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COVID rate in Meck improves, but ‘we’re not out of this just yet,’ disease expert says

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Since last month at around this time, daily new COVID-19 infections have dropped by more than half in Mecklenburg County.

Mecklenburg is now adding about 220 new infections each day. The average daily infection rate for mid-September was 517 cases.

Other major COVID trends in Mecklenburg also are moving in the right direction.

It’s a good sign, Novant Health infectious disease expert Dr. David Priest told reporters last week. But he added: “We’re not out of this just yet. We can’t be complacent.”

Just 56% of Mecklenburg residents are fully vaccinated as of Friday.

“We’ve fallen behind (on vaccinations),” Priest said. “I anticipate it’s going to mean we have continued pockets of outbreaks among unvaccinated individuals going forward.”

There are two options to develop COVID-19 antibodies, he said. Either get a vaccine, or get COVID-19 and risk severe complications, including hospitalization and death.

“There’s no middle ground there,” Priest said. “You can’t dodge this. So again, we encourage people to get vaccinated.”

Mecklenburg has recorded 154,718 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported Friday morning. County officials say 1,227 residents have died of coronavirus-related complications.

Hospitalizations and deaths

The average number of people requiring hospital-level care fell to 269 in the past week, a rate that’s steadily decreased since reaching a peak in late August.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have been falling across the Novant Health system too, Priest said.

“The vaccines remain highly effective in preventing hospitalization and death,” he said.

More than 95% of patients in Novant Health ICUs on ventilators with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, he said.

Nearly 30 percent of COVID-related deaths in Mecklenburg County have been connected to active outbreaks at long-term care facilities since the start of the pandemic, according to county data.

A majority of those deaths have been among adults 60 years and older. Of all deaths, almost half were non-Hispanic white residents, which is directly related to the long-term care facility outbreaks, according to the county.

Of deaths not related to long-term care facilities, nearly two in three were non-white and the majority were Black residents.

New cases and vaccinations

Mecklenburg County’s average COVID-19 positivity rate dropped to 8.2% last week, about three percentage points down from a month ago. The lower rate indicates the virus may be circulating at a slower pace, but the rate still exceeds the World Health Organization’s 5% threshold to guide decisions about loosening coronavirus-related restrictions.

Demographic breakdown: Residents aged 25-39 represented 27% of new COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks. The smallest percentage of new COVID-19 cases were among the 15-17 age group. The most coronavirus cases during the past two weeks were among white residents, who accounted for 25.9% of new cases.

Long-term care: Although there are outliers, the federal data on nursing home vaccinations show generally the more vaccinated the staff, the lower the case rate.

Based on Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data through Sept. 19, the average vaccination rate among nursing home staff was 60.7% in Mecklenburg, while the residents’ average vaccination rate is 91.4%.

More than half of Mecklenburg County residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

As of Friday, 60% of Mecklenburg County has at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 56% of the population is completely vaccinated.

Vaccination rates fall with each younger tier of eligible groups — 96% of residents age 75 and older have received at least one vaccine dose, while only 57% of residents ages 12-24 have received at least one vaccine dose.

Black Mecklenburg County residents are the least vaccinated group — only 42% have at least one vaccine dose.

As of Oct. 14, the county has confirmed reports of 6,989 cases, or 1.1%, of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated residents.

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