The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in North Carolina is climbing again, fueled by yet another variant, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Weekly coronavirus hospitalizations hit 1,290 Wednesday, according to DHHS data. That's the highest that number has been since late February.

What You Need To Know

  • About half of North Carolina counties are back in the CDC's "red zone" for COVID-19 community spread and hospital capacity

  • There were 1,290 COVID patients in N.C. hospitals, DHHS reported. That's the highest number of coronavirus hospitalizations since late February

  • The new BA.5 variant is responsible for almost 60% of new cases in North Carolina, according to DHHS

  • Nationally, BA.5 is responsible for about 82% of new COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC

The BA.5 variant makes up an estimated 59% of new cases in North Carolina, according to DHHS. Nationally, the BA.5 variant accounts for more than 82% of new confirmed cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those recent BA.5 cases likely include President Joe Biden, according to the White House physician.

"The BA5 variant is particularly transmissible," said Dr. Kevin O'Connor, the president's doctor. But, he said, the variant has responded well to treatment, and Biden's vaccines and boosters helped keep him from getting the worst symptoms.

In North Carolina, half of the counties in the state are back in the CDC's "red zone" for high risk of COVID-19 spread and strain on the health care system. The CDC uses a combination of statistics to classify counties: the number of new cases per capita, how many people are being admitted to hospital with the virus, and the percent of hospital beds taken up by COVID patients.

DHHS reports coronavirus deaths have remained low and relatively steady over the summer. Doctors and public health officials say the relatively low number of deaths is thanks to vaccinations and new treatments like Paxlovid, which the president took when he tested positive for the virus.

The other good news in the latest DHHS report is that wastewater monitoring shows a drop in the amount of virus around the state.

Public health officials use wastewater sampling to get a bigger picture of how much virus is in the state. That number has become important because more people are using at-home COVID tests and the state can't capture that data.

The latest BA.5 surge comes as universities prepare to welcome students back to campus in the coming weeks. K-12 schools in North Carolina are also getting ready to open back up at the end of August.

The CDC recommends people in high-risk counties wear masks when they are in indoor public spaces, including schools.

There has been little talk around the state about new local mask mandates for cities or schools. But officials are no doubt watching to see what happens with COVID numbers before hundreds of thousands of students go back to schools and college campuses around North Carolina.