With new cases and hospitalizations on the rise, people encouraged to get vaccinated
As the highly contagious Delta variant continues to spread (it currently accounts for 83 percent of new cases), areas all across the country are seeing increases in new cases and hospitalizations. Stanly County is no different.
New cases in the county increased 94 percent from the end of last week (35 new cases) compared to the week prior (only 18), according to weekly data from the Stanly County Health Department.
Stanly County Health Department Director David Jenkins said that over the weekend, there were 21 new cases. On Thursday alone, there were 23 new cases.
Nine people in the county are currently hospitalized, including three Albemarle firefighters, who are among the ten fire personnel who have recently contracted the virus. City officials, in a news conference Wednesday, said firefighters are on a break “for their mental, physical and emotional well-being” until Monday morning. Firefighters from Concord and Kannapolis are stepping in to help serve the community.
“We’re very concerned from a public health standpoint,” Jenkins said, especially since only 32 percent of residents are fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in the region.
While the vast majority of Stanly’s senior citizens — which comprise almost 20 percent of the total population — are fully vaccinated (71 percent of people 75 and older and 67 percent of people 65 to 74), the younger age groups seem less receptive. Only 44 percent of people 50 to 64 and 25 percent of people 25 to 49 are fully vaccinated.
Over the past week, the state reported several days of more than 1,000 cases, topped by Thursday’s 1,800, which was the highest single-day figure since May 20, state Department of Health and Human Services data show. To put it in proper context, a month ago, the state was reporting less than 500 daily cases, with only 55 cases on June 26.
On Wednesday, the state had 751 people hospitalized, the highest daily total since late May, according to DHHS data.
But this new surge in cases is not impacting everyone the same: According to federal data, more than 99 percent of recent deaths were among the unvaccinated and the same group has accounted for over 97 percent of the hospitalizations.
“I think the biggest take-home message is that the vaccine is the best way to protect people and their loved ones from this COVID-19 delta variant,” Jenkins said.
The health department has administered more than 13,500 first doses and 12,600 second doses. The department is receiving new vaccines on an as-needed basis. Last week, Jenkins said, the department provided 60 first doses and 91 second doses.
Wendy Growcock, public health specialist with the health department, encourages people who are unvaccinated to wear masks and practice social distancing when out in public.
“You are very vulnerable right now if you are unvaccinated,” she said.
While there has been a recent uptick in people getting vaccinated, which Jenkins estimates is a result of the $25 cash cards given to people who get their first dose, the vaccination rate has seriously declined since the spring. At the end of May, for example, 32 percent of residents had been partially vaccinated; as of July 20, that percentage has only increased to 34 percent.
In conversations with people who have not gotten vaccinated, Jenkins said many express concerns about the efficacy of the vaccines and don’t believe they work, while others have falsely claimed that COVID deaths are on par with deaths attributed to the flu and pneumonia.
While Jenkins has tried to convince skeptics about the importance and reliability of vaccines, some people simply have their minds made up.
“For every fact that you show, they’ll pull something they believe is fact from a resource somewhere else,” he said.
Stanly’s death total has not gone up for several weeks and remains at 143.
Stanly’s rolling seven-day average positivity rate is around eight percent, well above the five percent benchmark at which the virus is thought to be contained, per DHHS data. Less than a month ago, at the end of June, the positivity rate was around two percent.
As of Friday, 46 percent of all state residents have been fully vaccinated, along with 57 percent of adults 18 and older. Among those 65 and older, the most vulnerable age group for COVID-19, that number increases to 83 percent.
The health department is providing Pfizer vaccines to walk-ins and to those with appointments from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Anyone interested in getting vaccinated can call the department’s COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline at 980-323-0205.