With COVID-19 cases still climbing in Buncombe County, leaders are waging war on the virus by handing out thousands of tests and face coverings beginning Jan. 20.
Though the move was slightly delayed by recent severe winter weather, Buncombe County Public Health Director Stacie Saunders said Jan. 19 the at-home test distribution program is now moving and will include two separate tracts.
Where is Buncombe giving out tests, masks?
First, tests will be handed out by 22 equity-focused community organizations to groups including historically marginalized populations, low-Income areas and rural communities.
"These organizations will receive test kits and face coverings that they will provide to their service population and/or community events serving their populations," according to a Buncombe County Health and Human Services release.
Second, test kits and masks will be handed out at numerous public service locations from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. theses include the BCHHS offices at 40 Coxe Ave. in downtown Asheville and the following fire departments:
Broad River Fire Department
Fairview Fire Department
Swannanoa Fire Department
West Buncombe Fire Department
Riceville Fire Department
Black Mountain Fire Department
Upper Hominy Fire Department
Garren Creek Volunteer Fire Department
Asheville Fire Department - downtown and on Hendersonville Road in Shiloh
Jupiter Fire Department
Reynolds Fire Department
Barnardsville Fire Department
Enka-Candler Fire Department
Community members may want to call ahead to locations to check if supply is still available, according to the release.
These locations will provide:
At least one kit per adult but no more than two kits per adult. Each test kit box contains one at-home test.
At least one bag of face coverings per individual. Each face-covering bag contains 10 face coverings.
The kits and face coverings are free. No identification is needed to obtain these items.
This twofold push to hand out masks and tests to Buncombe residents is supplemented by new help from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, which is providing testing surge locations in the county starting Jan. 21.
These will begin on the campus of UNC Asheville in the Ridge Room in the Highsmith Student Union, 2500 University Heights.
Testing is from 1 p.m.-8 p.m. Jan. 21, and then 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Jan. 22 and 23.
Weekend testing will be available for the next six weeks and is open to the public, according to the release.
Where are the federal, state governments giving out tests, masks?
Buncombe's push to give residents testing and masking options comes as the federal government announced Jan. 18 a move to provide four tests to every household through the U.S. Postal Service.
Those can be ordered at covidtests.gov.
The White House on Jan. 19 announced plans to send out 400 million N95 masks for free to U.S. residents. Federal health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials are emphasizing the N95's ability to prevent the spread of COVID over cloth face coverings.
Tests are still available at numerous medical centers and pharmacies as well. BCHHS noted the state's ncdhhs.gov/GetTested website is still a helpful way to find a close testing location.
Where is Buncombe County's COVID data at mid-January?
COVID cases continue to rise in Buncombe due to the fast-spreading omicron variant, according to local health officials.
As of Jan. 18, the local case rate is 1,152 new cases per 100,000 per week. That amounts to a 22.9% case positivity rate since Jan. 11.
From Jan. 4-11, that rate was 20.2%.
The majority of new cases, 43.5%, have been in ages 25-49 years, according to BCHHS, which also noted children ages 0-17 make up the second largest proportion of cases at 21.3%.
Hospitalizations also have climbed.
In Buncombe, the number of beds occupied by COVID-positive patients have increased from about 10% to over 13% during the week of Jan. 11-18.
ICU bed utilization has reached about 30%.
As of Jan. 19, AdventHealth Hendersonville was caring for 22 COVID patients with
nine of those in ICU.
Pardee had 33 patients hospitalized with COVID, 10 of whom were in its ICU.
Mission Health network hospitals were not immediately able to provide COVID in patient data on Jan. 19.
Where are the vaccines?
“Omicron is certainly showing us its power to infect our community and communities across the U.S.,” Saunders said. “I am hopeful that as quickly as omicron cases have surged, we may see them recede in the coming weeks."
She encouraged residents to get vaccinated and boosted and emphasized that a majority of people -- more than 70% in North Carolina -- who are hospitalized with COVID have not received the vaccine.
Andrew Jones is Buncombe County government and health care reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Follow or reach him at @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Buncombe to hand out thousands of COVID tests and masks during surge