By Dave Russell
October 27 was only 87 days ago but The Sylva Herald headline that day, “COVID numbers looking better, but it’s still here,” seems much further back in the rearview mirror.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 5,629 total cases in Jackson County through Oct. 24, up 48 from 5,581 on Oct. 17.
Between Jan. 2 and Jan. 8 of this year, NCDHHS reported almost six times that amount – 284 cases, with a pandemic-record 83 cases last Tuesday. The previous high was 81 on Dec. 9, 2020. The county’s seven-day average is about 40 new cases per day.
One in about 6.5 people in the county have had COVID since March 2, 2020.
The rise fueled by the Omicron variant is just as alarming nationwide. On Nov. 29, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 80,208 new cases and a seven-day average of 99,427. On Monday, those figures were up to 363,060 and 674,406, respectively.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ data, as of Sunday 142,388 COVID patients were hospitalized nationwide. The previous peak was 142,315 on Jan. 14, 2021. The seven-day average of daily hospitalizations was 132,086, an increase of 83 percent from two weeks ago.
Holiday gatherings fuel spikes
Health officials’ predictions of a post-holiday surge in cases proved accurate. Symptoms of infection can appear from two to 14 days after exposure, with three to five being most common. Case reports in North Carolina came in at a record pace after Christmas – 20,750 on Dec. 28; 20,897 on Dec. 29; 21,192 on Dec. 30. The state’s previous high was 15,163 on Jan. 4, 2021.
“The post-holiday surge is in full effect,” said Anna Lippard of the Jackson County Department of Public Health. “Our biggest message is to get vaccinated/boost, get tested and wear a well fitting mask. We are seeing numbers surpassing the levels they were during the summer surge. In my Friday Snapshot last week, I reported the highest percent positivity rate (25.1 percent) that I have since publishing the Friday Snapshots.”
The health department does not have concrete evidence that Omicron is here, as the wastewater surveillance does not depict Omicron yet, Lippard said.
“We are definitely seeing an increased demand for testing since coming off of the holidays,” she said. “Vaccines are holding steady, but we still have plenty of available appointments.”
Health officials have begun talking about Omicron peaking and beginning to fade, but the health department has not received any information about a decline, Lippard said.
“However, we were told this morning that all four state metrics – daily cases, percent positivity, daily hospitalizations and percentage of people presenting at the ED with COVID-like symptoms – are still increasing as of (Tuesday),” she said.
According to a release from the JCDPH, the COVID-19 Pfizer booster is recommended for children 12 to 15 years old. The number of children hospitalized across the country is increasing.
Children 12 and up who received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine can receive the Pfizer booster five months after their second dose. Parental consent is required. Adults 18 and older can receive any brand of COVID-19 vaccine for their booster shot.
The CDC also recommends a third dose of Pfizer for children ages 5 to 11 who are immunocompromised.
In addition, the wait time for boosters for anyone who received Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations has been reduced from six months to five months.
People who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should receive their booster two months after their vaccination.
Doses are free for everyone, even if they don’t have health insurance and regardless of immigration status. To find a COVID-19 booster, visit MySpot.nc.gov or call the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Help Center for free at 888-675-4567. Not all vaccines may be available at every vaccine location.
The CDC also updated its guidance for isolation and quarantine. People with COVID-19 should isolate for at least five full days and wear a mask for an additional five days. People exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine for five days and wear a mask for an additional five days. However, people who are exposed to COVID-19 do not need to quarantine if they are vaccinated – including a booster for adults.
Because North Carolina remains in the CDC’s red zone with high community transmission, all North Carolinians should wear a mask, according to a release from the Jackson County Department of Public Health.
By the numbers
A week after classes began after the Christmas break, Jackson County Public Schools on Wednesday reported six staff and non-staff cases.
JCPS reports 20 student cases. Seven are at Fairview Elementary, four at Smoky Mountain High, six at Cullowhee Valley and one each at Scotts Creek, Smokey Mountain Elementary and Jackson County Early College.
There are 176 in quarantine throughout the system. All nine schools report quarantining students, with 34 at SMES, 35 at CVS, 47 at FES, 21 at SMHS and 20 at Scotts Creek.
One staffer at the Central Office is in quarantine as well.
The last quarantine numbers reported before the school system went on Christmas break was a total of 44.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reports 6,847 total cases in the county through Jan. 8, up 388 from 6,459 reported on Jan. 2.
The county has had 1,558.3 cases per 10,000 residents, up from 1,470 last week, DHHS said. The county death toll has risen one to 80 since last week.
As of Wednesday morning, the CDC reports 31,017 people in Jackson County at least partially vaccinated and 23,123 fully vaccinated. Only 5,502 have received the booster dose.