• 68°

Health Department reports 71 pediatric cases since beginning of July

Stanly County health officials said Thursday they are aware of 51 pediatric coronavirus cases in children 17 and younger that occurred in July.

Through just the first four days of August, there have already been 20 such cases. The numbers, officials said, are alarming.

“You can see how much more infection rate we’re seeing in the pediatric population, the 17 and under,” Stanly County Public Health Director David Jenkins said.

When asked how the total of pediatric cases in July compared with monthly totals last year and the beginning of this year, when the pandemic was arguably at its worst, Jenkins said the department previously kept up with pediatric cases as a cumulative total. He estimated there were at least 800 such cases before this new wave hit.

Jenkins said because the delta variant of the coronavirus is much more contagious than its predecessors, it has become more of a threat to young children, especially those under the age of 12 who are not yet eligible to get vaccinated.

“The alpha variant (the previous strain before delta), it didn’t impact the children as much,” he said, noting that adults can spread the virus to children and vice versa.

There are 12 people who are hospitalized, but Jenkins did not have any information regarding how many, if any, were young kids. Of the 41 newly-admitted patients hospitalized with the coronavirus in the 13-county Metrolina Region, which includes Stanly, as of July 30, five percent were children 17 and younger, according to state data.

Coronavirus cases have risen sharply since the beginning of last month. There have been 134 new cases as of Wednesday, a 644 percent increase compared to the first full week of July, when there were 18 cases. Since the beginning of July, the health department has reported 41 breakthrough cases, which occur when someone who is fully vaccinated contracts coronavirus.

The county’s positivity rate has also sharply increased and is currently at almost 14 percent, up from around two percent at the end of June. It’s also not far off from Stanly’s highest rate of almost 17 percent back in late January.

What’s concerning to Jenkins is that as the delta variant continues to “accelerate quickly” across Stanly, the county still hasn’t yet hit its peak.

“We’ve got a ways to go still,” he said.

The surge in cases comes as Stanly’s vaccination campaign continue to largely stall, especially compared to a few months ago. Just 35 percent of residents are at least partially vaccinated and 33 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the latest state public health data.

There have been a slight uptick in vaccinations of late, Jenkins said, and he expects that to continue since the department will now pay $100 to people who get vaccinated. As more information comes out about the dangers of the delta variant, Jenkins thinks that will help spur people to get the shot.

The health department has already administered more than 26,000 vaccine doses.

Health Department officials met with school board members during their work session Tuesday ahead of the school board meeting that night, when the board voted to enforce a face mask policy to start the school year. Jenkins said he spoke with members and impressed upon them the gravity of the situation, including highlighting the importance of masks.

“The mask is again one of the few tools we have to work with … especially with the unvaccinated children under 12,” Jenkins said, noting he hopes the mask policy will help to prevent outbreaks from occurring, like the one that has flared up at Union Academy Charter School in Union County. Since the school reopened in late June, a total of 32 students and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 150 students and staff are now quarantined.

While masks protect the people wearing them, their real benefit is they act as a communal safeguard by preventing people from transmitting the virus to those around them, officials said.

“That’s why when people say make masks optional that doesn’t make any sense from a medical standpoint because again, my mask protects you, your mask protects me, “Jenkins said.

He noted for the school board to make the decision to require masks in schools, “that’s gonna be a huge win for the children and the families of the children to stay safe and protected until we get through this accelerated phase of delta.”

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

email author More by Chris