Two Brunswick County residents died from COVID-19 in the past week as the virus continues to spread through the area.

Nearly 200 new cases were identified in eight days and the local death toll rose to seven, including two non-residents.

The fourth person to die in the county, who passed on June 27, was a resident at Universal Health Care of Brunswick, a congregate living facility in Bolivia with an outbreak that had spread to 22 residents and 14 employees as of Tuesday. The patient who died was considered high risk as they were over age 65 and had underlying medical conditions.

Then, on June 29, another person who was also over 65 died while hospitalized for the virus.

After months of slow growth in cases since the start of the pandemic, during which most of the positive tests were deemed “travel related,” Brunswick County saw an exponential spread of COVID-19 in June that has been attributed to increased testing, exposure in service jobs and socializing.

On June 1, the county reported just 96 positive tests: 68 recovered, 24 isolating at 16 separate households, one hospitalized and three deaths. On June 30, the county had identified 509 cases: 278 recovered, 219 isolated at 189 different homes, seven in the hospital, and five deaths.

From June 23-30, the number of cases recorded so far in: ZIP code 28461 increased from 35 to 40; ZIP code 28422 rose from 32 to 39; and ZIP code 28465 went up from 17 to 18, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Neighboring New Hanover County documented nearly 900 positive tests as of Tuesday while Pender County had counted more than 200 and Columbus County had identified 500-plus.

There are more than just these cases, though. For each identified person, there are likely several more who go unreported because they are or were asymptomatic and did not take a test.

With the 4th of July holiday approaching people are advised to avoid mass gatherings and, if they do attend one, wear a face covering and keep a distance from others. The county health services is attributing the spike in cases largely to get-togethers with multiple households, leading all parties to have to quarantine when an attendee later tests positive.

“Staying home as often as possible is still the best defense from contracting the virus, no matter what age you are or how healthy you feel,” Brunswick County Health Services Director Cris Harrelson said. “We anticipate seeing our case counts continue to rise into July due to increased activity in public places and the likelihood that social gatherings and traveling will take place over the Independence Day weekend and into the rest of summer.”

Health Services continues to assert that workers in the service industry are heavily affected, which contributes to a local and statewide rise in cases among young people and those of Hispanic ethnicity. In the county, at least 109 of the people who have tested positive so far are Hispanic and more than 300 of the cases are under age 49.

Across the state, over 64,600 North Carolinians have tested positive for COVID-19. Of those, 1,343 succumbed to the virus and at least 45,500 are presumed to be recovered.

Since the data shows the crisis is not improving, North Carolina is still “safer at home,” Governor Roy Cooper decided last week.

He announced the state will remain in Phase 2 through July 17 and face coverings are now required in public.

The covering must be worn in places where physical distancing is not possible. Gov. Cooper also added to the types of businesses whose customers and employees must wear coverings; it now includes retail stores, restaurants, personal care and grooming establishments, child care centers and camps, transportation, construction and more.

As of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed more than 2.5 million U.S. cases and at least 126,739 American deaths.