Here we go again. The ebb-and-flow cycle of the coronavirus pandemic is in flow mode again, as a result of the highly contagious “delta variant.” Across the country, the state and here in Moore County, positive test rates are on a new upswing, hospitalizations are rising, and much of the progress made in rolling back restrictions is in jeopardy.
Earlier this summer, it looked like we had this thing licked, or at least well controlled. From mid-May to early July, Moore County’s daily COVID case counts sat in single digits. Several days recorded no new cases. Our seven-day average of cases was below five as recently as July 14, and the percentage of positive test results on June 28 was down to 2.8 percent.
Now? That positivity test rate is 12.5 percent — more than double from the week prior. Seven-day case averages are at 19.7 — double from the week prior. Hospitalizations at FirstHealth of the Carolinas — 24 as of last week — are triple where they were earlier this month.
While these figures are still well off the highs back in January, they signal a disturbing trend that the coronavirus is not only remaining stubborn but has also grown more virulent. And while infections are almost entirely concentrated among the unvaccinated, there are sporadic reports of “breakthrough” infections among vaccinated individuals.
All of which has us asking what new — or renewed — sacrifices will we all need to make until more are willing to become vaccinated.
Fighting the Plateau
These upward infection trends are troubling because class is about to resume for our private schools and colleges. Children, who have shown to be increasingly vulnerable to the COVID-19 delta variant, will be in classes together, largely without face masks or few other control measures, causing a number of pediatricians to worry. And as soon as next week, the Moore County Board of Education may make mask-wearing optional when students return later in August.
The sharp growth of the delta variant’s spread comes at the same time that vaccination rates have largely plateaued. In Moore County, we are just a touch below 50 percent vaccinated. Everyone who wants one of the available coronavirus vaccines has now had one.
The Health Department and other medical providers have bountiful access to vaccines and have tried various outreach measures for anyone wanting a shot. The problem is that there are still plenty of folks who don’t want a shot, for any number of reasons. Can we increase that? We must.
Time to Make an Impact
First, increasing community vaccination rates requires the leadership of the health care community. FirstHealth, which said just 60 percent of its staff are vaccinated, last week announced it would not require the shot for its employees. These workers simply must lead by example — and remain in good health, considering the vulnerable patients they’re around all day. Six of the state’s largest health care systems are mandating the vaccines. So let’s start there.
Second, those who refuse a vaccination for political reasons would do well to heed those leaders and former leaders who have been vaccinated and who are urging the shots. From former President Trump to a battery of Fox News personalities and Republican political leaders, all have gotten vaccinated and are urging their supporters to do the same.
Third, those who refuse a vaccination for medical reasons have access to a litany of reputable, professional-grade information about a COVID vaccine, what it does and what one can expect. The vast body of scientific evidence has proven the vaccines effective, safe and protective even against this latest delta variant. “Breakthrough” infections are rare and almost always mild.
The COVID vaccine, like long-established vaccines for polio, measles, smallpox, mumps and rubella, are easy and effective solutions to curbing sickness and improving community health.
If you are unvaccinated, the sooner you act, the better off you — and your community — will be.