Burke County health officials reported 14 new deaths related to or associated with COVID-19 on Tuesday, including a person who was in their 20s.
The deaths claimed the lives of people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, and 12 of them had been hospitalized before they died from COVID-related complications. Two people died from COVID-associated complications, information from the health department said.
“To the loved ones of these fourteen individuals, while words cannot take away the hurt you are feeling, I want you to know you have my deepest sympathies,” said Burke County Health Director Danny Scalise. “As case numbers continue to rise, it is important to get the vaccine as soon as you are eligible. Residents may take any one of the three safe and effective vaccines that are available to help prevent any further spikes of the virus within our community. Please stay at home when sick with any COVID like symptoms and not visit family, friends, events, etc. to reduce the chance of passing COVID-19 and other infections.”
Another 100 cases of COVID-19 were added to the county’s total number of cases Tuesday, bringing them up to 14,557, the health department said. Children and teenagers accounted for 21 of those cases, 20-39-year-olds accounted for 32 of those cases and 40-59-year-olds accounted for 27 new cases.
The county has a positivity rate around 9.8%, the county health department said.
But Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, said during a press conference Tuesday that COVID-19 metrics are starting to level out across the state.
Visits to the emergency department with COVID-like symptoms, while still higher than they were in June or July, have started a downward trend again for the first time in a few months, Cohen said.
Visits to the emergency department with COVID-like symptoms had spiked in August.
Cases since the end of July remain high, with about 6,000 new cases reported each day, but they have remained relatively level.
“This summer, we experienced the fastest rise in cases since the pandemic started,” Cohen said.
Over the last three weeks, children under 17 years old have made up a third of the cases reported across the state, she said.
The percentage of positive tests for COVID-19 is hovering around 10%, Cohen said, but that’s much higher than the 5% goal.
Hospitalizations, which have increased over the last couple of months, are starting to level out, but people are still getting very sick, Cohen said.
“For close to a month now, we have been near or above 900 North Carolinians requiring intensive care unit beds,” Cohen said. “A third of all new COVID hospital admissions in the last week have been in people under the age of 49. Our hospitals are strained, and in other states, we’ve seen that care is not readily available for people experiencing non-COVID life-threatening health crises.
“We don’t want that to be the experience here in North Carolina.”
At Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge, there were 48 people hospitalized Tuesday with COVID-19 and only five of them are vaccinated, the hospital reported on its COVID-19 dashboard. There are 15 patients in the intensive care unit, all of them unvaccinated, and eight COVID-19 patients are on ventilators. They also are all unvaccinated.
All 100 counties in North Carolina are labeled as areas of high COVID-19 transmission, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cohen said that means everyone in North Carolina should be wearing masks while indoors in public spaces until more people are vaccinated and transmission drops to moderate or low levels. All schools should be requiring masks to keep everyone in school for in-person learning.
While numbers may be starting to level out, that doesn’t mean people should let their guard down, Cohen said.
“I think we need to remain incredibly vigilant,” Cohen said. “These numbers are incredibly high. High number of cases, high number of hospitalizations. Our hospitals are already strained. People are exhausted from this, so we do have to things we know continue to protect each other: vaccines number one, masks number two.”
Statewide, 61% of those 12 and older are fully vaccinated, 63% of those 18 and older are fully vaccinated and 87% of those 65 and older are fully vaccinated, Cohen said.
Cohen broke that down even further, saying:
38% of those 12-17 years old are fully vaccinated.
42% of those 18-24 years old are fully vaccinated.
51% of those 25-49 years old are fully vaccinated.
65% of those 50-64 years old are fully vaccinated.
83% of those 65-74 years old are fully vaccinated.
86% of those 75 years old and older are fully vaccinated.
In Burke County, only 46% of those 12 and older are fully vaccinated, 47% of those 18 and older are fully vaccinated and 69% of those 65 and older are fully vaccinated, according to data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
“I want to thank the millions of North Carolinians who’ve already been vaccinated and are protecting themselves, their communities and our children who cannot yet get vaccinated,” Cohen said.
She said the decision to get vaccinated was easy for some, and that she understands it’s not that easy for everyone.
“We know there is a lot of misinformation out there,” Cohen said. “Please talk with a doctor, a nurse or other medical professional. Go to reliable online health resources like the Centers for Disease Control or yourspotyourshot.nc.gov, or participate in a department of health and human services-sponsored online event to be sure you’re getting reliable information.”
Those events can be found on the NCDHHS website, Cohen said.
“I want you to get the facts to help you make the decision to get vaccinated,” Cohen said. “The COVID-19 virus is more contagious than ever and we are seeing it attack the unvaccinated and make them very sick at an alarming rate.”
It doesn’t have to be that way, she said. More than 181 million Americans already have been vaccinated against the virus.
“It is COVID that is making so many people critically ill, leaving many with long-lasting symptoms and, sadly, killing more than 15,000 North Carolinians,” Cohen said. “If you’ve already gotten your shot, thank you. If you haven’t yet, I hope you will choose to get your shot now.”
Anyone who is moderately to severely immunocompromised and is looking to get a third dose of the vaccine can call the county health department at 828-764-9150 to schedule an appointment. Third doses are administered at least 28 days after the second dose of Pfizer or Moderna.
The health department provides Pfizer, Moderna and, while supplies last, J&J, vaccines.
The health department also is helping those who are homebound get vaccinated. Call the health department at 828-764-9150 and dial 0 to speak with an operator with questions about COVID-19 or getting vaccinated.