Three more people died this past week after being infected with COVID-19 at Universal Health Care of Brunswick, where 25 residents and 16 staff members so far have tested positive for the virus.

The local death toll is now at 12, including two non-residents and five of the 41 people affected by the outbreak at Universal Health Care.

Two of the deceased were residents at that Bolivia nursing home, were over age 65 and had underlying medical conditions, the county reported.

The third death was a Universal Health Care employee who was between 25- to 49-years-old. This is the first county resident to die in that age bracket. The person had pre-existing medical conditions, according to a county news release.

Since Friday, three more outbreaks at congregate living facilities in Brunswick County were discovered.

At Brunswick Health and Rehab Center in Ash, two residents received positive tests and were hospitalized, the county announced July 10.

The same day, it was reported that Arbor Landing at Ocean Isle, an assisted living community, had identified at least four cases among residents. One employee also received a positive test and is isolating at home.

Carolina Dunes Behavioral Health, a mental health facility in Leland, has identified cases among 10 employees and one resident, the county reported July 14.

Autumn Care of Shallotte identified three positive tests in early June, but the facility has not reported any new cases since.

Local cases tick up

Brunswick County’s number of COVID-19 cases has increased by nearly 620% since early June.

Close to 830 residents have tested positive for the virus so far. On Tuesday, 428 people were isolating and 13 were hospitalized. At least 377 residents are recovered to date.

“It’s more important now than ever to stay home and limit your travel as much as possible, even in your hometown,” Health Services Director Cris Harrelson said. “We continue to see cases rise due to social gatherings among people of different households, those who work in higher-risk public settings, or that are attributed to community spread.”

From July 7 to July 14, the number of cases increased in ZIP code 28461 from 49 to 58; ZIP code 28422 from 48 to 61; and ZIP code 28465 from 23 to 27, according to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Neighboring counties are also seeing the numbers rise. As of Tuesday, New Hanover County had 1,560 cases; Pender County had 415; and Columbus County had more than 645.

N.C. reopens schools

State officials announced Tuesday North Carolina will remain “on pause” in Phase 2 for an additional three weeks in an effort to stabilize trends before schools reopen next month.

North Carolina will resume both in-person and remote learning this fall, although districts could opt to do virtual classrooms only. It is also recommended that schools give families the choice of all-remote learning. The State Port Pilot will have more details on Brunswick County Schools’ plans in next week’s edition.

For schools that open, face coverings will be required for all people in the buildings. The state is providing at least five reusable masks for every student and staff member.

“The studies have shown overwhelmingly that face coverings reduce disease transmission,” Cooper said.

Schools that open will need to limit the number of students in classrooms to ensure six-feet distances are kept. In addition, screenings and temperature checks will occur each day before children enter the buildings, and schools will find ways to isolate those with symptoms. Teachers will schedule frequent hand washing into the days, and the schools must keep clean the classrooms, bathrooms, buses and equipment. Plus, nonessential visitors and activities involving outside groups will be limited.

“The start of school is a month away for most of our children and we know a lot can happen with the virus during that time,” Cooper said. “If trends spike and in-person schools cannot be done safely even with these safety protocols, then North Carolina will need to move to all remote learning like we did in March.”

At least 89,484 North Carolinians had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday and, of those, 1,552 are dead because of the virus.

The state still has hospital capacity at this time and the percent of tests coming back positive is steady but high, the governor said.

“Our numbers are still troubling and they could jump higher in the blink of an eye,” he added.

Nationwide, more than three million cases and 136,000-plus deaths were confirmed as of Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

County schools, sports

Brunswick County Schools will focus on options for Plan B in its district, including the addition of remote learning options.

Changes/updates to NCDHHS safety protocols and additional research on each possible plan B option are being reviewed.

A decision will be made by the Board of Education and it will take place in a public meeting format. No date has yet been scheduled for a vote on which option of Plan B to put in place for the district. More information can be found at www.bcswan.net/ReopeningInformation.

Commissioner Que Tucker of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association reacted to the governor’s announcement and how it will impact the fall sports schedule.

“As was just shared by Gov. Cooper, this decision on the starting of school for the 2020-2021 school year now puts us in a better position to make informed decisions concerning if, when, and how to resume athletic competition at NCHSAA member schools,” said Tucker.

“We will continue discussing the numerous options and scenarios that have been developed and recommended, identifying the most appropriate scenarios. The NCHSAA staff will work with the board of directors, Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and other stakeholder groups to solidify the details of the best plan for the safety of our student athletes, coaches, administrators and the communities the association represents.

“We know everyone is interested in start dates and protocols. The NCHSAA will provide further updates when they become available after Board discussion and action,” Tucker concluded.

–Staff Writer Michael Paul contributed to this report.