COVID-19NC: Public Health Spotlight, CDC Pushback & River Critters

Aug 28, 2020

Every Friday,  BPR's Helen Chickering talks with NC Health News founding editor Rose Hoban. This week they discuss the public health mentions  in Governor Roy's Coopers budget proposal, CDC's updated coronavirus testing guidelines and  - river otters.  They sure are cute, but what do they have to do with our health?

HC: So, another busy week, so much to talk about the governor presented his budget plan and among the highlights, I heard the word public health emphasis.

RH: I think the first story I wrote about coronavirus  about the fact that we were going to need public health to respond. And the public health system in North Carolina has been basically getting cuts for the past decade. You know, part of the problem with public health (and they talk about this in public health) is that it's the “ quiet miracle”.  Namely that it's chugging away in the background. No one sees it working. So then, you know, policymakers go, “It doesn't need all that money”. And then they slash it. And what happens is you have a crisis like 911 and they end up giving more money to public health and then time goes on and everything's good So public health people have been doing this for decades and decades and decades, and I know how to do it, but then underfunded. Well then now when the poop hits the fan, we find that we're all covered in poop.

HC: Another thing we've heard a lot about  - the CDC revising testing guidance and the team test to those who show symptoms, which has prompted questions, backlash and clarification from Health Secretary Mandy Cohen.

RH:  You know, it's interesting. I was talking to my brother this morning and we have cousins who live in the foothills and their daughter turns out, have positive antibodies to cover it because guess what? She went to Mardi Gras, New Orleans, but she was never symptomatic. She never got sniffles. She never got anything that she noticed.   But you know, so there were plenty of people who they think maybe upwards, like 40% of people who are contracting COVID who never show any signs of being sick, but they're important because those people can still spread the disease.   And Secretary Cohen was very clear that we're still going to encourage people who might not have symptoms, but who know that they were exposed to COVID to go ahead and get tested.

HC: Wow. Okay. Nothing like a good Mardi Gras story to get that point across. So, on that note, we need to point out you are joining us from the beach and graciously took your toes out of the sand to talk to us. Thank you so much. I'm going to ride that wave and to our next topic. And that's a piece on your website. So, I'm going to get to that by asking how's the water

 RH: As a water is fine water. It looks good down here from Topsail Island. And it turns out that one of the good things that's happening in our water in North Carolina is that a study of river otters has shown that they don't really have a lot of heavy metals in their system.  What happens is that if those get into the waterways, like little things, like little shrimp and crawfish, they eat it. And then larger things like fish and clams, they eat those smaller things. And what happens is that these heavy metals bioaccumulate and  the higher up the food chain, the critter is the more of this stuff they have in their muscles. So these researchers took a look at 317 otters who were caught by trappers.

And they looked at concentrations of all these heavy metals between 2009 and 2016, and found that the number of the level of heavy metals and these animals has basically stayed steady . So, it doesn't mean that our water systems are perfect, but  it does we've been reducing the amount of heavy metal getting into our waterways.

About Rose Hoban: 

Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News, as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992, but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees in public health policy and journalism. She's reported on science, health, policy and research in NC since 2005. Contact: editor at