The county's coronavirus trends have been moving “slightly upward” since the end of June, according to a spokesperson for the local health department.
“Moore County’s weekly COVID-19 case counts have been on a slight rise over the past three consecutive weeks,” Matt Garner, public information officer for the department, said during Monday's meeting of the Moore County Board of Health. “We’re seeing a bit of an upturn.”
The county’s rolling, weekly average of new cases dropped to a low of 1.1 infections on June 28, according to Garner. That number has since increased, with the health department reporting a daily average of 4.3 new infections for the seven days ending Tuesday.
Garner said most of the county’s new cases involve residents younger than 49. Nearly half of all local infections confirmed since May 1 have been attributed to “young adults and middle-aged folks,” he said.
It is not yet clear if the delta variant of COVID-19 has contributed to the uptick in cases. Citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Garner said the highly contagious variant accounts for about 12.5 percent of all new infections in North Carolina.
“It does spread more easily than other strains, so you don’t need nearly as much exposure to become sick,” he said. “We know that the unvaccinated are at the highest risk, and we also know that the vaccine is effective against the delta variant and other variants
“The most important thing you can do to protect yourself against the delta variant is to get fully vaccinated.”
A total of 45,940 local residents, or about 46 percent of the county’s population, were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. About 1.900 residents are currently waiting to receive their second dose of the two-shot vaccine.
Garner noted that more than 99 percent of new COVID-19 cases recorded in North Carolina since May have “occurred in people who are not fully vaccinated.”
“That’s a pretty staggering statistic,” he said.
DEATH TOLL RISES
Moore County’s COVID-19 death toll has increased to 196, with two new fatal infections recorded by the health department in the past few days.
Garner said one of the deceased individuals was a white man in the “50 to 64” age range who died on June 25. The other individual was a white man in the “65 to 74” age range who died July 6, according to Garner.
Over 9,100 cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Moore County since the start of the pandemic. About 2 percent of those cases have been fatal.
Vaccine hesitancy is persisting among long-term care workers in Moore County.
Less than 40 percent of staff members at most of the area’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities had been vaccinated against COVID-19 as of July 1, according to data presented Monday to the Moore County Board of Health. At three of the county’s 14 largest facilities, only a quarter of employees were vaccinated.
Vaccination clinics have been held at every nursing home and assisted living community in the area, and long-term care workers were among the first people eligible for shots when the vaccine was in short supply in December.
The workers were prioritized to help protect elderly residents of long-term care facilities, a vulnerable population that has been ravaged by the coronavirus. Outbreaks in long-term care settings account for about 54 percent of all fatal infections recorded in Moore County since the start of the pandemic.
While nearly all of those deaths involved residents, a Pilot analysis shows that at least two long-term care employees died of COVID-19. An additional 360 staff members tested positive during the outbreaks, with some of the workers requiring hospitalization.
There are currently no active outbreaks in Moore County, and the data shared by the health department on Monday noted that all “consenting residents” of local nursing homes have been vaccinated. Garner acknowledged that some long-term care workers may not feel the need to get vaccinated because they already had COVID-19.
“It is possible that may be a factor,” he wrote in an email to The Pilot. “It’s certainly true that during the pandemic a portion our long-term care workforce may have had the virus and recovered. In much the same way as in other sectors of our community, this could be one of several motives in play for not being vaccinated.”
People who previously had COVID-19 should still get vaccinated, according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Experts do not yet know how long you are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19,” the agency said. “Even if you have already recovered from COVID-19, it is possible — although rare — that you could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 again.”
There is also the threat of the delta variant, which has caused infections to surge across Europe. Individuals who developed antibodies through a prior infection may not be fully protected against the variant, and the strand’s transmissibility makes it especially risky for people who work or live in congregate settings like nursing homes.
Three facilities are currently tied for the lowest percentage of inoculated employees: The Coventry, Magnolia Gardens and Fox Hollow Senior Living. Only 25 percent of staff members at each facility are vaccinated, the same number reported in March.