Fears of Coronavirus in Catawba County

Staff Writer

With flu season in full swing, Catawba County residents are concerned about protecting themselves and loved ones from becoming ill. Fears are now mounting about the Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.

Since the first reports in mid December, 2019, numbers of those infected and the death toll have been increasing.

Each day, different media outlets report on suspected and confirmed cases of the deadly virus.

According to the Cable News Network (CNN), as of February 12, the death toll from the Coronavirus has reached 1,100 with 45,000 reported cases worldwide. Although the vast majority of those infected

are in mainland China, the disease has made its way to the United States.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there are 13 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus currently in the U.S. California has seven cases, Washington State has one, Arizona has one, Wisconsin has one, Illinois has two, and Massachusetts has one.

Until now, there have been no reported cases of the virus in North Carolina. However, Mecklenburg County Public Health is monitoring four people who've possibly been exposed to the deadly virus.

Mecklenburg County was the closest county to Catawba County with suspected cases until February 7.

Last Friday, everything changed after Dr. Nyiaj Vaj Vaj contacted local authorities with concern for one of his parishioners.

The senior pastor at True Life Alliance Church in Hickory, was worried when the woman in her late 40's didn't show up for church after traveling to China, Thailand, and Laos.

The woman has been a member for three months at his church.

Vaj said that church members were scared after learning she was sick and not hearing from her.

“Everybody was scared,” he said. “I called the police and asked them to check on her.”

After welfare checks at her residence and Tyson Foods in Claremont, her place of employment, the woman was finally located somewhere else.

Vaj is trying to find out where his parishioner is now.

“I asked the police, but they won't tell me anything,” he said.

It is now presumed she is being monitored by Catawba Valley Medical Center.

Matt Webber, director of marketing and communications for the hospital, released a statement on hospital protocol but wouldn't comment if the woman from Vaj's congregation is a patient.

“At CVMC we put best practices into action to prevent the spread of illness and infection to patients, visitors and staff within our facility,” he said.

Webber said the hospital is in a “daily state of preparedness” and follows protocol from both the CDC and North Carolina Public Health.

Concerning the Coronavirus, CVMC says, “In the case of Coronavirus, we screen patients at entry points per CDC guidelines that include questions pertaining to travel history and a full assessment of signs and symptoms.”

Other area organizations have also provided information.

Emily Killian, community engagement specialist with Catawba County Public Health, said that to date there are “no confirmed cases of 2019 novel Coronavirus in North Carolina.”

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services will not publicly disclose the number of people being evaluated for the virus, but says that “appropriate infection prevention measures will be taken if and when a person is under investigation.”

Positive results will be reported to the DPH 2019-nCoV Web site.

Kara Miller, finance specialist for the City of Claremont, also spoke about the concern because the Tyson Foods plant is located in Claremont. She said that she's heard no concerns from any residents.

“There's been no concerns yet,” she said. “We don't know anything.”

Miller said that the city initially assisted in the February 7 response call to the Tyson Foods plant in Claremont.

“The lady wasn't there,” she said.

Worth Sparkman is the representative of Tyson Foods in Arkansas. He acknowledged that the company has multiple plants that produce many products including poultry, pork, and beef.

“We produce millions of pounds of food every day. Food safety is integral to all of our operations,” Sparkman said. “Workers take all types of precautions throughout the world. Each facility is inspected by USDA. We don't operate without them and we adhere with their safety protocols and beyond.”

He said that they are working in cooperation with the Chinese government at their Tyson Foods plant in China.

“We are assessing what this outbreak may mean for global business and preparing for any possible impact,” Sparkman said. He added, “We’re committed to producing safe, healthy food and a safe working environment for our team members. Our company has programs, processes and technology in place covering all aspects of food safety, from the farm to our processing facilities and even to the consumer. Standard Tyson Foods practices for food safety and hygiene include hand washing and excluding ill employees from the work environment; these are expected to be good protective measures during this outbreak.”

However, an inside source at Tyson said, “There are a lot of people here who are definitely very concerned, including me”. The source also stated that the concern comes after the woman returned to work before falling ill after her recent visit to the Asian mainland.