SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Since the first case of omicron was disclosed in Mecklenburg County a week ago, more have been reported across North Carolina.
Saturday, Orange County Public Health revealed its first case in a vaccinated patient who reportedly was experiencing mild symptoms. In Pitt County, two hours away, to the northeast of Wilmington, three cases have been confirmed, one detected through the East Carolina University School of Medicine’s COVID-19 Sequencing Laboratory.
Studies continue to be conducted on the latest Covid-19 variant. So far, health officials have noted omicron disseminates more than five times as quickly as the original variant and is two or three times more contagious than delta.
“It has what we call a doubling time of about three days and if you do the math on that, if you have just a couple of percentage of the isolates being omicron, very soon it’s going to be the dominant variant,” the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Omicron has spread to 46 states in the U.S. and 89 countries globally. It is the dominant strain in the U.K. and South Africa, where scientists first identified signs of the mutation over Thanksgiving. Delta currently dominates the U.S., which has seen a spike in cases averaging 122,000 a day this week, with hospitalizations rising 25% from a month ago, and deaths averaging 1,600 a day, similar to October statistics.
With data indicating increased spread on the horizon, more hospitalizations are inevitable, according to Fauci, especially in areas with low vaccination rates. The fear is infections will supersede January 2021 peak numbers and overburden healthcare systems. Officials have pointed to vaccines as the most protective measure against Covid-19’s severity.
“This new variant is extremely contagious, and I am very worried about North Carolinians who have not been vaccinated yet,” N.C.’s secretary of health and human services, Dr. Mandy Cohen, said in a press release. She will be stepping down Jan. 1, to be replaced by Kody Kinsley.
Cohen encouraged individuals to continue seeking inoculation, especially ahead of the holiday as families and friends gather indoors en masse. Boosters remain of importance, since it takes more antibodies to prevent infection from omicron. In a release from Pfizer earlier in the month, it noted, “Data indicate that a third dose of BNT162b2 increases the neutralizing antibody titers by 25-fold compared to two doses against the omicron variant.”
Earlier in the week, CDC officially recommended Moderna and Pfizer over Johnson & Johnson, stating the mRNA vaccines present fewer adverse side effects. Specifically, J&J involves higher risks for a rare blood-clotting condition, which killed nine people this year. As well, the mRNA vaccines have stronger efficacy after six months, whereas health officials suggest patients who receive J&J get a second dose of the one-shot after two months because of decline in its effectiveness.
“Individuals who are unable or unwilling to receive an mRNA vaccine will continue to have access to Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine,” the CDC noted.
In the U.S. 72% of the population has at least one dose of the vaccine, while 61% is fully dosed. The Tar Heel State’s metrics are slightly higher than the nation, with 73% of the adult population having at least one shot and 69% fully vaccinated.
In North Carolina, the state Department of Heath and Human Services reported Friday 7.8% of Covid-19 tests were returning positive results, with 3,980 cases reported in a single day. Slightly elevated from last week, 1,584 people have been hospitalized across N.C. this week.
Read below to find out current Covid-19 metrics in the tri-county area, in cases, clusters, outbreaks and vaccinations, as assessed by the CDC and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
New Hanover County
As of Dec. 19, the CDC shows over a seven-day span 247 Covid-19 cases were reported out of 3,500 tests given in New Hanover County. It’s also showing 22 new hospitalizations this week, though no new deaths.
On Thursday, the county reported the daily case average was up to 35.4 from 29.7 last week.
The county’s positivity rate hovers close to health official’s goal of 5%, though tipped a little higher at 5.8% this week. The CDC still has New Hanover County marked “high” transmission, up from its “substantial” status earlier in the month.
“The number of positive COVID cases in our county is rising and has been since a little before Thanksgiving,” NHC Health and Human Services Director Donna Fayko said in a release. “We must all use our best judgement and take steps to protect our health as we gather more during the holidays. If you’re around others in a crowded space, we encourage you to wear a mask and socially distance when you’re able. And if you haven’t been vaccinated or received a booster and are eligible, please, do that as soon as possible.”
NCDHHS shows 64% of New Hanover County’s population has had one dose of the vaccine, while the fully vaccinated make up 60% of the population.
New Hanover County Public Health offers free Covid-19 vaccines and boosters at the health and human services building (1650 Greenfield St.) and Independence Mall (3500 Oleander Dr.). Walk-ins are accommodated; appointments can be made at TakeMyShot.NC.gov.
Vaccine availability includes:
- Pfizer (two-dose vaccine, approved for anyone 5 & older; note: kids aged 5-11 receive a smaller dose than the adults)
- Moderna (two-dose vaccine, approved for anyone 18 & older)
- Johnson & Johnson (one-dose vaccine, approved for anyone 18 & older)
Parent or legal guardian consent will be required for ages 5-17.
Pfizer Covid-19 boosters are also now available for ages 16 and up at the county’s two clinics.
CLUSTERS AND OUTBREAKS
As of Dec. 14, only one congregate living facility in the county is showing an outbreak. Located on Martin Street, there are 11 cases, seven from residents and four from staff.
There are currently no clusters confirmed in any child care or school settings in the county. Data is updated every Tuesday by 4 p.m.
Over the last seven days, out of 2,652 tests given, 276 Covid-19 cases were reported in Brunswick County, according to the CDC. Numbers are down slightly from last week, including the county’s positive test rate, from 10.53% last week to 9.86%. The county’s transmissibility status is still considered “high” by the CDC.
The CDC is reporting six new admissions to Brunswick County hospitals over the past seven days. NCDHHS is showing one death on Dec. 13.
NCDHHS shows, in Brunswick County, 61% of the population is fully vaccinated and 64% of people have at least received one dose.
Vaccinations for the population aged 12 and older are available at the county’s drive-thru clinic at Coastal Cinemas 10 in Shallotte (5200 Bridgers Rd.). Ages 5-11 can go to Brunswick County Health Services’ main clinic in Bolivia (25 Courthouse Dr.).
Brunswick County Health Services requires appointments for vaccinations, which can be made here or by calling 910-253-2339. The consent form to fill out for children 5 and up can be downloaded ahead of time here.
CLUSTERS AND OUTBREAKS
Carolina Dunes Behavioral Health, a mental health facility in Leland, is still considered the site of a Covid-19 outbreak, with 17 total cases affecting 14 staff and three residents.
The NCDHHS is not showing clusters in childcare or school settings as of Dec. 14. Data is updated every Tuesday by 4 p.m.
According to the CDC, over the past seven days, out of 916 Covid-19 tests administered, 99 have been reported positive in Pender County. The county’s positive test rate is 9.07%, and its transmission rate is considered high by the CDC’s standards.
According to the county’s Dec. 17 update, the county health department reported four hospitalizations and no new deaths, with the total count remaining 104. More than 9,000 people have tested positive in the county since the onset of the pandemic
NCDHHS shows 52% of the population in Pender County has received at least one dose and 48% of the population is fully vaccinated.
Pender County has two vaccination locations: the health department (803 S. Walker St, Burgaw, NC, 28425) and Annex Building (15060 US-17, Hampstead, NC, 28443). Both locations are open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m., and are closed for lunch between noon and 1 p.m.
CLUSTERS AND OUTBREAKS
NCDHHS continues to report an outbreak at the Pender County Jail, with 15 cases amongst inmates and two staff members out sick.
Penderlea Middle School is still deemed the site of a cluster, after one staff member and four children tested positive.
New Hanover Regional Medical Center
New Hanover Regional Medical Center serves a seven-county region so numbers from its Covid-19 dashboard aren’t necessarily reflective of only residents from New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties.
According to its dashboard, last updated Dec. 10, it has hospitalized 3,545 Covid-19 patients since the start of the pandemic. Of those, 2,974 have been discharged and 558 people passed away during their stay. The hospital system was averaging 16 patients daily two weeks ago.
NHRMC has administered 116,815 vaccinations.
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