Vaccinations, testing encouraged to help protect from omicron variant

Health officials across the state, including with the Stanly County Health Department, are encouraging people to be as safe as possible during the holidays, especially as the omicron variant, which has already been detected in the state, could trigger as many as 10,000 COVID-19 cases a day in the coming weeks.

“It is recommended that if people are traveling to be with family to take a COVID-19 rapid test to ensure you are not putting others at risk,” said Stanly County Health Department Director David Jenkins. “Taking the test as close to when you plan to be with family members is ideal.”

While testing is an effective way to make ensure people are putting others at risk, the best protection is still getting vaccinated, Jenkins added.

Free tests are available at OptumServe sites at the Stanly County Commons parking lot and Stanly Community College Crutchfield Center in Locust throughout the week and at CVS and Walgreens locations in the area.

The state reported 4,889 new cases on Wednesday, the highest total since the beginning of October. Hospitalizations have also been on the rise as 1,680 were in the hospital as of Tuesday, a 38 percent increase since the beginning of the month.

As of Wednesday, 58 percent of the state is fully vaccinated, according to state health data.

During a news conference Monday, Gov. Roy Cooper repeated his calls for vaccine boosters — a third shot if they’d previously gotten two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or a second shot if they’d previously gotten one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“Many people are going to get infected, including some who are vaccinated, but the most important difference between the vaccinated and unvaccinated is how sick you get,” Cooper said. “The evidence is clear that vaccinated and especially boosted people are so much safer.”

While new information is still coming out, omicron appears to be more contagious than delta, though potentially less severe, Jenkins said, which could result in fewer hospitalizations and deaths than in past surges.

But in Stanly County, with the majority of the population still unvaccinated — only 42 percent of the population is fully vaccinated — the omicron variant has the potential to wreck havoc on a lot of vulnerable individuals, which is what Jenkins is most worried about.

“Our concern is still with those that are unvaccinated who are at highest risk for hospitalization and death due to COVID,” Jenkins said, adding that in terms of transmissibility, “omicron is on the level with measles.”

He’s recently noticed a “steady trickle” of people getting vaccines, possibly due to worries about the new variant, but he encourages everyone who is unvaccinated to get the shot.

Stanly reported 220 new cases last week, according to data from the health department, up 38 percent from just two weeks ago. As of Wednesday, there were 130 new cases confirmed in the county. Thirteen people were hospitalized and since the pandemic began, 221 people have died after contracting COVID-19.

Over the last 14 days, according to state health data, Stanly has had 605 cases per 100,000 people, one of the highest rates in the state.

Stanly County Schools reported 825 students and staff quarantined last week, according to updated data from the district’s COVID-19 online dashboard, a 10 percent increase from two weeks ago.

Twelve schools saw their quarantine numbers increase compared with two weeks ago, including four, which saw their totals increase by double digits. Central Elementary led all schools with 96 students and staff quarantined, up from 85 people out the week prior, followed by West Stanly Middle with 91 (down from 132), Locust Elementary with 66 (up from 65) and West Stanly High with 65 (up from 58).

Seven schools saw slight decreases in quarantines, including Stanfield Elementary, which went from 28 to 21, and Richfield Elementary, which went from 12 to six.

Fifty-three people were identified as positive for COVID-19 last week, of which 45 were students, a slight increase from the 49 people who had been positive the week prior.

Albemarle High had nine people who were identified as positive for the coronavirus — seven students and two staff — the highest total in the district.