On Aug. 9, Columbus County saw 129 COVID-19 cases, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. That’s the county’s highest number of recorded cases in a single day since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.
The previous record-holder was Nov. 23 with 122 cases, according to NCDHHS. Other days with a high number of cases include Nov. 9 with 109, Jan. 4 with 113 and Jan. 11 with 113.
COVID-19 cases across the country have been surging since July due to the more contagious delta variant. Jason Beck, chief operating officer of Columbus Regional Healthcare System, told The News Reporter last week that this variant was spreading across the community much faster than the original virus.
“This first time, it was a slow burn,” he said. “Now, it’s just every time you turn around there are more people coming into the emergency department.”
On Aug. 10 — the day after the record-setting case count — there were 26 hospitalizations due to COVID-19, according to Beck.
Since the beginning of August, Columbus County has seen at least 539 cases, according to NCDHHS, which says these numbers are subject to change. This includes 17 on Aug. 1, 68 on Aug. 2, 55 on Aug. 3, zero on Aug. 4, 84 on Aug. 5, 24 on Aug. 6, 17 on Aug. 7, 17 on Aug. 8, 129 on Aug. 9, zero on Aug. 10, 64 on Aug. 11, 46 on Aug. 12, 18 on Aug. 13 and three on Aug. 14.
Nursing homes have also seen an uptick in COVID-19 cases. Premier Living in Lake Waccamaw has seen two more residents test positive in the last week, bringing the total to four active cases, according to NCDHHS. Shoreland and Liberty Commons each have one resident and one staff member testing positive, and Tabor Commons has two staff members testing positive.
In addition, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety reported three active cases (two more than last week) and 131 recoveries at Columbus Correctional Institution, along with three active cases (same as last week) and 425 recoveries at Tabor Correctional Institution.
County schools with 27 cases
Between Aug. 9 and 13, Columbus County Schools saw 27 cases, which led to 35 contacts being quarantined, according to a document shared by CCS. These include three cases and five quarantines at East Columbus Jr.-Sr. High, one case and zero quarantines at Nakina Middle, nine cases and five quarantines at South Columbus High, three cases and three quarantines at Columbus Career and College Academy, two cases and zero quarantines at Tabor City Elementary, and nine cases and 22 quarantines at West Columbus High.
High school students returned Aug. 9 for a two-week academic pre-session designed to help them overcome educational losses from last year. Other students are set to return Aug. 23.
CCS did not include which cases and quarantines were staff members and which were students.
Whiteville City Schools has not started classes yet.
In addition, Gov. Roy Cooper sent a letter to all school boards across the state, including Columbus County Schools and Whiteville City Schools, that had decided not to require masks.
“The science is clear that children learn better when they attend school in person, and the science is also clear that masks reduce COVID-19 infections so we can keep them there,” Cooper said in a press release Friday. “The delta variant is moving fast, and I strongly encourage school leaders who have made masks optional to reconsider and make them mandatory.”
State guidance released on July 30 stated that “schools should require all children and staff in schools K–12th grade to wear face coverings consistently when indoors.”
WCS has not changed its decision since receiving the letter. “Dr. Whichard is watching the numbers,” WCS Board of Education Chair Kandle Rogers said Monday.
CCS Superintendent Deanne Meadows said Monday that the entire county school board had received the letter but had not discussed it yet.
COVID-19 vaccination clinics at three county high schools got 35 students and 88 other people vaccinated last week, Heather Pigott, director of student support services, said Friday.
StarMed conducted the clinics in partnership with Columbus County Health Department, providing all three types of COVID-19 vaccines (Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson).
Pigott reported that 40 people received a dose of vaccine at East Columbus Jr.-Sr. High School on Tuesday, Aug. 10, and six of those were students. Wednesday 30 people got their vaccine at West Columbus, with three being students; Thursday 53 got their vaccine at South Columbus, with 26 being students, she said.
Pigott did not say what plans are in place for second doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
Across the county, 37% — or more than 20,500 residents — have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to NCDHHS.
Booster vaccines for immunocompromised
Federal health agencies now recommend a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for people with immunocompromised conditions.
These people include recipients of organ or stem cell transplants, people with advanced or untreated HIV, active recipients of cancer treatment, people who are taking medications that weaken the immune system and people who have moderate to severe immunodeficiency.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday authorized the booster shot, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention then recommended on Friday.
“Emerging data suggest some people with moderately to severe compromised immune systems do not always build the same level of immunity compared to people who are not immunocompromised,” the CDC press release stated.
A third dose should be administered at least four weeks after the second dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. There was no mention of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one dose.
The CDC does not recommend booster shots for any other population at this time.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that there were 20 cases and 26 quarantines at Columbus County Schools. Columbus County Schools did not include the case and quarantine numbers for Monday and Tuesday in the original report but added those in a message after presstime.