Forsyth County and North Carolina each set records with the number of new COVID-19 cases reported Thursday.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said some of the record-high 44,833 statewide cases listed in Thursday's statewide report came from testing company GENETWORx submitting 10,791 delayed cases covering Dec. 31 through Tuesday.
Even when excluding the delayed test results, North Carolina reached a daily high of 34,042 cases. The previous daily high was 29,069 reported for Saturday.
DHHS has said it lists COVID-19 cases and deaths on the day they are confirmed by medical providers and public health officials, so individuals may have been infected or died days before their cases are counted.
Forsyth recorded 1,205 new cases for Thursday's report, topping the previous daily record of 1,186 reported Wednesday. The county also had three additional COVID-19 related deaths in Thursday's report.
Since the onset of the pandemic, Forsyth has had 70,417 cases and 640 related deaths.
DHHS did not immediately provide details about whether the delayed GENETWORx test results affected Forsyth County's latest report. Forsyth health director Joshua Swift said he is not aware of GENETWORx providing services in Forsyth or elsewhere in the Triad.
Even with the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, there's an expectation that the daily case count could begin to decline, according to Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious diseases expert with Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist.
"We may be getting up close to our peak … possibly in the next week," Ohl said Thursday.
Ohl said he was basing that projection on how the omicron variant peaked in other areas, such as New York, states in New England and the United Kingdom.
"Just because you've rounded the curve doesn't mean you are out of the woods," Ohl said. "It takes a while for cases to come down from high levels, but it could be substantially down by the end of the month."
It is the second time during the pandemic that DHHS has notified of a bulk listing of previously unreported test and cases from a testing vendor.
In Feb. 3, 2021, DHHS said there were 7,912 belatedly reported cases statewide from FastMed Urgent Care that included unreported tests from the previous two months.
North Carolina reached a record high number of COVID-19 related hospitalizations for a second consecutive day amid the continuing surge in the omicron variant. There were at 4,275 patients across the state as of Thursday.
The previous high was 4,098.
The state’s number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has increased for 17 consecutive days. Of the latest total, 470 patients are on ventilators, including 119 in the 17-county Triad and Northwest N.C. region.
Hospitals in the 17-county region reported a combined 1,086 COVID-19 patients as of noon Thursday, up 49 from the previous day. The region's hospitalization count has increased for 20 consecutive days.
Swift said 55 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized in Forsyth, but he is concerned that hospitalizations and deaths will continue to rise even as cases may peak over the next two weeks.
There were 98 children hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide, including 25 in the Triad region.
More booster data
Thursday, DHHS began releasing additional numbers involving COVID-19 booster shots.
Statewide, about 47% of adult North Carolinians have received a booster shot, or 2.73 million.
However, "fully vaccinated" continues to be defined as vaccinated with two doses of Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or one dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Under that definition, 70% of North Carolina's adults are considered fully vaccinated.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is discussing whether to amended the definition of "fully vaccinated" to require at least three doses.
In Forsyth, 99,227 residents have gotten a booster shot, or 43.6% of the 227,782 considered fully vaccinated.
Forsyth’s positive test rate over the past 14 days was at 33.7% as of noon Thursday, while the statewide rate was 30.1%.
The vast majority of new cases during the current COVID-19 wave are the omicron variant, according to local and state public-health officials.
With Thursday’s report, Forsyth is averaging 203.8 cases per 100,000 people over the most recent two-week period. That’s up from 67.6 cases per 100,000 as recently as Dec. 31.
Both Swift and Dr. David Priest, an infectious diseases expert with Novant Health Inc., have said the number of COVID-19 cases likely is underreported.
Most at-home test results aren’t reported to county health officials, and some infected individuals have mild cases and don’t seek care, they say.
North Carolina has recorded 1.97 million cases and 19,850 COVID-19 related deaths since the pandemic began. The statewide death toll is up 87 from Wednesday.
Since early July, the vast majority of COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths locally and statewide have been among unvaccinated people, according to local infectious diseases experts and state public health officials.
There also have been deaths among vaccinated people who were immunocompromised or who had other health issues.
State and local health care officials also attribute the current surge to colder weather, leading people to spend more time indoors.
On Monday, the Triad’s three largest health care system leaders warned that their hospitals are at a critical stage in how effectively patients can be treated as the COVID-19 omicron variant spreads.
The chief executives of Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, Cone Health and Novant asked people to follow vaccination and testing recommendations and urged the public not to seek COVID-19 testing in emergency departments.
On Wednesday, the systems were part of a similar N.C. Healthcare Association appeal involving executives from all 115 hospitals in the state.
Other testing delays
DHHS said Wednesday that record numbers of people getting COVID-19 tests statewide are contributing to delays of multiple days in getting results back from 12 testing companies, including StarMed Healthcare in Forsyth.
More than 564,000 tests were conducted statewide last week, compared with 314,802 the first full week of December.
The average test turn-around time is 1.6 days over the past month, DHHS says.
But the agency said in a recent statement that testing demand “has strained the already tight testing supply nationally and across the state.”
“Additionally, testing sites are experiencing illness-related staffing shortages across the country and throughout the state. DHHS continues to work to address staffing shortages, as well as distribute and secure additional tests from manufacturers to help with these strains."
Tuesday, StarMed chief executive Michael Estramonte released an open letter addressing the delayed test results, which numbered more than 8,000 as of Jan. 6, involving laboratory Premier Medical of Greenville, S.C.
Estramonte wrote that StarMed “has been actively working with Premier to finalize the remaining outstanding test results.”
“In the meantime, StarMed will be reaching out directly to patients who were impacted by Premier’s backlog and is offering re-tests with StarMed’s internal lab.”
DHHS recommends anyone seeking testing go to ncdhhs.gov/gettested to find test sites or request at-home testing kits.
DHHS said it is partnering with Labcorp to provide at-home collection kits at no-cost through the COVID-19 test home collection kit program. Go to ondemand.labcorp.com/nc for more information.
The program is available to all North Carolinians, with tests delivered to homes. Parents and guardians are required to place the order for anyone 5 to 17 years old.