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Chapel Hill and rest of state sees increase in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations


Masks lie at the entrance to Wilson Library on Jan. 9, 2022. 

Four months after the World Health Organization declared an end to the global public health emergency for COVID-19, North Carolina has seen a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services uses a respiratory virus dashboard to track information about North Carolinians that exhibit cold-like symptoms associated with COVID-19.

During the week of Aug. 19-26, 485 patients were admitted to North Carolina hospitals for COVID-19. The week prior, there were 435 admissions.

The dashboard uses three different metrics to show data about the number of respiratory illnesses in North Carolina, with data from up to a year ago, and is updated weekly.

The metrics — including the number of COVID-19 viral particles found in samples of wastewater sourced statewide, the number of emergency department visits and hospital admissions related to respiratory illness — have helped the NCDHHS understand COVID-19 from a community level, according to their website.

Dirk Dittmer, a professor of microbiology and immunology at UNC, said wastewater testing gives a good impression of how COVID-19 is circulating in a community, because not everyone who contracts it is symptomatic. 

According to the dashboard, COVID-19 can appear in wastewater 4-6 days before the first cases in a community are identified.

Dittmer also said the number of COVID-19 cases is largely reliant on a few seasonal factors, including the six-month period before antibodies of those who previously contracted COVID-19 start to go down.  

The NCDHHS dashboard also recorded an increase in the amount of emergency department visits for respiratory viruses, with 6.2 percent of all visits being due to respiratory illnesses the week ending Aug. 26 — an increase from the previous week’s 5.6 percent. 

COVID-19 cases increased from making up 3.3 percent of emergency department visits to 3.7 percent.

Damon Seils, the mayor of Carrboro, said both Chapel Hill and Carrboro have been observant of COVID-19 precautions, specifically with masking practices.

“I know a lot of local service employees are still wearing masks on their job, which I think makes a lot of sense,” Seils said. “We need to keep ourselves safe.”

Emily McClure, the owner and a stylist at Urban Fringe Salon — which still requires customers to wear masks — said empathy and consideration for others is crucial, especially in the wake of the pandemic. 

The salon had to make changes to their work environment, including limiting their staff to two stylists in the salon at a time.

“It's more important for me to know that my team didn't get sick at work, and that they can still continue to work and earn a living,” McClure said. 

Seils said that he thinks Carrboro still feels slowed down compared to before the pandemic began.

“If you're not somebody working, for example, in the local service industry, maybe it's not as front of mind for you what those impacts have been,” he said. “I know that local workers certainly feel it because they're working long hours and working hard hours to stay afloat.”

In response to the most recent uptick in cases, new vaccines are expected to be released by Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax in mid-September that target omicron subvariant XBB.1.5. 

@DTHCityState | 

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