Guilford County working to hire more school nurses, increase vaccination rates, enforce mask mandate


GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — The Guilford County Board of Commissioners held a meeting on Thursday night to evaluate the county’s COVID response.

COVID in Guilford County: Cases, Deaths, Vaccination Rate, Hospitalizations

As of Saturday afternoon, Guilford County has 60,325 reported COVID cases and 806 deaths, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

On Friday, 63 COVID deaths were added to the count, and at least 10 of the people who died were under 30 years old. All 63 were not vaccinated.

The vaccination percentage in Guilford County based on population is provided below:

  • first dose: 59.3%
  • fully-vaccinated: 49.9%

The goal is to bring the fully-vaccinated percentage up to 70%.

The commissioners said that over the last few weeks, the county has been seeing around 300 to 350 cases per day.

They say hospitalizations have decreased from around 170 last week to around 140 this week.

“While that is not a huge decrease, they are not going up any longer, and they are starting to drop off…we worked with our partners and Cone several times this week,” Emergency Management Division Director Don Campbell said. “We are kind of looking at this as what we anticipated is going to be a plateau of cases for a little while, which is really being held in check by vaccines and our mask mandate.”

COVID in schools

Guilford County Emergency Management Division Director Dr.Iulia Vann said that the number of new cases in Guilford County school has “tremendously increased.”

The county has partnered with a CDC team to help slow the spread of COVID in schools. Fifteen new workers have also been hired within the last few weeks.

“Right now, our goal is to conduct a case investigation and identify close contacts within 24 hours,” Vann said. “However, there are situations where it is beyond the 24 hours for a variety of issues: wrong info, people not answering. They do make three to five attempts to reach out to people during the day or on different days, but that can prolong things.”

Instead of quarantining an entire classroom when one student tests positive for COVID, the commissioners said workers are trying to look more closely to identify the students or teachers who need to quarantine, so the majority of the students can remain in class.

“We have been overwhelming our school nurses. They are trying their best to keep up with the cases. We are doing a little more of a proactive approach in the schools,” Vann said. “We are not waiting for lab results. We are proactively responding to that initial report of a case, and we are doing everything we can to limit the number of staff, children or teachers that are being quarantined in order for more children to be able to stay in school.”

The school year started with a fairly large number of nurse vacancies that Vann anticipate being able to fill in around the next two months.

As of Thursday, 26 positions remained open. The positions include:

  • one supervisor
  • Seven 10-month position nurses
  • Eighteen 12-month position nurses

In the last 12 months, 12 new nurses were hired.

Mask Mandate

As of Wednesday afternoon, the health department has received 244 calls or emails about enforcement issues with the mask mandate.

In the last week, 90 educational visits were made, and 59 complaints were investigated in a variety of different settings from large corporate stores to smaller businesses to restaurants and fitness facilities.

Vann says four warning letters have been issued, which is the step taken right before a sanction is issued to a business.

Five enforcement officers are working full time, two are working part time and the commissioners are waiting to have two additional enforcement officers begin working on Monday.

Booster Shots

People in Guilford County do not have to get their additional shot from the same provider they received their first or second dose from due to pharmacy capacity.

Contact Tracing

Different teams are doing contact tracing and investigating cases for different areas, Vann says.

Communicable disease nurses are investigating cases in nursing homes in partnership with the health care providers there.

They are also working with universities in Guilford County to investigates cases.

School health nurses are working cases in Guilford County schools, and day care nurses are working the majority of the cases in day care settings.

Monoclonal Treatments

Vann said a variety of different partners are helping administer monoclonal treatment, including Cone. She shared concerns over offering the treatment in an equitable way across Guilford County.

Proposals Passed

An epidemiology and laboratory capacity testing and school health staffing proposal passed 9-0 with a $7,941,242 budget.

The commissioners met with school officials last week to discuss how to use the funds.

The money is on automatic distribution and could potentially be used to hire school nurses, contact tracers, case investigators, licensed practical nurses to help administer tests and unlicensed workers who can help with contact tracing.

The commissioners also voted 9-0 to establish a full-time health equity coordinator with a budget of around $39,000 and to establish a full-time COVID school liaison position with a budget of around $115,000.

The health equity coordinator will be responsible for making sure Guilford County’s COVID response is fair to all citizens, and the COVID school liaison will be responsible for making sure COVID guidance is distributed equally among county schools.

Both positions were previously part-time and will be partially funded with grant money from the NCDHHS to make them full-time positions.

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