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COVID-19 in Our Community: Resources to Help Fight The Pandemic

COVID-19 in New Bern
Top: Jeff Ruggieri, Colleen Roberts, Dr. Gregory Holmes, Courtney Chenowith; Bottom: Holly Parker, Dr. Robert Fisher, and Carr Ipock

Leaders tackled important COVID-19 questions for our community during virtual presentation on Monday night.

Dr. Gregory Holmes of First Missionary Baptist Church moderated the discussion. He was enthusiastic about “the partnerships that have been developed to help to enlighten you on how to keep yourself safe and your family safe and to let you know some of the things that are going on in the community”.

Although the presentation was targeted to the Greater Duffyfield Community, there were a broad range of topics that included statistics, contact tracing, testing, stress management, healthy living, to what’s happening with students going back to school. Learn about COVID-19 in New Bern and Craven County.

Panelists included: Dr. Robert Fisher, Medical Director, and Courtney Chenowith, Communicable Disease Nurse with the Craven County Health Department (CCHD), Holly Parker of Holly Parker Health, and Carr Ipock, Craven County Schools Board Member for District 3.

Dr. Robert Fisher started the conversation by talking about COVID-19 and explained “The virus can only infect you if it can get inside you. The virus targets ace receptors on the lining and cells of the lungs, nose, and throat. It generally has an incubation period of five to seven days and a person usually begins to experience symptoms within 12 days of contracting the virus. Which is why people are asked to self-quarantine for 2 weeks if they are exposed to someone with the virus since during this time, it is possible for them to spread the virus.”

“Symptoms are most commonly fever and cough with many patients experiencing fatigue, muscle aches, and less commonly nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea”.

The Health Department’s current strategy is to slow the spread in the community and predict vulnerable populations. They recommend social distancing, wearing masks, and washing your hands.

Dr. Fisher said, “We have seen increases in depression, anxiety, alcohol and substance abuse, domestic violence and overdoses”. He emphasized the importance of being compassionate and to seek help during the challenging situations. If you need help, call the North Carolina Mental Health Helpline at 855-587-3463.

Courtney Chenowith walked us through the process of “What happens when someone tests positive for COVID-19. The first thing that happens is…whatever doctor does the testing has to report that to the Health Department. Once we have a case reported…either myself or another nurse will contact the case to interview them. A lot of the questions we ask are statistical information…which leads into contact tracing….if you didn’t have symptoms, we would look at 48 hours before you tested positive or if you do have symptoms, we would look at 48 hours before your symptoms onset. We ask you where have you been or who have you been around from that starting point up until when you went into isolation”.

Chenowith said, “The health department is offering a drive up test clinic by appointment only” every Tuesday and Friday morning, “If you think you’ve been exposed…a nurse will swab you, you don’t have to get out of your car”. Depending on the laboratory who performs the tests, commercial labs take 48 – 72 hours for results and State lab turnaround is almost a week. Other options are urgent care and your primary care.  Testing is free for State Labs and there’s a fee for commercial labs.

Holly Parker emphasized the importance of “Boosting immunity and building resiliency to the virus” and provided basic nutritional and lifestyle tips:

– Fruits and vegetables have different vitamins and antioxidants. Other foods like garlic, onion, and different spices like turmeric, oregano, etc. are important to fight bacteria and decrease inflammation.

– Reduce your sugar intake and drink more water.

– Consider how much exercise you’re getting. Move your body to get the blood flowing.

– Walking outside reduces stress and is important to get vitamin D.

– Importance of a sleep routine: sleep restores and heals your body.

– Stress management: prayer and meditation along with breathing exercises.

Parker recommended, “Take a break from the news and social media…read a book, do something fun”.

If you need help, reach out to PORT Health, RHA Behavioral Health, or visit NC211.org for mental health, food, and other important resources.

Carr Ipock was the last speaker and talked about the plan C back to school program. He said, “We realize that the school schedule places a real hardship on a lot of people. Whether we’re in or out under the circumstances that we’re going through, there’s a lot of fear and anxiety that’s shared by many. And of course, there’s the actual health of our students. We know they will do best if they’re in the classroom directly connected with the teacher.

Under the plan that the Governor offered it allowed us to look at what was called a plan B, and we were going aggressively towards starting schools…on August 17. Under plan B with the spacing required, spacing is 50%, so if you can imagine, you’re cutting every classroom into pods of half students and spacing them out…there are the issues of making sure they have the distancing, food service in the classroom…just to minimize overlap with students.

We’ve been extensively doing surveys of our teachers, parents, staff…and what we’re seeing is that our community divided out into 1/3, 1/3, and 1/3. 1/3 have significant fear about returning to the classroom and wanting to be totally virtual. 1/3 that basically would be accepting of either way, and 1/3 that absolutely wanted to be in the classroom.

So, we went further and interviewed teachers to understand better what the issues were in terms of their personal health, risk, and their fear. The numbers that came back were significant that we had to consider.

The other element that was giving us problems was that we had not received the personal protective equipment (PPE) to be able to open schools. We did not have the date that we would have PPE available for students. Since that time, much of the PPE has been received and we think we’re gonna be in good shape there.

Coming down to the 11th hour, we decided given the fact that our local numbers still were rising…also we had a number of unexpected teacher retirements. The concerns and fears were that great that increased that problem. We did plan on a whole virtual school and almost 4,000 students signed up.

Here we are in the board meeting trying to wrestle through all this information. Knowing that above all the safety and welfare of students and our teachers had to be in front of any decision we made. We elected to go with plan C, which is virtual for the first 9 weeks.

We apologize for the hardships this creates. I will say that we’re in much better situation now in that many of the issues and problems we had the start of March have been resolved. We do have significant issues that we still have to address in the Western Part of the County and also in the Harlowe area. We’re still working on good connectivity for students. We’re asking our Community resources – Churches and other sites in those areas that have difficulty having online to provide space with appropriate distancing and help to having students to get to a place where they can get online.

This is a summary of the 52 minute video. Watch the entire video on the City of New Bern’s Youtube Channel to learn more about COVID-19 in our community.

Background: This Presentation was hosted by The New Bern Redevelopment Commission. Historically, communities with poor conditions – unstable housing, low income, unsafe neighborhoods and substandard education – have been shown to be at increased risk of illness. Subsequently, citizens are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and possibly dying from it.  Since more education is a predictor of better health outcomes, it is critical we begin to provide this education, specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This virtual event included medical professionals familiar with the Greater Duffyfield Community and how Duffyfield can build resiliency through a pandemic.

Thanks to Jeffrey Ruggieri, Director of Development Services for coordinating this special event and Colleen Roberts, Public Information Officer for the City of New Bern for producing the virtual presentation.

Wendy Card