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Health experts: Be vigilant in small groups to prevent spread of coronavirus

Posted October 13, 2020 6:06 p.m. EDT
Updated October 13, 2020 6:16 p.m. EDT

— On Tuesday, North Carolina reported 43 new coronavirus deaths in just 24 hours. That’s nearly twice the state’s recent seven-day, rolling average.

Hospitalizations have also been on an upward trend since mid-September. On Tuesday, just over 1,103 people were hospitalized with coronavirus. It was the seventh straight day the state saw more than 1,000 people battling the virus in the hospital.

North Carolina’s total number of cases is now above 234,000.

While videos of packed beaches, bars and social events on college campuses have drawn much scrutiny from those concerned about the spread of the virus, the real threat is not in large crowds but more intimate gatherings, experts say.

“What we see from the epidemiological data, the contact tracing and the outbreak investigations is that the majority of the cases are really closely connected to each other by closer contact," said Dr. Emily Sickbert-Bennett, the director of infection prevention at University of North Carolina Medical Center.

It’s that closer contact in smaller, or private, gatherings that experts mentioned could be the right conditions for “silent spreaders.”

“Where people are maybe a little bit relaxed or feeling more comfortable because it’s a smaller group, they might be more likely to not adhere to physical distancing, maybe not wearing their masks," added Sickbert-Bennett.

Wake County has over 19,000 cases to date. A health expert in Wake County said trends have fluctuated, and they’re often traced back to holiday weekends and clusters at universities.

"Just because you’re getting together with your family doesn’t mean that it decreases that risk. It’s so important that you continue to do the things you would do to prevent the spread," said Dr. Nicole Mushonga, an associate public health director for Wake County.

As more North Carolinians venture back out under Phase 3 and the holiday season approaches, Dr. Mandy Cohen, state secretary of Health and Human Services, reminded everyone to remain vigilant.

"I think that everyone relaxes a little bit too much. We all have to remember whether that setting is in your home and you’re having just a few close friends — you need to be wearing a face covering. If you are going to church or another religious setting, you need to be wearing a face covering," said Cohen.

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