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Local officials concerned with lagging vaccinations as cases continue to increase

COVID cases are continuing to rapidly increase in Stanly County, with more than 300 cases in the past week and vaccination rates remaining stagnant.

Only 34 percent of eligible residents age 12 and up are fully vaccinated, according to state data, one of the lowest rates in the state, and 37 percent have at least the first dose.

This leaves a significant portion of the population, around 41,000 people, especially vulnerable to contracting the virus and possibly getting seriously sick.

The vast majority of vaccinations occurred in late winter and early spring, when vaccine demand outstripped actual supply, but there has been a lull the last few months, as the rates have stalled.

The Stanly County Health Department has plenty of surplus vaccine doses for anyone wanting to get their shot.

The department is still offering vaccinations Monday through Wednesday from 9 p.m. to 4 p.m. COVID-19 vaccine appointments are available for anyone age 12 or older.

The county has continued to steadily vaccinate individuals each week, though not enough to necessarily increase Stanly’s vaccine percentages.

“It’s nowhere near where we need to be,” Stanly County Health Director David Jenkins said.

Jenkins said the county has likely not even reached its peak yet in this current surge.

“We’re still climbing,” he said. “We’re still in acceleration phase right now.”

Across North Carolina, about 55 percent of all eligible residents 18 and up are fully vaccinated, ranking only in the middle of the pack compared with other states, many of whom have already vaccinated upwards of 65 percent of the population, according to data from the New York Times.

Stanly’s low vaccination rate has some local officials worried.

Albemarle Mayor Ronnie Michael is concerned about county employees getting infected and departments having to temporarily shut down. After 10 Albemarle firefighters tested positive last month, with some needing to be hospitalized, neighboring departments helped out as city personnel took time off to rest and recuperate.

Knowing how dangerous and highly transmissible the delta variant is, Michael is surprised that more residents have not gotten vaccinated.

Michael, who has had friends die after getting infected, encourages everyone to get their shot, adding that it’s the best path to ensuring an eventual return to pre-pandemic life.

“We want to get back to some kind of resemblance of a normal society and I just do not see that happening until everyone, or the majority of people, get vaccinated,” he said. “I think the science is telling us that.”

County Commissioner Peter Asciutto, who is an avid mask and vaccine proponent, said the response to the current surge in cases has been uneven throughout the county.

While he applauds the city of Albemarle’s decision to require masks for all employees and visitors when inside city facilities, Asciutto, who had a friend succumb to the virus this week, is disappointed that there has been no similar rule in place for county employees. He offered a motion during last week’s commissioners meeting requiring masks, but it was quickly shot down.

“I am confident that if the Stanly County Commissioners were to pass a mask mandate for county staff inside buildings, our management team is more than capable of implementing the policy,” he said.

Even though he is fully vaccinated, Asciutto still wears a mask in public as a way of ensuring he is doing everything to protect others.

“I wear a mask so in case I somehow get COVID, I’m not spreading the virus to others,” he said.

By the numbers

Just in the last two months, Stanly County has reported almost 1,000 new COVID cases, as health officials continue to struggle with rising hospitalizations and deaths as a result of the delta variant, which now accounts for roughly 99 percent of all U.S. cases.

Since July 1, the county has seen at least 983 new cases, according to data from local public health officials, with about 19 percent (at least 186) involving children 17 and younger. There have also been at least 85 breakthrough cases, where fully vaccinated people have been infected.

Twenty-two people are currently hospitalized while there have been four additional deaths since last week, bringing the cumulative total to 151. All 10 ICU beds at Atrium Health Stanly are currently occupied, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data. Only about 28 percent of the hospital’s total inpatient beds are available.

The county has averaged about 44 new cases over the past week for a total of more than 300 cases. Since the pandemic first began last year, there have been roughly 8,800 cumulative cases confirmed in Stanly.

To put it into perspective how quickly cases have risen, there were 72 total cases for the week of July 23; about a month later, 73 new cases were reported on Thursday, the single highest daily total since early February.

The county’s current positive test rate is about 16 percent, well above the state’s overall rate of 12 percent.

North Carolina surpassed 7,000 daily cases on Thursday, the highest number of new cases since the beginning of the year. The state also passed 14,000 total deaths this week.

“I still want to encourage people to get it (the vaccine), but they also need to utilize the other low intervention methods such as masking and social distancing,” Jenkins said.

To schedule a first dose vaccine appointment online at the Stanly County Health Department visit book.novelhealth.ai/stanly, or call the hotline at 980-323-0205.

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.

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