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Opposition to Pandemic Measures in Rural Counties

Photo courtesy of the Asheville Citizen-Times

Since the beginning of stay-at-home orders, there has been a disconnect between rural areas and cities regarding COVID-19 measures. There have been disagreements on masks, the 3 W’s and the rules put in place for the pandemic. At Meredith, we are in the heart of the state capital. Because of this, it can be hard to see the perspective of county and rural governments. The Herald interviewed Scott Harrelson, Craven County Health Director, to help everyone understand the importance of the safety measures put in place. Craven County, in Eastern North Carolina, includes the city of New Bern and is one of the rural counties where COVID-19 regulations have been met with some resistance.

Possibly the biggest disagreement during this pandemic is the subject of masks. It all comes down to why masks are important to preventing COVID-19. Harrelson commented, “Cloth masks or surgical masks blunt the droplet spread and they are a useful tool when six feet of distance cannot always be maintained.” Although people should be staying six feet away from each other at all times, masks are an extra preventative measure. Additionally, masks are nothing new in some other countries, such as Japan and China. Citizens in these countries have been using them for years with no complaints. They are proven to help stop the spread of germs by preventing droplets from sneezes and coughs from spreading beyond the mask.

Yet, even with this knowledge, there is still a disconnect between rural and urban areas. When asked about Craven County’s struggle with the virus, Harrelson had a lot to say. He stated, “From what we have gleaned from contact tracing, many of the cases can be attributed to missteps by individuals, such as not going home to isolate after testing and rather going to visit friends and family only to find out two to three days later that their test result was positive.” This demonstrates the fact that there is a lack of precaution taking place. Harrelson later said, “Non-compliance with quarantine orders is another challenge. Roughly 85% of cases are mild to moderate, so there is a perception that this is not that big a deal now that many people have already had COVID-19. The problem with that is that approximately 9% of our local cases have wound up in the hospital and we have had 75 COVID-19 related deaths.” People are dying from something that could be avoided with vigilant mask-wearing, distancing and hand washing. These measures have been put in place for a reason: to stop the virus. 9% may not seem like a large percentage of hospitalizations, but out of the 4,597 cases reported as of Dec. 23, 9% of that number is 413 people, which is a significant toll.

Businesses are also an important aspect when it comes to following rules. When asked why businesses should be following the 3 W’s, Harrelson said that it helps “to simply mitigate the impact to their business functions.” He went on to say, “When we contact trace businesses that have utilized social distancing and wearing of masks, it has greatly reduced the number of close contacts. It is disruptive when employees have to be sent home for COVID-19.” The government doesn’t want businesses to completely shut down, but they want them to be safe. When there are multiple people gathering in one area, the danger of infection increases. Being safe can help with future issues, such as the difficulty of contact tracing. Harrelson’s response regarding if there is a specific protocol for contact tracing was eye-opening. He said, “No, the protocol is the same, but one individual could have 20 close contacts. At one point we had over 550 active cases; just imagine the number of close contacts associated with the number of active cases.” Having to go through the process of contact tracing with 550 cases is complicated, and these numbers are only for a small county. It becomes even more difficult in places with larger populations.

During this pandemic, Craven County has one main goal. The goal, Harrelson stated, is “to mitigate the number of deaths.” He added, “At this point, we are at a high rate of transmission... cases are to be expected. If we could just get the vaccine into the vulnerable population, it would have a tremendous impact on the COVID-19 death rate, even if the cases continue in the younger, healthier population or the 85% with mild to moderate symptoms.” Smaller counties have a better chance of keeping their numbers down. By listening to local government and being cautious, this virus could become a thing of the past. Hopefully, with the introduction of a vaccine, this process can happen more quickly, but it is up to individuals to be safe and stop the spread.

By Kaylee Haas, Staff Writer


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