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'Stay home as much as possible' | Guilford County Health Director urges people to take precautions to protect loved ones as COVID-19 data surges

Guilford County Health Director Dr. Iulia Vann said testing at the health department has been through the roof in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — With each day of the pandemic, it gets harder and harder to be away from loved ones, but as cases surge, health experts say it's all that more important to keep your family safe.

Guilford County was upgraded to the red zone on the state's COVID-19 County Alert System earlier this week. 

The county's case rate, positivity rate, and hospital impact all climbed in the last week. 

Guilford County Health Director Dr. Iulia Vann said while it's concerning, the data has been at that point for some time. 

"The red zone, that critical rate of transmission has not really been a surprise to us looking at our new cases, positivity rate, hospitalizations. We're reporting on this every day and if you're looking at our dashboard and our metrics they're all in red and they’ve been in red for over a month and a half," Dr. Vann said. 

Vann said the data shows it's crucial to take every precaution needed. 

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"We need to continue to follow the 3 W’s, wear a face-covering, continue to stay six feet apart, wash your hands, use hand sanitizer," she said. 

Testing has skyrocketed in the last week leading up to Thanksgiving. 

While Cone Health saw a record number of tests Monday, Dr. Vann said the health department is also seeing similar impacts at their testing sites. 

"We would normally see approximately 100 to 150 individuals come through our testing sites at any given time. In the last week, and especially since the beginning of this week, we have been testing over 300, 350 individuals at each one of our testing sites," she said. 

Vann said yesterday's numbers showed about 350 people tested at the High Point site, 350 through the health department's partners at StarMed between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. yesterday, and 150 people yesterday morning at the health department. 

RELATED: COVID-19 Blog | Adults ages 70-79 make up most hospitalizations in North Carolina, but not most coronavirus cases

"Absolutely a very big increase in the number of testing that we're doing, which is great, we do want people to get tested, we do want people to be aware of their exposures be safe around their families loved ones," she said.

Vann said it's important to call a testing site beforehand to find out wait times and what you need to know before showing up to be tested. 

"We’ve had lines of people waiting for two hours, three hours getting tested and we know that is really difficult and we don’t want people to wait but we want to give them the opportunity to get tested," she said. 

Turnaround time for tests varies from place to place. Cone Health says results can take 5 days to get back. Vann said the health department's testing turnaround time right now is about 2-3 days. 

"That is not to say starting today and tomorrow were not going to see an increasing in those turnaround times," she said. 

Vann said she's hoping the continued education for businesses and the public help with compliance in mask-wearing, hand washing and social distancing. 

Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan declared a state of emergency last week, reinforcing the governor's executive order to wear masks and limit capacity.

The city will begin issuing fines to those who repeatedly don't comply. 

Guilford County Commissioner Skip Alston said he's working on drafting an ordinance to give the health department the power to issue fines for businesses that don't comply. 

Vann said she continues to stay in contact with the board of commissioners on a regular basis to find ways to best navigate the situation.

"Under general statutes, I do have the authority to order different entities that are posing public health hazards or imminent danger to the community to shut down. We do have the ability to do that right now however that is a very heavy hammer that would come down very it has to be supported by a lot of other documentation and cases related to that particular business or that restaurant," said Vann.

Vann said education and fines serve as more of a middle ground strategy. 

"We will make sure that everybody has the resources that they need the education that they need the support that they need to be successful because at the end of the day that’s all we're looking for is people to be supportive of public health mitigation strategies," said Vann, "We're really not trying to supplement our budget with the fines we're giving. We're really trying to get people to understand the importance of doing all of these public health practices in support of preventing the spread of COVID and the health of our community."

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As we approach 2021, the vaccine is also on the minds of many. The health department normally takes the task of vaccinating the public head-on, but this time it will be a little different, according to Vann. 

"Logistically it will be just a little bit different because of the way the vaccine needs to be kept, the transportation part of it, the number of doses that were going to get, and how we will prioritize it," she said. 

Vann said the distribution will be broken down into phases, serving those in the most need of it first, like those in high-risk categories and front line healthcare workers. 

"We will follow the phased approach to this. Phase 1 has a phase 1A and phase 1B," she said, "Then moving along in those phases when the vaccine becomes more readily available we'll eventually get to a phase 4 where all of the population will be eligible for that."

The mass vaccination phase is something Vann says the health department does exercises for and practices so they're prepared for it. 

"That’s when we're going to just bring our very well-rehearsed plan, open up pods what we call points of distribution and run it pretty much like a conveyor belt, in which we need to get as many people vaccinated in the shortest amount of time and we do have the knowledge the resources and the expertise to do that," Vann said. 

Vann said the health department has seen a lot of transmission through gatherings, so it's important to heed warnings to stay put and practice the 3 W's to keep you and the community safe.

"I think its important to mention that residents should stay home as much as possible celebrate with people that they live with in their household," she said.