Omicron, the latest variant of COVID-19 to hit North Carolina, has sent statewide and local coronavirus infections and hospitalizations to record highs — but it may be finally slowing, Charlotte experts say.
“We’re starting to plateau,” Atrium Health infectious disease expert Dr. Katie Passaretti told reporters Thursday. But she added: “We haven’t yet turned that corner.”
North Carolina has reported new records for the number of patients hospitalized with COVID statewide multiple times in January. As of Tuesday, 4,689 people were hospitalized.
And daily COVID cases reported to the state Department of Health and Human Services have set new records this month too.
During the current surge, on just one day, Jan. 13, close to 45,000 new COVID cases were reported by the state. That’s a 271% increase from the peak of the COVID surge early last year, when the state reported 12,079 cases on a single day.
And the current surge has reached new highs in Mecklenburg County too. On Jan. 4, the state reported Mecklenburg saw 4,140 cases — a 183% increase from the height of last January’s surge.
But in recent days, infections have slowed. That’s a good sign for Mecklenburg County and the state, experts say.
Last week, Mecklenburg County Health Director Dr. Raynard Washington told the Observer the COVID surge was showing early signs of reaching its peak.
From looking at other countries dealing with omicron, COVID spread could begin to drop rapidly after that peak, he said. “We’re hopeful that happens here,” Washington added.
Mask mandate still in place
Still, Washington warned residents that the countywide mask mandate is still in effect, and the public health department is encouraging people to wear more protective face masks like medical grade masks.
The county will not drop the requirement for people to wear masks when indoors in public until the COVID testing positivity rate remains below 5% for seven consecutive days.
That’s a long way away off. As of Jan. 18, the most recent data available, the county’s positivity rate was 34.8%.
And Passaretti encouraged residents to get COVID vaccines and booster shots as soon as possible.
And Novant Health infectious disease expert Dr. David Priest told reporters this week that masking and social distancing remain important, especially in “the middle of our biggest surge ever in a pandemic.”
He’s hopeful the possible signs of the slowing surge may lead to fewer hospitalizations in coming weeks.
“We’re not through the surge yet,” Priest cautioned. “And it’s important for everyone to continue to try to do everything they can to stay safe and stop the spread of the omicron variant.”