Weekly new Covid cases exceed 1,200 for the first time in Stanly County

Throughout the past several months, it appeared the county was steadily improving following a rough summer and early fall caused by the delta variant. Weekly cases were manageable, usually below 200, and hospitalizations, after hitting a peak of around 30 in September, fell to single digits for a few days in late November.

Then, around the holidays last month, the highly transmissible omicron variant — several times more contagious than delta — exploded onto the scene and cases have since spiked to record levels not seen since the COVID-19 pandemic first began in the spring of 2020.

The Stanly County Health Department reported more than 200 new cases three times this week — which helped attribute to 1,230 new cases, easily surpassing last week’s 888, which had been the most over the past two years of the pandemic. There are about 2,035 active cases within the county, an increase of 72 percent from last week.

The county’s percent positive rate has exploded to almost 26 percent, up from 12 percent at the beginning of January, meaning that for each coronavirus test performed, about one out of every four are coming back positive. The state’s positivity rate is even higher, at 32 percent.

Ten people have died in the past week due to Covid, bringing the monthly total so far to 14. The cumulative total is 236.

The state reported 44,833 new cases on Thursday, the highest daily count on record, and 4,381 people as of Thursday are receiving hospital care for the virus, also the highest total since the pandemic began.

With its increased transmissibility, the new surge is causing all sorts of disruptions. Schools are shifting to remote learning due to staff shortages (more than 1,000 students and staff were quarantined last week); daycare centers are closing; and Atrium Health Stanly has seen an uptick from around 15 patients hospitalized for the virus at the end of December to as many as 30 earlier this week. As of Friday, 25 people are hospitalized.

“The hospital is extremely busy and starting to feel similar to previous surges,” said Dr. Jenny Hinson, a hospitalist at Atrium Health Stanly who regularly interacts with Covid patients. “The suffering we’re seeing is overwhelming and it is heart wrenching to see so many people die.”

According to federal data from Department of Health and Human Services, only about 45 percent of the 117 hospital beds inside Atrium Health Stanly are available. ICU beds are a little better with nine out of 18 available. During this latest surge, Atrium Stanly has been able to create extra ICU beds in its post-operative areas, Hinson said.

“We are seeing tremendous community transmission, way higher than we saw with delta,” which is fueling the hospitalizations, said Dr. Katie Passaretti, vice president and enterprise chief epidemiologist for Atrium Health, during a Zoom call with reporters Friday afternoon.

It’s not just the influx of new patients that is straining the hospital, though, it’s also the loss of staff, many of whom are getting sick with COVID-19.

And just like in previous surges, it’s largely the unvaccinated who are ending up in the hospital, she said.

“Almost every single COVID patient I have lost has been unvaccinated,” Hinson said. “Most of those I’ve admitted have been unvaccinated. But I’ve not treated a single patient for vaccine-related problems. And I don’t expect that to change, because we don’t see long term side effects with vaccines the way we do with medicines.”

Only about 43 percent of Stanly County residents are fully vaccinated, one of the lower rates in the state, even though the vaccines have been available to large portions of the public for close to a year.

There’s been a 72 percent increase in Covid patients on life support over the last two weeks across all Atrium Health facilities, the hospital network posted on Twitter this week. Of the 153 people on life support, 140 of them, or 92 percent, were unvaccinated.

“My number one message is to get vaccinated, including your booster, if eligible,” Hinson said.