compassion.”
The county has also set up collections by appointment at the Grand Oaks Center, a Cone Health facility. To set up an appointment, people can call the health department where they are screened for symptoms and then referred for an appointment if they meet certain criteria.
To aid countries like Alamance in their coronavirus response, Gov. Roy Cooper signed H.B. 1043, 2020 COVID-19 Recovery Act, in early May. The bill distributes $150 million in funds to counties that are ineligible to receive direct aid from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
Alamance County was allocated over $3 million by the state towards its coronavirus response. Counties were given a base amount of $250,000, and the rest of the funds were distributed based on population totals from 2019 census data.
According to County Manager Bryan Hagood, the county applied to receive these funds on May 11. Counties have to outline how the money will be spent by June before the funds are distributed. The plan can be changed after the funds are distributed.
The money has to be used for medical expenses, public health, payroll, providing economic support and any other coronavirus-related expenses. At the Alamance County Board of Commissioners meeting on May 18, Hagood presented a spending plan to the commissioners. In the initial plan, $216,834 is allocated for coronavirus-related expenses the county has already spent between March 1 and May 15. $570,462 towards anticipated expenses between May 15 and June 30, including hazard pay and disinfecting the courts.
Hagood estimated the county will spend $2,220,671 on coronavirus-related expenses in the fiscal year 2020-21 including hazard pay, modifying and disinfecting public buildings and physically safe elections, among other things.
As the county is seeing more funds to help in its coronavirus response and the health department works to increase sample collection, Saunders expects to see a rise in case numbers.
“Over time, we hope to see a lower rising curve, like a mound and then a plateau,” Saunders said. “You can clearly see were on the rise and on our way up at two points.”