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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Gaston County Sees 312% Increase In Coronavirus Cases, Urges Masks And Social Distancing

University of Southern California

Gaston County health officials say they’re concerned about a 312% increase in coronavirus cases in the county over the last two weeks – and especially alarmed by a sharp increase in the test positivity rate and hospitalizations for COVID-19 in that same stretch.

From May 30 to June 12, the percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive leapt to 11.17% from 5.14%. Additionally, the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 symptoms went from single digits mid-May to more than 20 in the past week. As of Wednesday, the state reported that 576 Gaston residents had tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic began. 

Gaston County Commission Chair Tracy Philbeck said the rise in cases is "expected."

"That's in context of 220,000-something citizens, and of course anyone with COVID-19 is not good, but at the end of the day, I do believe if we will practice social distancing, proper hygiene, proper sanitization, that is the best way to combat COVID-19," Philbeck said Wednesday. 

Health officials are urging Gaston County residents to minimize the spread of the virus by wearing face coverings, maintaining at least six feet of distance from others when out, and washing hands frequently.

“We know this has been hard on our community, but we really need people to stay diligent right now,” Gaston County Public Health Director Steve Eaton said in a press release. “We are working as hard as we can to track cases and educate the community, but we need for the public to help us by staying home, especially if you’re sick, wearing masks in public, and practicing social distancing. We cannot do this alone.”

The spike in coronavirus cases coincides with a rise in the number of positive cases and hospitalizations in North Carolina, as a whole. The number of coronavirus cases in the state rose by 33% in that same time period, and hospitalizations increased by 16%. The state has recorded new highs in the number of people hospitalized in seven of the last 10 days.

Philbeck on Wednesday said Gaston wasn't looking at tightening any restrictions beyond what the state has in place. In March, the county initially imposed crowd restrictions that were tighter than the state's – at the time – and issued a stay-at-home order before Gov. Roy Cooper Cooper did. But Philbeck later pushed back on Cooper's restrictions, including calling for an end to the statewide stay-at-home order by the end of April.

However, mayors of the county's 12 cities and towns said they supported the stay-at-home order and would enforce restrictions.

Philbeck says he thinks the county could do a better job managing on its own.

"I fully expect numbers to continue to rise, but at the end of the day, the governor is not going to allow Gaston County or any other county to do anything," Philbeck said. "If our numbers are going up, you'll have to blame the governor because it's his plan. It's not my plan. It's his plan."

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