COVID-19 hospitalizations at several major hospitals in the mountains are increasing.
On July 11, the Mission Health system had seven COVID-19 hospitalizations. As of Thursday, July 22, that number was up to 26.
Mission Health CMO Dr. William Hathaway said COVID-19 hospitalizations in June were the lowest they had been during the pandemic, with an average of five to 10 patients.
While the current resurgence is a far cry from the nearly 140 hospitalizations Mission Health saw at the pandemic's peak in January, Hathaway is still concerned.
Hathaway said it's not surprising the increase in cases is coming just a couple weeks after Fourth of July social gatherings. But, he said, the main factor at play is the COVID-19 delta variant, which continues to spread nationwide.
He said more people need to get vaccinated, particularly younger people.
"The real problem that we're facing is that we don't have adequate vaccine penetration in our community," Hathaway said. "I know there's great concern about breakthrough infections with the delta variant, but the fact of the matter is, they're still quite rare. They happen, we knew they would happen, but they're rare," Hathaway said.
State health officials are reporting 4,659 breakthrough cases as of July 21, which is still less than 1% of the more than 580,000 people who have tested positive since vaccinations began last December.
Furthermore, the number of people who have died from breakthrough infections is also less than 1% of the 13,535 coronavirus-related deaths reported in North Carolina. Health officials continue to maintain the importance of vaccinations -- especially now.
"Now is the time to get vaccinated," Hathaway said.
Hathaway said he only expects cases and hospitalizations to continue to increase heading into the colder months. He's concerned about what fall could bring, with Gov. Roy Cooper allowing the mask mandate in schools to expire July 30 and giving local districts the power to choose whether to continue requiring masks.
As of July 21, 24% of kids ages 12-17 were vaccinated in North Carolina.
"It's more rampant spread of infection; it's children getting sick. It's children sharing the virus and those infections with their debilitated family members. It would be an increase in cases and it's a prolongation of the pandemic," Hathaway said.
However, he said he doesn't think the area or the state will get back to peak COVID-19 numbers, with 83% of the state's most vulnerable population -- those 65 and older -- fully vaccinated.
Regardless, the increase has him concerned and urging people to double down on COVID-19 precautions, which he expects Mission Health to do, too, if the situation doesn't improve.
"With the recent resurgence in cases and hospitalizations, we are extremely likely to increase our visitor restrictions and be more adherent to universal masking in every corner of our hospital moving forward," Hathaway said.
He emphasized, that while state COVID-19 mandates may be easing, people can always make the choice to continue masking up, maintaining social distancing and washing their hands frequently.
"We always have that individual freedom and choice to be more adherent," Hathaway said. "We can and should be doing better as a community."
Hathaway emphasized, too, that while COVID-19 cases may be increasing within the Mission Health system and other hospitals, people should not let that stop them from going to their facilities for other medical needs and emergencies.
Pardee UNC Health Care is also seeing a resurgence in hospitalizations. Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Ellis sent the following statement:
The number of COVID cases at the hospital has continued to rise over the last month. At the beginning of July, we were hospitalizing two to three patients per day. As of July 22nd, we have seven patients.
While this is still a smaller number of COVID cases per day compared to where we were during the surge last winter, the fact remains that the number is increasing and we know that vaccinations can halt this.
Getting a COVID vaccine remains the primary way to prevent COVID-19 infection and safeguard our community against the Delta variant. We encourage anyone 12 and older who has not yet gotten a vaccine to do so sooner rather than later. "
At AdventHealth, officials said demand for COVID-19 testing has doubled this week compared to the previous week. The percent positive rate for that time is up from 10% to 13.5%. There are 10 COVID-19 patients in the hospital, which officials said is more than they'd seen in prior weeks.