The highly contagious omicron variant

The current surge in COVID-19 cases is driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.

DAVIDSON COUNTY — State leaders continue to attempt to stem the tide on a pandemic that is closing in on its second year of impact.

Gov. Roy Cooper and health officials warned of a growing burden of severe COVID-19 cases on hospitals and continued to encourage those who are not vaccinated to get their shots, as well as for anyone eligible to get a booster shot. At his first press briefing of the new year, Cooper acknowledged the renewed force with which a new variant attacked residents over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

“After making so much progress against this virus, it’s been stressful and sometimes scary for people to test positive or see coworkers, friends and family members to test positive over the holidays,” Cooper said.

In the press conference with Cooper, N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley said 80% of hospital beds statewide, including 80% of intensive care unit beds, are occupied. Across North Carolina there were 3,008 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, Kinsley said. That’s triple the number there were in mid-November.

Cooper and Kinsley urged the wearing of well-fitting, multilayer masks, if possible, a surgical or a procedure mask such as a KN95 or an N95.

The current surge in cases is driven by the highly contagious omicron variant. Although health officials say it is less likely than previous variants to cause illness severe enough to require hospitalization, it is so highly contagious that the sheer number of severe cases already is rivaling what hospitals faced during last summer’s surge caused by the delta variant.

“Last week, we set a single-day record for COVID-19 cases,” Kinsley said. “The next day, we broke it. The next day, we broke it again.”

In a media briefing Tuesday morning, Dr. David Priest of Novant Health said that the number of COVID-19 patients in Novant hospitals has jumped by 166% the past two weeks, pushing those facilities past 90% of capacity. More than 80% of those patients are unvaccinated.

Only 2% of the hospitalized patients have had a first full round of shots plus a booster shot, and all of them are in their late 70s or older and have other health problems that make them vulnerable to more complications, Priest said.

Priest warned that treatment options for those infected by the omicron variant are extremely limited — the monoclonal antibody treatment that had been most widely used does not work for omicron, and newly approved pills are still hard to get — making the need for vaccination urgent. People who have been vaccinated can still become infected but are extremely unlikely to become severely ill.

Staff writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 336-888-3578, or at kennedy@tvilletimes.com.

Staff writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 336-888-3578, or at kennedy@tvilletimes.com.

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