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County reports highest number of active Covid cases in months as hospital capacity dwindles

Daily COVID-19 cases continue to spike across Stanly County as local hospital capacity is beginning to fill up.

There were an average of 53 new cases per day last week, an increase from the 44 average cases the week before. The county had 392 confirmed cases last week, an almost 30 percent increase from the previous week, according to data from the health department.

The department has documented more than 1,350 new cases since the beginning of July, when the highly infectious delta variant first emerged. About 20 percent have been pediatric cases involving children 17 and younger, while about nine percent have been breakthrough infections involving fully vaccinated people contracting the virus. There have been almost 9,200 cumulative cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

There are 740 active cases in Stanly County, according to data posted on the Stanly County Government’s Facebook page on Friday, up from 29 percent last week. To put in perspective how quickly cases are increasing, there were less than 200 active cases in the county at the end of July.

Stanly has not seen active cases even close to that total since the beginning of the year, when cases and hospitalizations began to hit their peak.

After staying relatively flat for many months during late spring and early summer, the death total has been climbing. There have been 11 deaths reported in the county in August, bringing the cumulative total to 155.

For the first time in many months, there have been several small-scale outbreaks at congregate living settings within the county, according to the state Health and Human Services Department, which compiles a weekly list of ongoing outbreaks. These include Stanly Manor, Bethany Woods, Trinity Place and Spring Arbor, along with the Stanly County Detention Center.

With Stanly County struggling with its current surge of COVID-19 cases, key health and safety protocols, such as wearing masks and getting vaccinated, have become politically charged topics even though they are arguably needed now more than ever.

While the City of Albemarle, Pfeiffer University and Stanly Community College require masks in indoor settings, the county commissioners voted down a motion a few weeks ago to adopt a similar request for county employees. County Commissioner Peter Asciutto, who made the request, said he plans to introduce it again during the monthly meeting next week.

Many people in favor of personal freedoms believe that masking and getting vaccinated should be up to the individual and that mandates of any kind should never be enacted. Several of these people voiced their displeasure a few weeks ago when the Stanly County Board of Education voted to require masks for the beginning of the school year.

The divergent opinions regarding how best to handle the pandemic in Stanly has resulted in the county continuing to have one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state. After more than eight months since vaccines first became available, only 34 percent of residents are fully vaccinated, including only 14 percent of children 12 to 17.

The low percentage of people vaccinated comes as the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services last week published a report showing that unvaccinated people are more than 15 times likely to die from COVID than those who are vaccinated.

NCDHHS also reported that during the week ending Aug. 21, "unvaccinated people were also 4.4 times, or 440 percent, more likely to catch COVID-19 than vaccinated people."

Dr. Christopher Poor, a pulmonologist at Atrium Health Stanly, said the vast majority of patients in the hospital are unvaccinated. He estimates that out of the last 40 or 50 patients admitted over the past month, "maybe two" had been vaccinated.

As of Friday, 35 people were hospitalized, up from 20 at the end of the previous week. At the end of last month, there were several days where the total number of hospitalizations were still in the single digits.

Poor said hospital beds are tight not just at Atrium Health Stanly but across all Atrium facilities and hospitals throughout the state.

According to federal data from Department of Health and Human Services, only about 40 percent of the 109 hospital beds inside Atrium Health Stanly are available. ICU beds are even scarcer with only one of 10 available.

"I am still seeing people not take this seriously, not wearing masks in stores or making it a political thing," Poor said. "I tell them, the coronavirus does not care who you voted for, nor do I."

"Both sides of the political aisle are losing wonderful people including loved ones, parents, brothers, sisters...we are working to save their lives," Poor added.

He's been trying to reason with his patients to get vaccinated — but he's had only mixed results.

"Some are listening, some are not," he said.

The influx of new patients has been taking its toll on doctors and nurses, many of whom work up to 18 hours a day and have been dealing with COVID since the beginning, Poor said.

"It's just very exhausting and emotionally draining work, but we keep coming back," he said. "We just hope we can get these patients back to their loved ones."

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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