Cases of the coronavirus, along with the number of people ending up in the hospital or dying from the virus, are increasing again in North Carolina after months of decline, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Public health officials say the Delta variant is spreading rapidly in North Carolina. The new variant is more contagious and potentially causes more severe cases.
Of the new cases, 99% are in people who are not fully vaccinated, DHHS said.
“Vaccines remain the best protection against COVID-19, including against the Delta variant,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore said. “Nationwide, more than 50% of new cases are now caused by the Delta variant, and the number of Delta variant cases is rapidly increasing in North Carolina.”
North Carolina is still lagging behind the rest of the country in vaccinations.
About 56% of adults in North Carolina have had at least one shot, compared to more than 67% for the nation, according to data from DHHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Don’t wait to vaccinate. Serious illness, hospitalization, death and the long-term effects experienced by many who have had COVID-19 are preventable with vaccines,” DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said in a news release Thursday. “Protect yourself and those you love by getting vaccinated now.”
"While the state’s trends are far below where they were at the height of the pandemic, cases increased by 12% the week ending on July 3 compared to the previous seven days, and hospitalizations have increased by 8% over the past seven days," DHHS said Thursday.
The number of people getting coronavirus vaccines has been dropping since April when the shots were made available to all in North Carolina, DHHS data shows.
State public health officials have been trying to convince more people to get their shots by offering four cash drawings for $1 million each and $125,000 cash scholarships for people under 18. They've also expanded a cash card program that gives $25 gift cards to people in several counties to get vaccinated.
Despite these efforts, the number of people getting vaccinated each week is still declining.
Getting the vaccine is free for anyone 12 and older. The Pfizer vaccine is the only one approved for people as young as 12. The two-shot Moderna vaccine and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson are only approved for people 18 and older.
While cases appear to be increasing across the state, public health officials are particularly warning about outbreaks in Bladen and Wilson counties.
Bladen County is the sole "red" county with critical spread in the state's county COVID-19 tracker. Wilson County is labeled as the only "orange" county on the map with significant spread reported there.
Both counties have lower vaccination rates. About 34% of people in Bladen County are fully vaccinated. That number is 37% for Wilson County.
In another troubling sign, officials said wastewater in some areas is showing more virus, including in Raleigh, Durham and Wilmington. Public health workers have been monitoring wastewater because that can indicate how much virus is in a community.
Since the virus reached North Carolina last year, almost 13,500 people have died from COVID-19.