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50 new COVID-19 cases for second day in a row in Forsyth County, case total nears 500

For the second consecutive day, the Forsyth County Department of Public Health announced 50 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the county’s total number of cases near 500.

In just two days, the county’s total number of cases have increased by about 25%, and the number of active cases is at least 280, according to the health department.

It’s not known how many people in Forsyth County have been tested for the virus this week or how many people are currently hospitalized. The county’s health department releases the previous week’s figures on Mondays. As of May 10, 16 people in Forsyth County were hospitalized because of COVID-19.

Forsyth Public Health Director Joshua Swift has repeatedly cited the need for more testing, and the reported number of tests done locally last week seem to back him up. The county health department reported 385 tests were completed between May 4 and May 10, an average of 55 tests a day. Last week was Forsyth’s highest in terms of testing, according to available data.

In the state, about 7,000 people were tested per day in the same period.

Overall last week, Forsyth County tests made up less than 1% of the tests reported across the state. Nearly 4% of the state’s residents live in Forsyth County. Local health officials did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday.

“Today’s case increase is under investigation,” Swift is quoted as saying in a news release. “Many of the cases from yesterday appear to be connected to close contacts, such as family members and loved ones. It is important, even when at home, to practice good hygiene, proper cleaning and social distancing from sick family members.”

It isn’t clear if the “close contacts” are related to other known outbreaks.

While the number of new cases continues to rise, the number of COVID-19 related deaths in Forsyth County remains at 5.

In North Carolina, at least 15,816 people have tested positive for the virus, including at least 517 new cases announced Wednesday, according to data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. More than 12% of all new cases in the state since Tuesday are in Forsyth County.

Wednesday, N.C. DHHS announced 20 additional COVID-19 related deaths in the state, bringing the state death toll to 597.

Previously, Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious disease expert and the face of Wake Forest Baptist Health’s COVID-19 response, said test results take anywhere from 2 to 24 hours to come back.

While the number of cases in Forsyth County has doubled in the last two weeks, other area counties have seen similar jumps. The number of cases in Wilkes County has jumped from 21 on April 27 to at least 261.

For a nearly two-week stretch in mid-April, Forsyth County’s COVID-19 case total remained relatively flat while surrounding counties, particularly Guilford, saw steady increases. Then, in late April, an outbreak at the Tyson chicken processing facility in Wilkesboro contributed to a spike in Forsyth’s numbers as at least 70 county residents who either work at Tyson or have close contact with someone who does, tested positive.

Several area nursing homes and residential care facilities have documented COVID-19 outbreaks, including Oak Forest Health and Rehabilitation Center in Winston-Salem. However, Oak Forest’s outbreak is relatively mild, with four staff members and one resident testing positive. Previously, county health officials praised Oak Forest for following best practices in terms of COVID-19 prevention.

It’s also not clear whether the reopening of commercial retail businesses and shopping centers, such as Hanes Mall, is contributing to the spike in local COVID-19 cases. Restaurants and bars remain closed to dine-in services and will be until Gov. Roy Cooper rescinds the stay-at-home order and allows the state to enter Phase 2 of reopening.

As of Monday, 29% of Forsyth residents who tested positive for COVID-19 — about 114 people — were Latino, according to data from the county health department. No other race or ethnic group made up a larger percentage of positive tests.

The needs of the state’s Spanish-speaking immigrant community became clearer Wednesday after Siembra N.C., a Greensboro based organization of Latino people who advocate for immigrant rights, released a survey of Spanish-speaking immigrants.

According to the survey, completed by 309 immigrants living in the Triangle, Triad and the Charlotte metropolitan area, about 42% of all respondents said they or their families are having trouble finding masks and would like to have one.

About 45% of respondents reported not being able to pay their full May rent, and 70% of respondents listed rent as being their most urgent need, according to the survey.

Local puzzle company sees business boom with people stuck at home

With the COVID-19 pandemic having largely brought the U.S. economy to a halt, one local company is doing better than it ever has before.

Heritage Puzzle, a Pfafftown based jigsaw puzzle company, is shipping out puzzles at a rate the owners have never seen.

“We ship out sometimes in a day what we used to ship out in a month,” said Matt Everhart, whose mother, Karen, is the president of the company.

Business is so busy, the Everharts are having a hard time keeping up supply to meet demand. There are five companies in the United States that cut puzzles for companies at any level of volume, Karen Everhart said, and three of them had to close for a period of weeks due to COVID-19.

“There’s a huge backlog of puzzles waiting to be cut,” Karen Everhart said.

“We’re certainly behind on getting shipments in, and we expect that production to get ramped back up. They just take a while to get back in stock.”

Historically, the Everharts said, 90% of the company’s business has been wholesale orders to independent gift shops and card stores. However, with more people stuck at home and looking for ways to pass the time, more people are buying puzzles directly from the company.

“We’ve had to strike a balance between satisfying our wholesale accounts when we can and satisfying our retail orders because people can’t get out and get to a store,” Karen Everhart said. “We feel like it’s important to get it to people.”

Founded in 1998, Heritage Puzzle offers 250 puzzles to consumers, but the Everharts said their coastal themed puzzles are among the most popular with consumers. The company’s first puzzle was an image of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse.

Karen Everhart said it can be kind of odd to be so successful when many businesses are closed or having to lay off and furlough employees.

“We feel bad that it happened because of the way it happened, but we are also very thankful,” Karen Everhart said. “I think we’ve done a service to people as well, and be able to provide some entertainment to a family stuck at home.”

As a result of a booming business, the Everharts decided to freeze their prices instead of raising them with raised demand, keeping the puzzles affordable during a tough economic period, Matt said.

“I’ve had lots of comments whether it was on the order of after shipping, just thanking us for giving them something to do,” Matt Everhart said.

Report: Sen. Burr has cellphone seized by FBI agents with search warrant

Federal investigations into stock sales made in February by U.S. Richard Burr appear to now include the seizure of his cellphone Wednesday night, according to media reports.

The Los Angeles Times first reported, based on an anonymous law-enforcement source, that Federal Bureau of Investigation agents came to Burr’s home in the Washington area with a search warrant for the cellphone.

The newspaper’s report was widely circulated by other media outlets and on social media.

Burr spokeswoman Catilin Carroll declined to comment Wednesday night to the Winston-Salem Journal on the L.A. Times report.

Burr already has been facing bipartisan calls for his resignation as chairman of the Senate Intelligence committee.

CNN first reported March 30 that Burr is facing potential U.S. Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission probes into stock sales made a week before the stock market began its sharp coronavirus-related decline Feb. 20.

U.S. Senate financial-disclosure documents show Burr, a Republican from Winston-Salem, and his wife, Brooke, sold between $628,000 and $1.72 million of their stock holdings in 33 separate transactions on Feb. 13. The publication Roll Call listed his net worth at $1.7 million as of 2018.

CNN reported the two federal agencies contacted the FBI as part of their initial steps.

On March 20, Burr requested the U.S. Senate Ethics committee investigate the couple’s stock transactions. He also released a statement saying “I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on Feb. 13.”