COVID-19 cases are on the rise across the nation and in Columbus County, which gained 185 new cases in the span of a week, July 18–24.
The number of new cases per day ranged from 6 on July 24 to 47 on July 20, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. The county’s total number of cases since the pandemic began is now 6,753.
Columbus County gained its 155th COVID-19 death on Friday, according to NCDHHS.
NCDHHS did not record any outbreaks or clusters in Columbus County.
In addition, Columbus Correctional Institution has the largest prison outbreak in the state. The North Carolina Department of Public Safety reported eight active cases (which is eight more than last week) and 132 recoveries at Columbus Correctional Institution, along with three active cases (which has remained stable for several weeks) and 440 recoveries at Tabor Correctional Institution.
Children testing positive at higher rate
Across the nation, children have played a significant role in the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, and Columbus County is no exception.
“With the delta variant now spreading across the country, and infecting younger people worldwide, it’s more important than ever that they get vaccinated,” said Jeffrey Zients, head of the White House COVID-19 response team, in June.
In Columbus County, children made up about a quarter of the 174 new COVID-19 cases between June 6 and July 17.
Out of the new cases, 4% were ages 0–1, 2.9% were ages 2–4, 4% were ages 5–9, 6.9% were ages 10–14 and 6.9% were ages 15–17, according to NCDHHS.
That’s 15% more than the case average of all kids 0–17 throughout the pandemic.
Adults are also contributing to the spike. In the last month, 8.6% of cases were 18–24, 39.1% were 25–49, 20.1% were 50–64, 4.6% were 65–74 and 2.9% were 75 and older.
No matter the age, scientists have found the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus across the country, but the Columbus County Health Department doesn’t know how widespread it is in the county. “The state lab and other labs are completing the sequencing that determines which variant the individual has,” said Director Kim Smith.
The delta variant increases the possibility of hospitalization.
As of Thursday evening, Columbus Regional Healthcare System had four hospitalizations due to COVID-19 infection, with none in critical care, according to spokesperson Stephanie Miller.
“Generally speaking, the vast majority of admissions due to COVID-19 are individuals who have not been vaccinated,” she said.
The delta variant also can make vaccinated individuals feel sicker. So far, there have been two breakthrough cases, which means that two vaccinated individuals contracted COVID-19, according to Smith.
Low vaccine rate in Columbus
Approximately 34% of Columbus County has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to NCDHHS. That’s 26% lower than the statewide average.
Among children aged 12–17, only 1% in Columbus County have been vaccinated, according to NCDHHS. That’s 23% less than the statewide average.
However, more teenagers are now receiving a vaccine. In mid-May, Pfizer announced that its vaccine was safe for children as young as 12 years old.
Between June 6 and July 17, 5.6% of the 429 shots in Columbus County have gone to kids aged 12–17, according to NCDHHS.
“This summer, it’s been uplifting to see people going back to the things they love to do,” said Gov. Roy Cooper during last week’s press conference. “Vaccinations are making this possible.”
Across the country, however, one in four hospital workers is not vaccinated, according to a WebMD analysis of data collected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Several of the state’s largest hospitals and health systems recently announced they would require their employees to receive the vaccine. Among them was Atrium Health, which manages CRHS in Whiteville. Atrium will require its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 15. However, the mandate does not apply to CRHS.
“We are managed by Atrium, not owned,” Miller said. “Our employees are CRHS employees.”
Miller did not address an e-mailed question from The News Reporter asking what percentage of CRHS employees are vaccinated.
Health systems that are requiring employee vaccinations include UNC Southeastern in Lumberton and Novant Health, which owns New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington.
Even with the spike, state health officials have hope that it will soon pass. “This moment is different from the last time we experienced rising trends,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, NCDHHS secretary, during a press conference on July 21. “The delta variant is formidable, but vaccines are the best way to protect your health.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the percentage of teenagers receiving vaccines is low. However, in the last month, that percentage has been increasing. Graph created by Ivey Schofield using NCDHHS data.
Over the last month, younger Columbus Countians have been testing positive for COVID-19 at a higher rate. Graph created by Ivey Schofield using NCDHHS data.