Mecklenburg County has seen at least one outbreak of the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19, including cases at a local homeless shelter, said Deputy Director General Dr. Raynard Washington to reporters Friday.
At least five cases of a COVID-19 outbreak in the Salvation Army Center of Hope, an emergency room for women and children, have been confirmed to be cases of delta variant, Washington said.
This shelter has had 30 cases among residents, a data release from the county from Wednesday shows. Just eight of these cases were sent for delta testing. No deaths have been reported in that outbreak.
The delta variant of COVID-19 is a coronavirus strain first identified in India that may be more transmissible than the original strain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The county has partnered with StarMed Healthcare and UNC Charlotte to genetically sequence COVID-19 testing for the Mecklenburg Delta variant, a monitoring that has not previously been available at the county level, Washington said.
Most new COVID-19 cases in Mecklenburg are among people who have not been vaccinated, County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said. And COVID-19 cases are increasing in Mecklenburg, especially in young people.
“All of our numbers are going in the wrong direction,” Harris said Friday.
About 71% of COVID-19 cases in the past week have occurred in people younger than 30, Harris said, a dramatic change from the early days of the pandemic, when most cases occurred in older adults.
And a quarter of the cases in Mecklenburg have taken place in people under the age of 20, she said.
Less than 8% of cases in Mecklenburg in the past week have occurred in people aged 65 and over, Harris said. That’s because that age group is the most vaccinated population in the country, she said.
“The message here is to get vaccinated,” Harris said. “It simply came to our notice then. And in the meantime, especially if you are not fully vaccinated, wear a mask when in public. ”
The Delta variant of COVID-19 has been a concern for local health officials for several weeks as cases of this variant increase across the United States
The Delta variant now accounts for more than half of the COVID-19 cases circulating in the United States, according to the latest CDC estimates.
Sequencing for this variant began just several weeks ago and will be “scaled up,” Washington said. It can take up to 14 days to receive results.
But, Harris said, Mecklenburg can assume that the variant is “fairly widespread here.”
Unvaccinated people are especially at risk of contracting that strain, Harris has said. Experts believe the existing vaccines provide protection against the delta variant, she told reporters in June.
“That’s why we really want people to be vaccinated,” Harris said at the time. “We do not want a resurgence of COVID this fall.”
Mecklenburg COVID trends
Mecklenburg’s COVID-19 trends have already begun to rise in recent weeks.
The average percentage of positive COVID-19 test results in Mecklenburg slipped past 5% in the last week, signaling a worsening spread of the virus. Health experts have long relied on a 5% target to measure if the transmission of society is under control.
Mecklenburg’s average positivity rate was 5.2% on Wednesday, the most recent date public health information was available, county officials said in a Friday release.
The positivity rate had dropped to as low as 1.8% on June 12, according to public health data. It has risen slowly ever since, but is still well below volume in January last year – when the rate rose to 16%.
▪ As of Wednesday, Mecklenburg’s positivity rate is 30% higher than it was a week before, according to a Charlotte Observer analysis.
▪ Compared to the last two weeks, the degree of positivity increased by almost 63%.
▪ And compared to a month ago, the rate increased by 136%.
Michael Thompson, associate president of the Department of Public Health at UNC Charlotte, said an increase in positivity was expected as more people began attending personal gatherings, especially around July 4th.
The Delta variant is also partly to blame, though Thompson warned that unvaccinated individuals – and those who have only received their first vaccine shot – are at greater risk of becoming ill.
“I would be particularly concerned in neighborhoods where the vaccination rate is lower (and) many children who may not be vaccinated could also transmit it,” Thompson said in an interview Friday morning. “We are able to keep outbreaks under control at Community level.”
Other COVID concerns
Other coronavirus measurements are also moving in the wrong direction as vaccination rates stagnate in and around Charlotte.
▪ The average number of people admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 was 49 in the past week compared to 37 on July 4, according to county public health data.
▪ The seven-day average of new cases of new coronavirus in Mecklenburg hit 93 on Friday, according to an Observer analysis of the state’s public health data. That’s more than double the average logged at the beginning of the month.
In a positive development, the relationship between new cases and hospitalization has been relatively stable, Thompson said. If the number of admissions begins to accelerate, Thompson said it could indicate a more virulent coronavirus strain is taking hold.
Half of Mecklenburg’s residents are at least partially vaccinated, and 46% are fully vaccinated, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Harris welcomed the 50% partial vaccination milestone, but said it was “not good enough.”
Across the country, 48% of residents are at least partially vaccinated and 46% are fully vaccinated, according to NC DHHS.
Harris said 990 county residents have died of coronavirus-related complications.