MONROE — The Enquirer-Journal caught up with Dennis Joyner, Union County’s public health director, to provide an update on how COVID-19 is affecting Union County.

Joyner discussed how many confirmed cases there are in UC assisted living centers, and the difference in numbers between assisted living centers and congregant living facilities like group homes.

“As of the time this email is sent, there have been 103 total cumulative cases in congregate living facilities. Most of these cases have been in assisted living or skilled nursing facilities. There have been four cases associated with group home settings and they are no longer being monitored by public health,” Joyner wrote. “As noted in the most recent North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services outbreak report, there are no current outbreaks in congregate living facilities in Union County.”

On April 15, the Enquirer-Journal reported outbreaks at two assisted living centers in Monroe — Monroe Rehabilitation and Woodridge Senior Living.

Union County is not mentioned in the July 2 outbreak report published by the NC DHHS. By comparison, in the same report, Mecklenburg County has 387 cases and 48 deaths in nursing homes. It has 58 cases and seven deaths in congregant living facilities and five cases among staff in a correctional facility. There were no reported deaths among staff members in nursing homes, congregant living facilities and the correctional facilities — reported deaths are exclusive to residents.

How have nursing homes worked to control the spread of COVID?

“Union County nursing homes have taken multiple steps to control COVID-19 in their facilities by carrying out extensive infection control policies and cleaning efforts, limiting movement of staff and residents in the facilities, restricting outside visitation, as well as heightened monitoring of residents and staff and testing when appropriate,” Joyner wrote.

Joyner was asked why, aside from increased testing, there has been a substantial rise in confirmed cases continuing in Union County?

“While increased testing availability is a component of the rise in cases, we must recognize that we have a high rate of transmission of the virus throughout our county. As we’ve taken some steps to ‘open back up; across the State, people are increasingly moving about and there are greater opportunities for spread.

“As of today, the highest transmission category for Union County’s cases is ‘Contact with a Positive COVID-19 case’ at 45% and ‘Community Spread’ is the second highest at 28%. The Centers for Disease Control defines community spread as spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown,” Joyner said.

He continued, “over the most recent seven days, we have averaged 35 new cases per day; that average was eight cases per day on June 1--a 126% increase. Regardless of additional testing capacity, the percentage of positive test results in Union County is 9% compared to the State average of 8% based on the most recent information from the state. We would like to see the percentage of positive tests have a sustained decrease over time.”

“Union County Public Health strongly encourages community members to continue prevention measures, including wearing a face covering in public, keeping six feet distance from others and washing their hands often. These are simple and effective ways to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent contracting the virus,” Joyner wrote.

Joyner addressed the topic of people who refuse to wear face masks and gloves, or to wash and sanitize their hands throughout the day.

“Nobody wants this pandemic to end more than those of us at Public Health and we realize it is a slow process,” he responded. “It’s important we all work together to get through this pandemic. There are no quick fixes, but personal actions can make a difference in slowing the spread,” Joyner said, “I know wearing a face covering or mask is not always comfortable or desirable, but we know it’s effective at preventing respiratory droplets from spreading from one person to another when physical distancing is not possible. It is a small inconvenience to protect lives.”

And if Joyner knew in March what he knows now about the virus? “From a local public health perspective, we’ve responded to COVID-19 using well established principles of communicable disease control and prevention, but globally we have critical limitations — a new virus with a steep learning curve as to how it behaves and no vaccine available,” Joyner wrote.

“Much of this is beyond our control at the local level. It is also unfortunate that the overall COVID-19 response has become so divisive. It makes our work in public health more challenging when individuals focus on sources that aren’t epidemiologists, scientists and doctors in the infectious disease field.”