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Coronavirus Updates, News | 5 months ago

Five Things to Know When COVID-19 Cases Rise in Your Area

Mecklenburg County recently announced the COVID-19 Community Level has moved to “Medium/Yellow,” due to a significant increase in positive cases. Here are five things to know when COVID-19 cases rise in your area from Katie Passaretti, MD, Atrium Health vice president and enterprise chief epidemiologist.

Editor’s note: Information is current as of June 9, 2022. 

A significant increase in positive cases of COVID-19 led Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, to raise its COVID-19 Community Level to Medium/Yellow, which means people with underlying medical conditions or who are at higher risk for severe disease, should take more precautions. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an increase in cases and won’t be the last. But as our community continues to adjust to the ebbs and flows of this disease,Katie Passaretti, MD, Atrium Health vice president and enterprise chief epidemiologist, shares five things to know when COVID-19 cases rise:

1. Every wave is different. 

This most recent increase wasn’t as sharp as when omicron first hit our area. The illnesses haven’t been as severe for as many people as we saw with the delta surge. But, it has reached the point where many of us have friends or family members who either recently had or currently have COVID-19. The good news is that we aren’t seeing the same increases when it comes to COVID-related hospitalizations. That’s because the illnesses haven’t been as severe and more people are vaccinated or have recently had COVID-19.

2. Masks – and distancing – still work

At this point in the pandemic we know what works. The same things that have gotten us through the last several years still make a difference: 

  • Stay home if you’re sick
  • Wear a mask indoors and keep your distance from others to reduce potential spread
  • Stay up to date on your COVID-19 (and soon flu!) vaccines, including any recommended boosters

These precautions are especially important for those who are at higher risk because of medical conditions, age or vaccination status. And if you’re vaccinated but haven’t gotten your booster(s) yet, there’s never a bad time. 

3. Vaccinations make a difference

A big part of the reason we aren’t seeing a massive increase in hospitalizations is because a large portion of our community is vaccinated, combined with the fact that a lot of the people have had a recent infection. Vaccines continue to be the safest and most effective method to prevent severe illness. Boosters are now available for everyone over the age of five and many people are now eligible for a second booster. 

The vaccine landscape will probably change further over the course of the summer with changes to vaccine options, potential for approval for vaccines in children 6 months to 5 years of age and potential for additional COVID-19 vaccine booster recommendations as we face what has the potential to be a challenging, combined COVID and flu season. It is likely we are nearing the peak of the current wave

What I am even more concerned about is being prepared for the coming fall, which has the potential to be a perfect storm of both COVID and flu cases, creating strain on the health care system.

4. It won’t last forever. 

We’re expecting a slight increase as we reach the top of this wave and then maybe another week or two of increased cases before they start to go back down again. This wave seems to be following the pattern of other waves we’ve seen. They last for a few weeks and we really need to buckle down and take precautions, but they don’t last forever. Enough of our population is protected now through either vaccination or prior infection that we don’t anticipate seeing the kind of massive and severe global spread we saw early in the pandemic. 

The predominant variant right now is BA.2.12.1, which is a subvariant of omicron. It’s proven to be more transmissible than omicron itself, which we already know spreads pretty easily. But the protection from vaccines appears to be holding up in terms of severe disease. And while getting it again is possible, it almost acts like a booster for your system, so a second case is likely not as severe.

5. Endemic is possible.

This wave is actually further proof that we are closer to that endemic stage. This is another subvariant versus a new variant. While we are seeing a rise in cases in the community we are not seeing a significant rise in people being hospitalized for COVID-19. These are good signs. It’s extremely important that we stay humble though, because we don’t know what’s coming. But we are seeing good signs we are getting closer to endemic and that COVID-19 will one day be something we’re able to live with, like flu and other respiratory viruses.