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Haywood's January COVID surge is worst yet

Mountaineer - 1/12/2022

Jan. 11—COVID is running rampant across Haywood County, logging in at an all-time high of 522 cases for the week ending Monday, Jan. 10, with 115 new cases reported just over the weekend.

Dr. Mark Jaben, county medical director, said case numbers at this point in the pandemic simply show trends, not actual case numbers.

The reason for this is three-fold, Jaben said. 1) COVID tests aren't widely available, and those exposed but not exhibiting symptoms are asked to delay testing, 2) the results from home tests aren't reported, and 3) some who feel ill don't bother testing.

"The numbers we are seeing now are the highest on record, and this is only the people we know about," Jaben said of the county case numbers reported Monday. "It is showing us the trend, not fully accurate numbers."

Two weeks ago, there were 100 new cases for week in Haywood, Jaben said. Last week there were 250, and on Friday, there were 429 cases, Jaben said.

As of Monday, eight out of 11 Western North Carolina counties are above 100 cases per 100,000 population on a seven-day rolling average, Jaben said, noting 5% is the goal. Haywood has 96 cases per 100,000. Only three of WNC counties have test positivity rates less than 20%. Haywood is 24.7%. The goal that indicates a nominal chance of community spread is 5%, and the North Carolina overall rate is 31%.



Even though the Omicron variant of the virus is presenting with milder symptoms, the increased contagiousness is driving total numbers higher, even though a smaller percentage of those ill need hospitalization, he added.

For instance, before the most recent surge, Haywood Regional Medical Care COVID admissions were between around five, Jaben said. As of Friday, there were 21 COVID admissions, with five individuals on ventilators.

Marty Stamey, a Bethel resident and former Haywood County manager, now works as the regional coordinator for the Mountain Area Health Education Center. He is on a weekly call with all the hospital administrators in an 18-county area.

"November had the highest number of resignations in healthcare ever recorded nationwide," Stamey said, "and we were already experiencing a shortages of nurses, paramedics, respiratory therapists and other clinical staff. Even support staff is hard to find."

Even though there are fewer hospitalizations during this surge than were seen a year ago, Stamey said, the staffing shortage is creating a crunch.

The Omicron variant is hitting hospital staff, and there are some concerns about how long COVID patients who are hospitalized must stay to get well, Stamey said. While the Omicron variant strikes those who have been vaccinated, he explained, but there is a less than 1% chance that anyone who has been vaccinated and boosted will need to be hospitalized with COVID. This is not true for the unvaccinated.

"It's going to be a bumpy month for everyone in healthcare," Stamey predicted.

Data indicate the latest surge has sparked a slight uptick in first-time vaccinations, Stamey said, and a slightly higher percentage of individuals scheduling a booster shot.

Take precautions

Jaben said now is not the time to abandon the tried and true advice intended to reduce healthcare overcrowding — mask wearing, social distancing and frequent hand-washing. It also includes following all the Center for Disease Control guidelines, not to pick and choose which directives to follow.

Last year's surge peaked on Jan. 9, something that doesn't seem to been track to happen during this year's surge, he said.

"My sense is now is not the time to be gathering with large groups of people, even if they are vaccinated and boosted," Jaben said. "Right now is the time to be super careful."

Research is still evolving on the Omicron variant, Jaben said, adding the United Kingdom experience is showing that even after a five-day quarantine with no symptoms and five days of masking, 15% to 30% of those recovering from COVID can still spread the virus.


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