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NC Health Officials Urge Vaccinations As COVID-19 Hospitalizations Rise

Virus Outbreak Vaccines
Gerry Broome
A healthcare worker prepares to administer the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Wake County Health Department workers along with nurses and volunteers from area hospitals distributed vaccines to persons with appointments during the drive through event. Since North Carolina began administering the vaccine in December, more than 1 million people have gotten their first doses.

Rising hospitalizations for COVID-19 across the state — and the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus — have health care officials concerned about flagging vaccination rates.

"For the week ending July 10, the Delta variant made up nearly 79% of sequenced cases from NCDHHS’s Division of Public Health, CDC contracted labs, and academic labs that currently share data with North Carolina," said North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Spokeswoman Catie Armstrong, in an email response to WUNC.

Even before you start having symptoms, you're just more contagious and you're probably shedding virus.
Dr. Adia Ross, Duke Regional's Chief Medical Officer

Statewide, hospitalizations have risen by almost a third in the past 10 days to more than 600. Mission Health System in the western part of the state has seen COVID-19 hospitalizations at its facilities more than triple in the past week, from seven cases to 22.

Duke Regional Hospital, in Durham, which is part of the Duke University Medical System, had zero COVID-19 cases earlier this summer but has seen a bump, according to Dr. Adia Ross, Duke Regional's Chief Medical Officer.

Dr. Ross said the increase in hospitalizations can be traced to a variety of factors, including looser public health restrictions, traveling and gatherings around the July 4 holiday, and the spread of the Delta variant, which is more contagious than other strains of the virus and carries a heavier viral load.

"Which means that even before you start having symptoms you're just more contagious and you're probably shedding virus," she explained.

Dr. Ross stressed the importance of vaccination as a shield against contracting the virus, or, in those rare cases where people who have been inoculated but get COVID-19, prevent serious illness or death.

"Ninety-seven percent of the hospitalizations that we've had right now are really due to those who have not been vaccinated, nationally," Dr. Ross added.

And, according to NCDHHS Spokeswoman Catie Armstrong, more than 94% of reported COVID-19 deaths in North Carolina since May 6 were of people who had not been vaccinated against the virus.

Rusty Jacobs is a politics reporter for WUNC.
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