By DEUCE NIVEN
COVID-19 cases are exploding in the Carolinas, racing past all previous records in North Carolina on Thursday, fueled by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, health experts say.
Locally Columbus County recorded 32 newly confirmed COVID cases on Thursday, Horry 166, both numbers well ahead of typical days during the pandemic that began in March 2020, North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Health and Environmental Control in South Carolina reported.
Statewide newly confirmed COVID-19 cases for North Carolina set a pandemic record at 18,571, 60 percent higher than the 11,581 previous record set in January of this year.
On Tuesday of this week the new case total for North Carolina was 3,698, that number more than doubling to 9,377 on Wednesday, nearly doubling again Thursday.
In South Carolina, with a much smaller population, new case totals had been trending in the hundreds in recent weeks, 754 on Dec. 23, then more than doubling to 1,950 DHEC reporting that resumed following the Christmas break on Wednesday indicated.
Thursday’s total was much higher, 3,354 newly confirmed cases.
COVID associated hospitalizations are also rising rapidly in the Carolinas, data from the state agencies showed, a significant concern for health officials.
“Data suggests that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 may cause less severe illness for people who are vaccinated,” a DHHS news release said. “However, those who are unvaccinated or who have underlying medical conditions are at highest risk of severe illness and hospitalization. 89% of people in intensive care are unvaccinated. Hospitalizations are likely to increase as the trend typically lags four to five days after an increase in cases.”
“We are concerned that even a very small proportion of these cases ending up in the hospital could overwhelm our hospital system and increase the loss of lives of those most vulnerable,” said incoming DHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley. “Everyone can help save lives and protect hospital capacity by getting vaccinated if you haven’t already and getting boosted if you are eligible.”
Precautions are essential to help slow the spread of COVID-19, DHHS and DHEC leaders said, especially because treatment supplies are limited.
Advice for protecting yourself and loved ones before, during and after new year celebrations from DHHS include:
- Gathering carefully – Avoid large gatherings particularly if you are unvaccinated. Keep gatherings small and make sure guests are vaccinated and boosted when eligible. Host gatherings outside. If you gather indoors, only do so with others who are vaccinated and leave room for social distancing, open windows for ventilation, and consider wearing.
- Vaccinating/Boosting – Vaccinations provide the best protection from severe illness, hospitalization and death from all COVID-19 variants. Get your booster shot if you are eligible – a booster shot provides more protection against infection from the Omicron variant.
- Testing – Record testing levels mean that people need to plan ahead. Do not wait to book your appointment, and try an alternate testing location if your favorite one is full. Visit ncdhhs.gov/gettested for a list of testing sites, community events in your area, and other options to get tested. NCDHHS has worked with local governments to increase community testing. To protect hospital capacity, do not go to the emergency room just to get tested.
- Masking – Wear a well-fitting mask, a surgical or procedure mask, a KN95 or an N95 mask. The CDC recommends all unvaccinated people 2 years old or older wear a mask indoors in public places.
Ample supplies of vaccines and boosters are available in the Carolinas. People who have received two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines should get a booster shot 6 months after their second shot. Those who got a Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine initially should receive a booster two months after their shot. The CDC recommends getting boosted as soon as you are eligible.