Mecklenburg County health officials said Wednesday they’re aware of over 600 partially vaccinated residents who have contracted COVID-19.
These infections are different than what’s known as a breakthrough cases, which occurs when someone who is fully vaccinated contracts coronavirus more than two weeks after receiving their last COVID shot.
Mecklenburg Public Health Director Gibbie Harris gave county commissioners an update on the pandemic Wednesday night, reporting that at least 624 people have contracted COVID-19 before completing their vaccine series.
This number is in addition to the 376 “true breakthrough cases” in the county that Mecklenburg officials reported for the first time last week, Harris said. The data is current as of July 26.
Harris said this is in the context of 579,488 fully vaccinated residents. Breakthrough cases tend to be asymptomatic or lead to mild symptoms, she said.
The full tally of breakthrough infections could be far higher, though.
Due to data reporting problems between the state and county, Mecklenburg officials on Friday acknowledged the 376 figure “does not represent all breakthrough cases.” As a temporary solution before more state data is available, Mecklenburg has tracked self-reported breakthrough cases through contact tracing interviews, Deputy Public Health Director Raynard Washington told reporters recently.
Known infections among vaccinated and partially vaccinated residents comprise just 0.17% of cases, meaning the vast majority of infections involve people who are not yet immunized.
On Wednesday, Mecklenburg logged 502 new infections, the largest single-day increase since February, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. On average, the county is adding more than 380 new cases each day, compared to 52 at this point last month.
From July 7-30, Harris said, the caseload rose by more than 200%, fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant. One in five cases were in children under age 18, the health director said.
Several ZIP codes in the northern part of the county, including Huntersville, reported some of the highest coronavirus case rates recently.
Mecklenburg COVID trends
Harris has said about three-fourths of the county population needs to be immunized to put an end to the pandemic.
But in Mecklenburg, just 53% of residents are at least partially vaccinated and 49% are fully vaccinated, according to the latest state public health data. Vaccination rates continue to lag among Black residents, Harris said.
]Other coronavirus trends are also worsening.
Novant Health has seen a very steep increase in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in recent weeks, emergency medicine physician Dr. Charles Bregier told reporters Wednesday.
“A few months ago, we thought we were in a good place with COVID-19, with infection rates decreasing dramatically,” Bregier said. “…And now, in the last month of so, things have gone in a bad direction again. … The delta variant is spreading dramatically.”
People should get vaccinated as soon as possible, and everyone should return to wearing masks in public as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said.
“We are not done with this war we are at against the COVID virus,” Bregier said. “We have a new battle we’re facing. We all need to persevere and keep our determination high.”
CDC mask guidance
Last week, the CDC recommended that even fully vaccinated people should begin wearing masks in public indoors again. That’s because new research shows fully vaccinated people can still spread the delta variant to others, CDC officials said.
The CDC’s recommendation applies to all areas experiencing substantial or high community transmission of the virus.
That includes the vast majority of North Carolina, including Mecklenburg and all of its neighbors. They fall under the most severe category, high community transmission, according to the latest information from the CDC’s COVID-19 tracker.
As of Monday, only four counties in the state (Hyde, Bertie, Hertford and Warren counties) did not fall into those categories, according to the CDC’s COVID-19 tracker.
Gov. Roy Cooper has repeatedly said unvaccinated people are driving the spike in new cases.
“We can’t rest until this pandemic is behind us, and the only way that happens is if we get enough people vaccinated that we push this virus off the cliff,” Cooper said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
UNC Charlotte is not requiring vaccinations. But university officials on Wednesday announced all students and employees who are not immunized will need to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing, if Mecklenburg’s positivity rate is above 5% or there’s an “ongoing heightened risk of infection on campus.”
Students who are not inoculated will need to present a negative COVID-19 test before moving into residence halls, according to UNCC’s website. Unvaccinated students and employees on campus will also need to produce a negative COVID-19 test between Aug. 19-21.