UNION COUNTY — “A few months ago, we thought we were in a good place with COVID-19,” said Dr. Charles Bregier, who is with Novant Health working in emergency medicine and urgent care.
Most people thought COVID-19 was dissipating, because infection, hospitalization and death rates were decreasing; however, there has been a recent uptick in the last month due to the Delta variant, Bregier said. The Delta variant is said to be much more contagious than original variants of COVID-19.
“It’s thought now to be as contagious as chickenpox,” Bregier said. He added that the Delta variant is like a new battle in an ongoing war against COVID-19.
In Union County, as of Friday Aug. 6, there have been 26,398 cases of COVID-19 and 229 deaths.
According to Bregier, the difference in the hospitalizations between patients with original variants of COVID-19 and Delta comes down to age. The average age of patients with original variants was 61, but the average age of people with Delta is 45. He said most of the people who are diagnosed with COVID-19 are unvaccinated. He mentioned a large number of people chose to get one dose of a vaccine without getting a second. People who have not received both doses of a vaccine are still at risk of getting COVID-19 because they are not fully inoculated.
“The Delta variant is very serious,” Bregier said. “Transmission rates are way up and people are seeing more and more that it’s largely unvaccinated people that are getting ill.”
Bregier believes that people are starting to realize how serious the Delta variant is and the importance of getting vaccinated.
The total population of people in the county with at least one dose is 107,985 (45%) versus 101,023 who have been fully vaccinated (42%), as of Friday, Aug. 6. More than 50% of residents 18 and older have been fully vaccinated where as 78% of residents 65 and older have been vaccinated
The county’s positivity rate is 9.8% whereas the state’s rate is 10.6%.
In addition to COVID-19 cases, the number of vaccinations has steadily increased, Bregier said.
Though herd immunity in relation to COVID-19 is unknown, it is estimated to be around 80% which has not yet been achieved. He said those who have recovered from COVID-19 may have antibodies that can protect them from getting it again; however, that natural immune response, he said, is not as effective as getting a vaccine.
“If you have had COVID-19 infection, you do generally develop antibodies that will be protective. A lot of studies have shown that the natural immunity that one gets from having the COVID-19 illness may not be as strong of an immune response as what we get from being vaccinated,” Bregier said. He added that studies show that natural immunity tends to wear off quicker from getting the illness than getting vaccinated.
Therefore, if a person has antibodies and becomes fully vaccinated, then they will have a much stronger immune response that will last much longer.
In discussing breakthrough cases (cases where the patient was fully vaccinated but still contracted COVID-19), Bregier said vaccines are not perfect at preventing breakthroughs; however they are “fantastic” at significantly reducing the amount of infection, hospitalization and death.
Moving on to discussing masks, Bregier said the best ones to wear are medical surgical masks and multi-layer cloth masks. What’s most important is how the mask is worn — over the nose and mouth and snug around the face to prevent someone from either transmitting the virus or contracting it. He said these masks can prevent transmission of variants of COVID-19 including Delta.
Bregier said Novant saw 600 COVID-19 patients in January. A month ago, they had 30 patients at most; however, in the last week that number increased to 145 and in the last couple of days it increased by 40 patients. He didn’t have information about the number of patients in the ICU.
The county government reports 20 hospitalizations and 640 active cases of COVID-19 as of Friday.