1/21/21: INCREASE IN DARE COVID-19 CASES BEING DRIVEN BY WORKPLACE EXPOSURE, DCDHHS SAYS; PLUS AN UPDATE ON VACCINATIONS, NEW CDC DIRECTOR ROCHELLE WALENSKY.

The recent rapid increase in Dare County-reported COVID-19 cases is being driven by “viral spread in the workplace from prolonged exposure between co-workers,” according to an update Tuesday by the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services.

This “workplace spread,” the DCDHHS says in its COVID-19 Update No. 77, “is not linked to brief interactions between employees but rather meetings, lunch gatherings, and shared working spaces.”

This spread, abetted by people who are not observing COVID-19 safety protocols, such as wearing masks, is “also driving more spread among families,” the DCDHHS continues, “as workers are unknowingly bringing the virus home to their families before they realize they were infected.”

The workplace-to-family COVID-19 spread may account for a marked, and unusual, trend upward that The Beacon has observed recently in the number of cases reported by Dare County among people age 65 or older.

Of the 30 new cases reported on the DCDHHS dashboard yesterday, 13, or 43 percent, were in the 65-or-older age group, and 11 of them were Dare County residents.

On Tues., Jan. 19, eight of the 31 new COVID-19 cases, or 26 percent, were in the 65-or-older age group. On Sun., Jan. 17, the figures were 10 of 57 new cases, a more modest, but higher-than-usual, 18 percent.

On Monday, 50 percent of the four new COVID-19 cases reported were in the 65-or-older group, and both of those people were Dare County residents who required hospitalization.

(UPDATE: Nine of the 40 new cases reported today are in the 65-or-older age group, including a local woman who has been hospitalized. Twenty-one of the cases are Dare County residents, and 19 are nonresidents.)

The Beacon considers the number of hospitalizations an important indicator of disease severity and mortality risk and observes that DCDHHS’s hospitalization reports do not always add up.

We keep a daily record of dashboard reports and count 13 current hospitalizations, not the 12 the DCDHHS is reporting. The counting error occurred on Sunday when the reported hospitalization of a local girl age 17 or younger was not added to DCDHHS’s total. (UPDATE: The number should be 14 now.)

COVID-19 positivity rates have spiked locally with the increase in cases.

Between Jan. 12  and Jan. 19, 16.1 percent of the COVID-19 tests administered in Dare County were positive, according to the DCDHHS. The previous week the positivity rate was a very high 18.8 percent. Between Dec. 29, and Jan. 5, the rate was 14.9 percent.

Between Dec. 22 and Dec. 29, the Dare County positivity rate was 13.6 percent. Before the holidays, the positivity rates computed each week by DCDHHS were generally below 10 percent.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services, has repeatedly said that any rate above 5 percent is too high. It is one of the many metrics that Dr. Cohen has found “worrisome” as COVID-19 continues to spread throughout North Carolina.

The positivity rate at the state level has not been 5 percent or lower since last spring.

VACCINATIONS: Locally, Statewide, and Nationally

The DCDHHS has instituted a vaccine data dashboard that is updated weekly. You may access it here: COVID-19 Vaccine | Dare County, NC (darenc.com)

According to this dashboard, the DCDHHS had administered, as of last Sunday, 1,699 doses of the Moderna vaccine. The dashboard does not indicate whether those doses were only first doses or first and second doses of the two-dose vaccine.

The dashboard also reports that 3,878 vaccination appointments have been scheduled in Dare County between Jan. 20 and Feb. 6, and 3,218 people are on a waiting list for an appointment.

Currently, all adults age 65 or older, regardless of their health status or living situation; all healthcare workers with high exposure to COVID-19; and all residents and staff of long-term care facilities are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Frontline essential workers are in the next priority group.

If you are eligible, you may register online for a vaccination appointment at: Vaccine Registration | Dare County, NC (darenc.com). A Dare County employee will call you with an appointment time, when one is available.

The NCDHHS also has a vaccine dashboard. According to it, 2,025 first doses and 193 completed doses (first and second) had been administered in Dare County through Monday, Jan. 18.

Statewide, the NCDHHS reports 344,456 first doses and 60,073 completed doses of a COVID-19 vaccine had been administered through Jan. 18.

Do the figures for first doses and completed doses overlap? The NCDHHS dashboard does not make this clear. We do not believe they do.

As of yesterday, according to the COVID Data Tracker of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,118,250 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been distributed to North Carolina, which had administered a total of 427,480 doses.

The number of people receiving one or more doses in North Carolina as of yesterday, the CDC says, was 368,818, while 58,407 people in our state had received two or more doses.

Only 3.5 percent of North Carolina’s population has received a first dose, a percentage that ranks it 43rd among the 50 states. 

The states that are doing a poorer job than North Carolina in vaccinating its population are Georgia, Idaho, California, Missouri, South Carolina, Nevada, and Alabama, which ranks dead last. 

See CDC COVID Data Tracker.

As of today, the NCDHHS reports, 8,339 people have died of COVID-19 in North Carolina, and 3,666 people are currently hospitalized for treatment.

Nationally, the CDC reports, 35,990,150 doses of vaccine have been distributed, and states collectively have administered 16,525,281 of those doses. A total of 14,270,441 people have received one or more doses, and 2,161,419 have received two or more doses.

Overall, then, 4.3 percent of the U.S. population has received a first dose, and 0.7 percent have received two doses, according to the CDC.

NEW CDC DIRECTOR ROCHELLE WALENSKY

We happened to catch an excellent interview last Sunday on “Face the Nation” with new CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., who was, until her appointment, the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital (“Mass General”) and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.  

Dr. Walensky, who has been involved in the nation’s COVID-19 response from the beginning, is a powerhouse physician/scientist whom the federal government is fortunate to hire. She is an expert in HIV and AIDS.

You may read her “Face the Nation” interview here: Transcript: Rochelle Walensky on “Face the Nation” (msn.com)

We bring up this interview because Dr. Walensky said Sunday that, although President Biden’s goal of vaccinating 100 million people within the first 100 days of his administration is ambitious, it can be done.

Dr. Walensky also referred to the “tens of thousands of people,” known as long haulers, who are coping with persistent COVID symptoms after they have “recovered”—meaning after they have tested negative for COVID-19.

The Beacon takes all reports of “recoveries,” including those the DCDHHS regularly reports, with a large grain of salt. A presumed recovery is not a confirmed recovery. The Beacon also has learned of Dare County residents who tested positive for COVID-19 and were never tested again.

(Dr. Sheila Davies, Dare County’s public health director and director of DCDHHS, is not a scientist or a medical professional. According to her Linked-in profile, Dr. Davies earned two doctoral degrees–one in health policy analysis and the other in public policy and administration–from Walden University, an online university headquartered in Minneapolis.)

We have reported on long haulers in several previous blogs. We are eager to learn more about how long haulers, many of whom are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, are faring, and why certain people are predisposed to COVID-19 symptoms that endure for months. (We have read some theories.)

We also would like to know if infectious disease experts have reason to believe these symptoms, which include shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle weakness, and “brain fog,” could be permanent.

We will be attending a Johns Hopkins Medicine COVID-19 update webcast on Feb. 3 and will report what we learn. Johns Hopkins has a COVID-19 survivors clinic, just as the Mass General has.

Dr. Walensky received her M.D. in 1995 from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine from 1995 to 1998 at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She then did a fellowship in infectious diseases at the Mass General. In 2001, she earned a Masters in Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health.

No Senate confirmation is required for Dr. Walensky’s appointment. She assumed office yesterday, succeeding Dr. Robert Redfield.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 1/21/21   

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