The highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 is fueling a rapid increase in cases throughout Moore County and across the state.
On Monday, the positivity rate for coronavirus testing in Moore County stood at 12.5 percent, the highest rate reported by the local health department since late-January. Nearly 250 new infections have been identified in the county in July alone, with the month on track to surpass the combined number of cases recorded in June and May.
“It is a cause for concern,” said Matt Garner, public information officer for the health department. “The major factor driving our case numbers appears to be the more contagious delta variant and in particular, its transmissibility among those who are unvaccinated.”
First declared a “variant of concern” in June by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the fast-spreading strain now accounts for 83 percent of all new cases in the United States.
“The delta variant spreads much more easily than previous virus strains, meaning you don’t need nearly as much exposure to become infected,” Garner said. “The good news is that current COVID-19 vaccines recognize the virus variants and provide excellent protection in the form of an immune response against them.”
But with demand for shots waning nationally, cities and counties in other states have begun reinstating mask mandates and other restrictions. Unvaccinated health care workers will soon be required to undergo weekly testing in both New York City and California, an inconvenience that officials hope will persuade more people to roll up their sleeves.
It remains to be seen if similar steps will be taken to slow the spread of the variant in North Carolina, where about 46 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to provide an update on the state’s COVID-19 response during a news conference on Wednesday.
FirstHealth Will Not Mandate Vaccine
FirstHealth of the Carolinas, the county’s largest private employer, announced last week that it will not yet join other North Carolina-based medical systems in requiring its employees to get vaccinated.
“While we are not mandating COVID vaccines at this time, we strongly encourage all employees, medical staff and volunteers to get the COVID vaccine as soon as possible,” Dr. Jenifir Bruno, chief medical officer for FirstHealth, said in a statement. “The vaccines are safe and effective and continue to undergo the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history. We know that these vaccines offer the best protection against COVID-19’s known and substantial risks.”
Gretchen Kelly, administrative director of public relations for FirstHealth, said about 60 percent of the company’s employees had been vaccinated as of Friday. She said FirstHealth continues to vaccinate workers on an “ongoing basis,” with “dozens of employees" scheduled to receive their first shots this week.
Atrium Health, Cone Health, Duke University Health System, Novant Health, Wake Forest Baptist Health and UNC Medical Center are among the medical systems that recently announced vaccination requirements for workers. The action was praised by the N.C. Healthcare Association, which said it “strongly supports hospital and health system policies that require all hospital employees and clinical team members to be vaccinated against COVID-19.”
St. Joseph of the Pines Requiring Shots
About 54 percent of the county’s fatal infections are linked to outbreaks in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, but vaccine hesitancy has persisted among local long-term care workers.
St. Joseph of the Pines recently became the second long-term care community in the area to make vaccinations mandatory for employees. The decision was announced on July 8 by Trinity Health, the company that owns St. Joseph of the Pines.
“Over the last year, Trinity Health has counted our own colleagues and patients in the too-high coronavirus death toll.” Mike Slubowski, CEO and president of Trinity Health, said in a statement. “Now that we have a proven way to prevent COVID-19 deaths, we are not hesitating to do our part."
Only 56 percent of workers at St. Joseph of the Pines, which is the county’s eighth-largest employer, were vaccinated before the new policy took effect, according to data shared earlier this month with the Moore County Board of Health. The data showed that less than 40 percent of staff members were vaccinated at most of the area’s long-term care facilities as of July 1.
About 90 percent of employees were vaccinated at Elmcroft of Southern Pines, the first local long-term care community to require its employees to get vaccinated. In a statement explaining the mandate, Eclipse Senior Living, the company that owns Elmcroft, said “being immunized against COVID-19 is a reasonable ask of our associates for those who can be vaccinated.”
Moore County-Born Wrestler Tests Positive
Professional wrestler Jeff Hardy, one of Moore County’s most famous native sons, was reportedly forced to drop out of a sold-out event in Missouri after testing positive for COVID-19.
Hardy, a former WWE champion, was set to appear for a meet-and-greet Monday at recordBar, a nightclub in Kansas City. On Sunday, the venue announced that Hardy’s appearance had been “postponed to a later date.”
“Jeff Hardy just tested positive for covid this morning, and will have to quarantine for the next two weeks,” recordBar wrote on its Facebook page, adding that the wrestler “will not be participating in any live events for the next two weeks."
The meet-and-greet was expected to follow a rematch between Hardy, 43, and Karrion Kross on the television program “WWE Raw.” Kross instead faced off against the wrestler Keith Lee.
Born in Cameron, Hardy is known for wearing ornately patterned face paint in the ring. He and his brother Matt Hardy first found fame performing as the tag-team wrestling duo Hardy Boyz in the early 2000s.