Mecklenburg reports first ‘pediatric’ COVID death. More vaccine appointments open soon

Hannah Smoot, Alison Kuznitz
·6 min read

Mecklenburg County on Tuesday reported its first pediatric coronavirus-related death, the youngest local victim to date of the pandemic.

Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said the death was the state’s second “pediatric death” related to COVID-19. Officials did not disclose any additional demographic information, including whether the person had underlying chronic health conditions. The victim was under the age of 18, Harris said.

“This is not an acceptable situation for Mecklenburg County,” Harris said during a news conference. “And we need to continue to stay focused on how we can prevent it from happening again.”

Word of the death comes less than a week after Mecklenburg officials said a 22-year-old resident had died, prompting an urgent public health directive — in effect through Feb. 2 — for residents to stay home and comply with coronavirus safeguards, including wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.

Meanwhile, the county said that starting Thursday morning, the health department will start scheduling vaccinations for February, including those categorized in Group 1 and 2 of the state’s immunization framework. Patience throughout the lengthy vaccine roll-out is crucial, Harris and Dr. Meg Sullivan, the county’s medical director, said.

“We understand the anxiety and frustration around the vaccination supply, you know. We are living it every day,” Sullivan said. “And our goal is to get as much vaccine as possible out in our community.”

Harris said Mecklenburg prefers to vaccinate county residents, although people from other counties won’t be turned away. But the health director said people should return to the same clinic for their first and second vaccine shots.

Encouraging signs

Mecklenburg surpassed 700 COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, reporting 10 new deaths for a total of 707 since March.

But experts say local coronavirus trends could be slowly moving in the right direction. Hospitalizations at Novant Health have declined in the last week, and Mecklenburg’s positivity rate in COVID-19 tests is trending down, Novant infectious disease expert Dr. David Priest said Tuesday.

“It’s a little too early to see if this is going to be a real improvement, but we’re encouraged by this,” Priest told reporters.

Trends beginning to move in the right direction could mean Mecklenburg is moving past the surge in cases from Christmas and New Years gatherings, Priest said. But the hopeful news isn’t cause for celebration just yet, he said.

We know the virus remains a real threat in our communities,” Priest said.

Starting Thursday morning, Mecklenburg County Public Health will begin scheduling COVID-19 vaccine appointments for February.
Starting Thursday morning, Mecklenburg County Public Health will begin scheduling COVID-19 vaccine appointments for February.

The hospital system has treated over 10,200 hospitalized coronavirus patients since March as of Tuesday morning, Priest said. And across the hospital system, Novant is now treating more than 500 people hospitalized with the coronavirus.

Hospitalizations are considered a lagging indicator in the coronavirus pandemic, reflecting the scope of infections contracted several weeks ago. That’s due to the incubation period of COVID-19, plus the time it takes for symptoms to worsen and require hospital-level care.

Harris said hospitals could expect to see their greatest strain on resources in the first half of February, although coronavirus forecasts remain fluid.

Deaths are also a lagging indicator, trailing behind hospitalizations.

In January, 141 Mecklenburg residents have died of coronavirus-related complications — nearly 20% of the county’s death toll since March, a Charlotte Observer analysis of public health data finds. By comparison, at this point last month, Mecklenburg had reported 57 coronavirus-related deaths.

Nearly all of the county’s 691 deaths reported through Sunday were among adults ages 60 and older. Yet officials say there have been 11 deaths among ages 20 to 39, and 82 deaths among adults ages 40 to 59.

Across North Carolina, only two deaths have been recorded among people younger than 18, the state Department of Health and Human Services said Saturday. There have been 10 deaths among young adult ages 18 to 24.

Vaccinations underway

Meanwhile, Novant Health and Atrium Health, along with Mecklenburg County Public Health, continue vaccinating employees and patients.

Novant has administered over 21,500 vaccines to employees as of Monday and has vaccinated more than 5,000 patients age 75 and older in North Carolina, Priest said Tuesday.

Mecklenburg has administered 7,885 COVID-19 vaccinations, including 369 second doses of the vaccine. The health department has received a total of 9,750 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from the state.

To overcome skepticism about getting immunized, officials say community leaders are working on educating residents about vaccine safety.

“We continue to work directly with community partners to prioritize vaccine availability among our communities most disproportionately impacted by the COVID pandemic, including specifically communities of color,” Sullivan said.

Mecklenburg is also offering vaccination appointments — for the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot — into the first three weeks of February. Starting Thursday morning, people can schedule online and through the county’s hotline at 980-314-9400.

Mecklenburg will receive its first shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, Sullivan said. Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna doses don’t require ultra-cold storage, making it easier to transport and distribute. Both vaccines require two shots.

Lisa Bowman watches as she gets a COVID vaccination from a Gaston County Emergency Medical Services (GEMS) medical personnel during Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services sponsored Phase 1B vaccine clinic at the Gastonia Farmer’s Market on Friday, January 8, 2021.
Lisa Bowman watches as she gets a COVID vaccination from a Gaston County Emergency Medical Services (GEMS) medical personnel during Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services sponsored Phase 1B vaccine clinic at the Gastonia Farmer’s Market on Friday, January 8, 2021.

Vaccine supply is still extremely limited, and only North Carolinians in Group 1 and Group 2 of the prioritization framework are eligible to get immunized for now.

Group 1 includes healthcare workers and long-term care staff. Group 2 encompasses anyone 65 and older, regardless of their health status or living situation.

Atrium Health has vaccinated 16,230 employees as of Monday, according to the hospital system’s website.

Last week, Atrium announced it would partner with several local groups and hold mass vaccination clinics to to administer 1 million vaccinations by July 4. The first is at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and appointments for the event — which will run from Friday through Sunday — are full, according to Atrium.

Mecklenburg numbers

As of Jan. 17 — the last date demographic data was publicly available — county coronavirus data show:

About 80% of all people diagnosed with coronavirus in Mecklenburg have since recovered and been released from isolation, meaning enough time has passed since their symptoms stopped.

Laboratory confirmed infections per day have decreased over the last 14 days in Mecklenburg. In the past week, an average of 782 COVID-19 cases were reported per day, down from the 14-day average of 841 confirmed cases.

In the last week, an average of 12.4% of people tested for COVID-19 in Mecklenburg tested positive. That’s a decrease in the last 14 days.

About 80% of all people diagnosed with coronavirus in Mecklenburg have since recovered and been released from isolation, meaning enough time has passed since their symptoms stopped.