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Local COVID cases surge among unvaccinated

TRIAD — The three major health systems serving the greater High Point area report that the vast majority of COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized haven’t been vaccinated, reflecting the trend across the country.

Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, Novant Health and Cone Health say upward of 89% of their hospitalized COVID-19 patients in different medical categories haven’t gotten an inoculation.

The latest data from Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist show that 94% of in-patients with COVID at its hospitals are unvaccinated, said public relations manager Joe McCloskey. The health system’s hospitals include High Point Medical Center.

At its medical centers, 92% of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units are unvaccinated and 91% of pandemic patients on ventilators are unvaccinated, McCloskey told The High Point Enterprise.

Novant Health is recording similar numbers.

“Across our footprint, we are seeing a significant increase in COVID-19 cases, particularly in our hospitals that serve communities with lower vaccination rates. In fact, more than 90% of COVID-19 patients in our hospitals today are not vaccinated,” a Novant spokesman told The Enterprise. “If current trends continue, we are on track to match or exceed the surge of COVID-19 cases our hospitals saw earlier this year — despite having safe and effective vaccines widely available.”

Novant Health’s hospitals include Thomasville Medical Center.

The crush of COVID-19 cases prompted Cone Health on Thursday to pull back on elected surgeries.

Cone Health is delaying most nonessential surgeries requiring an overnight stay effective Monday. The health system will move many surgeries to day surgery centers.

“We are taking this action, in part, so that we can continue caring for people with true medical emergencies,” said Dr. Valerie Leschber, senior vice president and chief medical officer with Cone Health.

Cone Health reports a similar breakdown with COVID-19 patients based on vaccination status.

As of midnight Wednesday, nearly 89% of Cone Health’s hospitalized COVID-19 patients were unvaccinated, as well as nearly 89% of its COVID-19 intensive care unit patients. The health system’s medical facilities include a health care center on N.C. 68 in north High Point.

pjohnson@hpenews.com | 336-888-3528 | @HPEpaul

Contreras reports smooth start for schools
  • Updated

GUILFORD COUNTY — Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras gave a back-to-school assessment Thursday to mark the first week of the new academic year.

More than 64,000 students were in class on Tuesday, up 2,000 from the first day of school on Monday, Contreras said at a back-to-school press briefing. Enrollment typically increases from the first day of school through early September, and the Guilford County Schools project it will reach 70,800.

More than 1,400 students are learning remotely through two virtual academies. The previous school year started in August 2020 as all remote learning amid the coronavirus pandemic five months after the COVID-19 crisis took hold locally.

As of Thursday morning, the school system had 242 students in COVID-19 self-quarantine because of exposure. Contreras said the numbers date back to the opening of year-round schools and other alternative schools up to three weeks ago. Monday was the start of classes for traditional-calendar schools.

The Guilford County Board of Education voted last month to start the new school year with indoor mask requirements for kindergarten through 12th grade, which Contreras said has helped the school district have relatively few COVID-19 cases given overall enrollment.

Guilford County Schools leadership anticipated the need to start the new school year with mask mandates, Contreras said, which allowed the school district to avoid the situation facing Davidson County Schools.

The Davidson County Board of Education initially started the school year with masks optional, then reversed course Monday and made masks mandatory after COVID-19 cases and close contact quarantines spiked during the first week of classes.

Through Monday, 94 students in Davidson County Schools tested positive and another 674 were identified as having close contacts with someone infected. The school system has nearly 19,000 students, according to the Davidson County Schools website.

Contreras said that as of Thursday, Guilford County Schools had no teacher vacancies despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The superintendent addressed concerns expressed this week by parents about long drop-off and pickup car lines outside schools. The issue stems mainly from more parents choosing to drive their children to and from school this school year than previous ones.

The school district also is straining under the extreme heat this week, with one-third of the 126 schools in the county disrupted in some way, Contreras said. On Thursday, Jamestown Middle School dismissed early because of air conditioning problems.

pjohnson@hpenews.com | 336-888-3528 | @HPEPaul

County revises indoor mask rules
  • Updated

GUILFORD COUNTY — The Guilford County Board of Commissioners, acting as the county Board of Health, voted 6-3 during a special meeting Thursday to approve amendments to the indoor mask mandate for all businesses, schools and public places.

Commissioner James Upchurch voted against the changes along with Jason Conrad and Alan Perdue, who had opposed reinstating a mask mandate before it went into effect Aug. 13.

Upchurch expressed concerns that social distancing, capacity limits and other mitigation strategies used in the early part of the ongoing pandemic to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were not included in the revisions.

The revised policy eliminates criminal penalties, but still has a strong enforcement component through civil penalties, according to County Attorney Mark Payne. The changes also clarify one of the medical exemptions for hearing-impaired people who read lips in order to communicate, Payne said. Another revision was needed to correct the expiration date to Jan. 8, 2022, although the board will reevaluate metrics for the illness on an ongoing basis and could lift the mandate sooner if conditions improve.

Vice Chair Carlvena Foster made the motion to approve the proposed revisions, which were effective immediately after the vote. Foster read a statement from doctors at High Point Medical Center saying they wholeheartedly support Guilford County’s mask mandate to protect the health and wellness of all people in the community.

“As the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increase locally, statewide and nationally, we must take every possible measure to keep ourselves, our loved ones and the community safe,” Foster said, reading from the letter. “Properly wearing a mask indoors and practicing social distancing outdoors are a key to helping prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

Commissioner Carly Cooke read a similar statement from Cone Health encouraging masks indoors. Daily reported cases in Guilford County have grown by more than 13 times since July 1. Vaccination and masking are the two main actions to lessen the effects of COVID-19, according to the statement Cooke read.

Guilford County Public Health Director Dr. Iulia Vann said masks in conjunction with vaccines are one of the best public health strategies available. She added handwashing and self-isolation after being in contact with anyone infected are also part of a layered approach to keep the community safe.

“I really find it difficult to vote against the medical professionals in our community at Cone and High Point hospitals who are saying wearing a mask is the next best thing to being vaccinated,” Foster said. “They are encouraging us and supporting our decision to put a mask mandate in place.”

Several board members said they had been flooded with numerous emails and calls from people who were in favor or against the mask mandate.

Foster said many of those messages she received were from university students and students at private and religious schools asking the board to approve the mandate because they want to make sure everybody is wearing masks and it’s not just given an option.

Payne noted the mask rule already includes schools, both public, charter and private.

Board member Mary Beth Murphy, who is a teacher, noted significant learning loss occurred when schools were closed and said there is a deep desire in the community for letting students remain in person.

“Masking is a very reasonable approach to help ensure that students continue to learn in person and that businesses continue to stay open,” Murphy said.

Masking works to help get community spread under control, be able to have sports in schools, keep schools in person and businesses open.

Commissioner Kay Cashion agreed she has received many emails and calls pro and con. She said her medical doctor was adamant that if a person who is against simply wearing a mask could see the suffering he has witnessed, it would change their perspective.

Upchurch asked for an update about the survival rate of children in the county. Emergency Services Director Don Campbell answered there have been no deaths of children under age 18, but children are having a higher spread within the last 30 days.

“A mask mandate that takes this virus seriously would have included social distancing requirements, capacity limits and a serious plan to actually enforce the mandate,” Upchurch said. “Previously under a similar Public Health Rule, the rule was barely enforced at all. There also needs to be a plan for how we’re going to help small businesses who will lose business because of this Public Health Rule. There currently isn’t one.”

Perdue said he believes private and religious schools should be able to make the decision about masks for themselves.

cingram@hpenews.com | 336-888-3534 | @HPEcinde


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