Gov. Roy Cooper and state health officials warned of an expected surge of Covid-19 cases in the coming weeks, as a new coronavirus variant begins to spread across North Carolina.
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said she anticipates case counts peaking as high as 10,000 cases per day in the near future, eclipsing the totals seen during the late-summer rise in infections attributed to the delta variant.
Omicron — the newest variant of concern now spreading quickly in the Northeast after earlier appearances in Europe and Africa — is said to be extremely contagious.
“Evidence suggests that it is two to three times as contagious as the delta variant, making it four to six times as contagious as the original Covid-19 virus,” Cohen said during a news conference Monday.
But at the same time, there is no evidence that confirms omicron is tied to more severe illness. It could actually produce more mild symptoms compared to delta.
“Fortunately, early evidence suggests that illness from the omicron variant may be less severe,” said Cohen, imploring citizens to receive Covid-19 vaccinations and booster shots.
On omicron, Cohen said the variant had been sequenced at “nearly all of our major hospital systems.” She predicted a period of co-mingling to occur in January, where omicron could reach its maximum levels at the same time that delta — currently the dominant variant in the state — continues to spread.
“What we are seeing with omicron is it does seem to be less severe,” Cohen said. “What we don’t know yet is how it’s going to behave here in the United States.”
State leaders struck a solemn tone during the news conference, as they recommended unvaccinated people not travel during the holiday season, and for hosts to hold gatherings with open windows or even outdoors.
“If you do travel, wear a medical grade mask, even if you’re vaccinated and boosted,” Cohen said.
Cohen, in response to a reporter’s question, said she anticipates the definition of “fully vaccinated” to change over time, as booster shots become more widespread and more time passes since many had their first two-dose round of vaccines.
“That is something I know that the CDC is already looking at,” she said.
Reporters also asked Cooper if options like a statewide mask mandate were on the table. The governor responded that no Covid-related statewide mandate exists at this point, “and certainly we’ll discuss with other state leaders decisions that we make about this pandemic as we go forward.”
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