Cluster

IT ONLY TAKES ONE — This flow chart illustrates how a single case can become a cluster with far-reaching impacts. Courtesy of Haywood County Health and Human Services.

Thirteen COVID-19 cases, including three patients who have been hospitalized, have been traced to a hair salon in Canton.

The COVID cluster at Enchanting Hair Fashions involved three stylists and five customers. Five additional cases involve family members.

The Haywood County Health and Human Services Agency made the announcement Thursday afternoon after extensive consultation with the North Carolina Department of Health.

“We believe identifying a cluster is important for transparency and to raise awareness for the public about COVID-19 transmission,” said Haywood Public Health Director Patrick Johnson.

Johnson and his staff have been following cases tied to the salon for several days, but could not legally disclose a grouping of cases until they were sure it met the definition of a cluster — which is five or more cases among staff and customers clearly tied to a specific place of business.

“To meet that threshold, we have to have a clear linkage between these cases,” Johnson said.

While only eight cases are considered part of the salon cluster, additional family members infected by customers and staff make a total of 13 cases, with three hospitalizations.

“To put it into perspective, this cluster alone represents one-third of the cases identified in Haywood County since Sept. 8,” Johnson said.

Workplace transmission has become one of the leading causes of COVID spread in Haywood County, but most do not rise to the threshold of five cases to count as an official cluster. The salon makes the third workplace cluster identified in Haywood County since March.

Johnson said mask wearing is critical to stem the spread of COVID, particularly in settings like salons where social distancing between a stylist and customer isn’t possible.

“If you get your hair cut, you need to make sure your hair stylist is wearing and mask and you are wearing mask and there is no exception,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he received a call Friday from a customer who reported that her stylist doesn’t wear a mask.

“Putting this in the media raised awareness that stylists need to be wearing masks,” Johnson said, noting that the Haywood case was an unusual one in that it wasn’t five employees infected — the threshold for qualifying as a cluster.

“It was the five positive customers in addition to the three employees in the same setting at the same time that met the standard,” he explained.

A phone message left with the salon was not immediately answered.

Haywood County Public Health is working to identify any additional close contacts of people identified in this cluster. Based on the information provided during contact tracing, county health officials will assess risks of exposure, determine which if any additional measures are needed, quarantine, and/or testing.

The North Carolina Division of Public Health defines clusters of COVID-19 in workplace, educational, and other community settings as: 1) a minimum of five cases with illness onsets or initial positive results within a 14-day period AND, 2) plausible linkage between cases where cases were present in the same setting during the same time period; that the timing fits with likely timing of exposure; and that there is no other more likely source of exposure for identified cases.

Symptomatic individuals who test positive will be required to remain in isolation under the following conditions: 1) At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared AND, 2) At least 24 hours have passed since the last fever without the use of fever-reducing medications, AND 3) Symptoms (like cough and shortness of breath) have improved. Asymptomatic individuals who test positive will be required to remain in isolation under the following conditions: 1) At least 10 days have passed since their positive test assuming they have not subsequently developed symptoms since their positive test.

This link — covid19.ncdhhs.gov/guidance#node-71 — contains information and guidance for business owners and customers of all types of businesses in North Carolina.

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