Public health officials are warning about another possible holiday spike in coronavirus cases as they mark one year since the first person got their COVID-19 vaccine shot in North Carolina.
The number of coronavirus cases in North Carolina is up from over a month ago, and hospitalizations are again increasing, state Department of Health and Human Services data shows. As of Tuesday, there are 1,575 people in the hospital with the virus.
More than 19,000 people have now died from the virus in North Carolina, according to DHHS.
Public health officials worry that cold weather and holiday gatherings will fuel another winter spike in COVID-19 cases.
"I know so many families and friends are getting together with so much joy this holiday season after missing out on last year’s traditions," Gov. Roy Cooper said. "But COVID infections rose after the Thanksgiving holidays both this year and last."
"As we gather again in December we should get vaccinated to protect ourselves and our loved ones from severe COVID or worse," the governor said. "With cases rising, it’s also a good idea to get tested before you gather and wear a mask when you are inside a public place."
DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen's advice to people who are gathering or traveling for the holidays this year is to get booster shots, wear a mask and get tested before visiting with friends or family.
People can gather safely, this year, but they need to make sure to protect themselves and others. She said people who are traveling should get tested before their trip and after they get home.
Omicron in N.C.
The first case of the new omicron variant was reported last week in a student at UNC Charlotte who had traveled out of state for Thanksgiving. Omicron is likely already in other parts of the state, too, Cohen said.
Researchers say it appears the new variant could spread faster than previous iterations of the virus, but it's not clear yet how well the vaccine protects against omicron or how severe it can be.
Still, public health officials say everyone should get vaccinated, and those that are should get booster shots.
The increasing cases in North Carolina is being driven by the delta variant, Cohen said.
"People who are unvaccinated are highly vulnerable," she said.
Almost all hospitalizations and deaths in North Carolina have been in unvaccinated people, Cohen said.
She said early research shows booster shots help protect against the new omicron variant.
Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of giving the first COVID-19 vaccine shot in North Carolina. Since then, more than 14 million doses have gone into arms around the state, according to DHHS data. About 69% of adults in North Carolina are now fully vaccinated.
Almost two million people have gotten booster shots, according to the department.
Cohen will be stepping down at the end of the year. The governor says he will nominate Cohen's chief deputy, Kody Kinsley, to take over in the role of secretary.