Passaretti: Vaccinations key to combating rising flu, Covid cases

Published 9:59 am Friday, December 3, 2021

With the winter almost here, flu cases across the region have been on the rise while Covid cases, after several weeks of decline, have began to gradually increase once again, according to health officials.

In an interview Tuesday afternoon with reporters, Dr. Katie Passaretti, vice president and enterprise chief epidemiologist with Atrium Health, said that for many reasons, including people gathering together more and not wearing masks as often, there has been an increase in flu cases so far this season.

“We are seeing more influenza in our area and already kind of ahead of where we were the entirety of flu season last year,” she said, noting cases have been tripling in recent weeks. “So by all accounts, we certainly are going to see more flu than we did last year.”

She mentioned that vaccination rates, for both flu and COVID-19, have not been at the level needed to adequately combat the spread of disease.

“I would just double down on the importance of one, staying home when you’re sick, and two, get vaccinated for flu and get vaccinated for Covid…those are the things that are going to protect us and protect our loved ones,” Passaretti said.

Roughly 41 percent of Stanly residents are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, one of the lowest rates in the state. Compared with the 99 other counties across North Carolina, only 10 others have lower rates.

After weeks of decline, new cases have plateaued in Stanly and surrounding areas and have gradually begun to increase. Passaretti said it’s “very likely” new cases will continue to increase over the coming weeks.

There were 130 cases in Stanly County for the week of Nov. 19, up from 103 the week prior, according to the health department. Last week, there were only 88 cases reported (but that did not include Thursday, Friday and Saturday due to the Thanksgiving holiday).

The increase in cases comes as the Stanly County’s percent positive rate has also recently spiked. After falling as low as 5.6 percent in late October, the rate reached 8 percent this week.

With the new Omicron coronavirus variant now detected in at least five states, it is only a matter of time before it shows up in North Carolina and more specifically, in Stanly, health officials said. While there is much scientists and doctors do not know about the transmissibility of the variant and if it will be as contagious as delta, Passaretti said the best way to prevent the spread is for people to get vaccinated and then get a booster shot as an added layer of protection.

“Boosters are intended to kind of do exactly what they say: Give your immune system a little bit of an extra boost,” she said, noting that as families prepare to travel for the holiday season, getting boosted is just “another tool to make sure you’re protecting yourself and your loved ones.”

There is some early evidence, Passaretti said, suggesting that while vaccinated people can get infected with the Omicron variant, the symptoms tend to be more mild, underscoring yet again the importance of getting the shot.

“The best way to protect yourself is to get that vaccine and get your loved ones vaccinated,” Passaretti said.

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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