CHARLOTTE — COVID-19 cases across the country -- and in the Carolinas -- are on the rise again. North Carolina reported the highest number of new cases Thursday in nearly two months.
There were 1,020 new cases with a 5.5 daily percent positive rate, according to data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The number of new positive cases is more than twice as many as were recorded last Wednesday, and four times higher than two weeks ago.
The 5.5% of tests coming back positive is higher than the percent positive goal NCDHHS set back at the start of the pandemic.
There were 492 patients hospitalized for the coronavirus across the state.
“Unfortunately, as much as we want it to not be true, COVID is still in our community,” said Meg Sullivan, medical director for Mecklenburg County, “And not only is it in our community, a highly contagious, potentially more serious variant is in our community.”
Sullivan said getting the public vaccinated is a priority.
“I think we are constantly trying to think of what else can we do,” she said. “How can we be innovative? How can we provide services in a way that really does meet the needs of individuals? But at the same time, we know we still have work to do.”
State metrics do not explicitly say if those new positive cases were among vaccinated or unvaccinated people, but nationally the director of the National Institutes of Health said unvaccinated people make up 99 percent of the new COVID-19 cases.
”If you’re on the fence about whether vaccination was going to help you, listen to those numbers. Unvaccinated people going into hospital and dying. Vaccinated people essentially not,” NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said.
Experts attribute the increase to gatherings during the Fourth of July weekend and the highly contagious delta variant.
“So people should be concerned about , really concerned, and I’ll tell you why,” said Dr. Dave Wohl at the UNC School of Medicine.
Reporter Glenn Counts asked Wohl what people need to know about the variant.
“In general, I think people should understand that the variant is more catchy,” Wohl said.
There have been spikes in COVID-19 cases in states and cities with low vaccination rates, including Springfield, Missouri.
“In Missouri, where they are having a tremendous outbreak with COVID-19 due to , they are seeing people come in who are sicker,” Wohl said. “They are seeing people come in quicker, and they are also seeing younger (patients), and that’s really concerning. They are even seeing infants get admitted to the hospital. So infants with COVID-19, which is something we didn’t see much of before.”
Wohl said the variant is 60% more contagious than the original strain. That would theoretically mean the guideline to stay 6 feet apart and wear masks for less than 15 minutes may not always protect people.
All of the cases that come into the UNC hospital system are being genetically sequenced so that experts can tell if the variant is spreading quickly in North Carolina.
“What we see is that is emerging,” Wohl said. “So it was zero. Now it’s 10%, and that data is a few days old. So it’s just going to double every few days. So the writing is on the wall. We are going to see take over throughout the country.”
Wohl said he will still wear a mask even though he is fully vaccinated due to the threat of the variant.
“I don’t completely agree with the CDC saying that those who are fully vaccinated never have to wear a mask,” the doctor told Counts. “I wear a mask when I’m around other people who could be unvaccinated.”
Wohl said if people have been vaccinated, they are protected against . However, masks are not as effective against other variants.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it expects to see COVID-19 hospital admissions to increase over the next four weeks. National COVID-19 hospitalizations had been declining for months.
North Carolina continues to urge citizens to get vaccinated. As part of that push, the two winners in last week’s COVID-19 vaccine lottery drawing were announced on Thursday.
A Pineville woman won the $1 million lottery, and a Greensboro high school student won a $125,000 scholarship.
(WATCH BELOW: 5 things to know about the variant of COVID-19)
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