North Carolina has set another statewide high for daily COVID-19 cases, while Forsyth remained at a record level, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported Friday.
There were 35,759 new cases reported statewide between Thursday and Friday. That eclipsed the previous single-day record of 34,042 reported Thursday.
Meanwhile, Forsyth had 1,205 new cases for the second consecutive report, the highest the daily number since the pandemic began.
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 or weeks before their cases are counted.
Forsyth also had one additional COVID-19 related death listed Friday,
Since the onset of the pandemic, Forsyth has had 71,622 cases and 641 related deaths.
North Carolina also reached a record high number of COVID-19 related hospitalizations for a third consecutive day amid the continuing surge in the omicron variant.
There were at 4,381 patients across the state as of noon Friday. The previous high was 4,275.
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 in 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.”
DHHS said it will not update COVID-19 numbers Monday because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
K-12 in-school testing
A total of 19 Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools are included in a pilot COVID-19 testing program in conjunction with the Forsyth County Department of Public Health and Novant Health Inc. The schools are:
Elementary: Jefferson, Kernersville, Kimberley Park, Lewisville, Mineral Springs, Piney Grove, Rural Hall, Vienna, Walkertown, Whitaker.
Middle: Clemmons, Hanes.
High: Carter, Carver, North Forsyth, Reynolds.
Others: The Downtown School; Main Street Academy, Special Children’s School.
Testing is available only to students and staff members at those schools. Trained school staff members are conducting the rapid COVID-19 test that provides results typically in 15 minutes.
“Testing in our communities is limited, and for some parents and staff it’s hard to make appointments and wait for test results,” said Katie Key, the school system’s director of nurses. “This is time they could actually spend in school.
“If they are symptomatic at school, they can get a test and possibly return within 24 hours if they are negative, and their symptoms are improving.”
More schools will be added as more school staff members are trained.
Forsyth’s positive test rate over the past 14 days was at 35% as of noon Friday, while the statewide rate was 31.6%.
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 Friday’s report, Forsyth is averaging 213.5 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 Forsyth health director Joshua 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.
With medical projections that the COVID-19 omicron variant may begin to subside by February, a local infectious diseases expert is advising self-imposed restrictions for the rest of the month.
Ohl said his recommendations are based on the likelihood that the omicron surge will continue for at least the next two weeks.
“I am of the mindset right now that if you really don’t have to do it, put it off until February,” Ohl said in a segment of his Facebook Live presentation he labeled “What’s safe to do now.”
Ohl suggested people postpone going out to eat or going to religious services and fitness centers.
“Once we get through the end of the month, I think we can start loosening up,” Ohl said.
“If you have to do it, go ahead and do it,” but consider getting more protective face masks when venturing out.
“It’s not really a lockdown, but being more prudent with what you are doing right now.”
Baptist testing sites
In another development, Ohl said Baptist is preparing to offer at least three new community testing options as soon as next week, depending on the lingering effects of potential winter precipitation over the weekend.
The sites would be conducted in partnership with DHHS. Venues could include Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, Wilkes County Airport in North Wilkesboro and Providence Place in High Point.
Baptist spokesman Joe McCloskey said Friday that the system is working with the city of Winston-Salem and Winston-Salem State University on setting up a testing site in the near future.
Ohl said the planned operational hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays with reduced hours on Saturdays. Individuals who are symptomatic and asymptomatic are eligible for testing, with an expected turnaround time of up to 72 hours.
North Carolina has recorded 1.97 million cases and 19,903 COVID-19 related deaths since the pandemic began. The statewide death toll is up 53 from Thursday.
Meanwhile, DHHS reported the state’s third flu-related deaths occurred last week. The typical flu season runs from Oct. 1 through March 31, but can linger into mid-May.
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.
The state’s number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has increased for 18 consecutive days.
Of the latest total, 482 patients are on ventilators, including 118 in the 17-county Triad and Northwest N.C. region.
Hospitals in the 17-county region reported a combined 1,077 COVID-19 patients as of noon Friday, down nine from the previous day. It was the first decline in the region’s hospitalization count in three weeks.
According to DHHS, as of Jan. 8, unvaccinated individuals represented 76.6% of COVID-19 hospitalizations and 86.7% of COVID-19 ICU patients statewide. Those vaccinated patients tend to be those who are immunocompromised or with chronic health issues.
Swift said Thursday 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 101 children hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide, including 25 in the Triad region.
More booster data
On Thursday, DHHS began releasing additional numbers involving COVID-19 booster shots.
About 47% of adult North Carolinians have received a booster shot, or 2.73 million, as of noon Friday.
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, as well as 60% of the overall Forsyth population.
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.