By DEUCE NIVEN
COVID-19 associated deaths involving Columbus County rolled in quickly during the weekend, one Saturday, another Sunday, Health Director Kim Smith said Tuesday.
Those deaths, the first in four months, brought the number of county lives claimed by the virus since March 2020 to 272, and new worries for the health department as the BA.5 Omicron subvariant has become dominant in the country, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
It’s not clear if BA.5 claimed the latest Columbus lives, Smith said.
“Both were older, both had other health issues,” Smith said. “One was fully vaccinated and boosted, the other had no COVID vaccination.”
Confirmed COVID-19 cases are also rising, Smith said, totaling 137 for the week ending Monday, up from 87 the previous week. More worrisome, she said, is what’s not known. Home testing has risen dramatically, and those not sick enough to seek medical care are not included in the official infection count. That undercount, by some estimates, could be ten-fold, potentially well more than 1,000 cases unknown to health officials.
BA.5, Smith said, elevates the risk of reinfections.
“Even if you’ve been vaccinated, and you’ve had COVID, they are saying you can get it again with this new variant,” she said.
What it means?
It’s not yet clear if BA.5 will prove more or less deadly than previous variants, Smith said, but it’s clearly easily transmissible even as wide-spread mask wearing seems to be declining.
There are no mask mandates in place, and Gov. Roy Cooper has announced plans to end the state’s pandemic state of emergency on Aug. 15.
That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be careful, Smith said.
“My recommendation?” she said. “If you’re going to be inside, especially around a crowd, or even outside in a crowd, wear a mask. If you can separate at least three to six feet outside, you probably don’t need a mask.”
Vaccination, she said, still provides the best protection against contracting the airborne virus, or of suffering far less serious illness if infected.
For more on this story, including a new nursing home outbreak, see today’s Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.