The latest COVID-19 variant doesn’t appear to be causing major surges of the disease in Cumberland County, but health officials say residents should remain cautious.
The county has had a little more than 800 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the most recent full week and nearly 2,700 cases in the last full month, according to Health Director Jennifer Green. The most recent weekly numbers were higher than the week before, she said.
The number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and emergency room visits in the county have not been “anywhere near the height” of the omicron variant surge, Green said. The recent trends look more like the impact of the delta variant before it peaked, she said.
The percentage of COVID-19 cases from the most recent BA.5 and BA.4 variants isn’t available on the county level, but statistics for North Carolina indicate that most cases in the state are from those two, Green said.
Green said the two variants seem to be more contagious than previous variants but aren’t causing a large increase in hospitalizations, in part because residents have access to vaccinations and treatments.
“Even if they’re getting infected, they’re not getting as sick,” she said.
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Dr. Sam Fleishman, chief medical officer for Cape Fear Valley Health system, said that several weeks ago the number of COVID-19 patients at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville was in the upper 20s to mid-30s. More recently, that has increased to the upper 30s to mid-40s.
“We’re not seeing a huge uptick in hospitalizations,” he said. “I don’t think we’re seeing a lot more severe cases with the new variant.”
On Thursday, there were 37 COVID-19 related cases at the hospital, including four in the Intensive Care Unit, Fleishman said.
Most of the patients who have to be moved to ICU have other severe medical problems in addition to COVID-19, Fleishman said. Some aren’t vaccinated and those who have gotten the vaccine usually haven’t had a booster shot, he said.
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In Cumberland County, 84.3% of eligible residents have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 61.8% are considered fully vaccinated with two doses, but only 22.1% of those have received a booster dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Fleishman said that of the COVID-19 deaths at the hospital this year, 99% had another medical issue. He said only 2% had received a booster shot.
Residents who will be indoors and especially those who will be using public transportation to travel should wear a mask and practice social distancing, Fleishman said. They also should consider taking a COVID-19 test, Fleishman said.
“Rapid tests are now readily available,” he said.
Green said residents can use the state Department of Health and Human Services website to find a “test to treat” location that will provide a test and treatment in one place.
“We encourage people to have a plan, especially if they are an older adult or are immune compromised,” she said.
Fleishman urged residents not to take the disease for granted.
“I think people should be more careful and thoughtful,” he said.
Health officials continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation.
“We’re very vigilant in watching this,” Fleishman said. “We’re not going to take our eye off the ball.”
Local news editor Steve DeVane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.