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With COVID-19 hospitalizations on the rise, experts emphasize new booster shots and good hygiene

A man walks underneath the marquee of the Alex Theatre in Glendale, Calif., which bears a message urging people to get COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Chris Pizzello
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AP
A man walks underneath the marquee of the Alex Theatre in Glendale, Calif., which bears a message urging people to get COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

The number of hospitalizations with COVID-19 has reached the highest point statewide since early March.

For the latest week of data, there were 435 hospital admissions for COVID-19, up nearly four-fold from a low point of 117 during the week of June 24. Despite the increase, hospitalizations are still well below the numbers seen both earlier this year and at the height of the pandemic.

On just one day – January 25, 2022 – there were 737 hospital admissions with COVID-19, more than double the total from all of last week.

Weekly statewide data are reported by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. In January 2022, there were days when more than 5,200 people were hospitalized at one time with COVID-19. Last week's daily average of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 was 366.

"The bigger context is: We're nowhere near those super high numbers just yet," said Duke Health infectious disease specialist Dr. Nicholas Turner. "And so even though things are rising, we're not quite at the day to day risk being enormous."

Still, with the virus circulating more widely, Turner and other experts recommend good infectious disease hygiene, like regular handwashing, and covering the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Those at higher risk levels can consider masking again when in crowded areas where the virus could spread easily.

There is another booster vaccination expected in about a month, and Turner said he has gotten a lot of questions about this. For most patients, he recommends to wait for this newest booster. It's formulation more closely matches the dominant strains of COVID-19 right now and should offer the most protection through the winter.

"It ought to have a better match for the types of variants that we are seeing circulating at present," he said.

NCDHHS also recommends people to get a seasonal flu vaccine in September or October. That vaccine can be taken at the same time as the new COVID-19 booster.

"We expect COVID-19 trends to rise and fall. While the public health emergency in response to COVID-19 has ended, COVID-19 is still with us and we expect it to continue to be with us," said Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, State Health Director and NCDHHS Chief Medical Officer.

"Some people, including older people, people with underlying health conditions or compromised immune systems are at higher risk for severe illness with COVID-19. Fortunately, we have the tools for people to protect themselves and each other, including access to vaccines, testing and treatment to help manage COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases."

Jason deBruyn is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Digital News, a position he took in 2024. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016 as a reporter.
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