Next week will mark one year since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in North Carolina on March 3rd, 2020. The state had its first death from the coronavirus in late March, and Lincoln County had its first in early June.
It has been a long and hard journey from there to here. We now have two vaccines and soon a third; the number of new cases, hospitalizations, and new deaths are going down as is the percentage of positive tests for the disease; but we are still a long way from the end of the pandemic.
Despite what you may have read or seen, it isn't over. Chances are you either saw or heard about the interview in January on CNN with Paul Offit, a member of the FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, who said that with 60% of the population expected to be fully vaccinated by summer, "I really do think that by June, we can stop the spread of this virus."
Even if that goal is achieved, it doesn't mean the virus will disappear. It may be reduced to less than a pandemic, but there will still be cases; people will still get sick, and some will die.
Some will accuse us of fear-mongering, but we would be remiss if we failed to provide you with some startling news from California about another new strain of the mutated coronavirus.
The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday (Feb. 23rd):
"A coronavirus variant that emerged in mid-2020 and surged to become the dominant strain in California not only spreads more readily than its predecessors, it also evades antibodies generated by COVID-19 vaccines or prior infection and it's associated with severe illness and death, researchers said.
"In a study that helps explain the state's dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths — and portends further trouble ahead — scientists at UC San Francisco said that the cluster of mutations that characterizes the homegrown strain should mark it as a 'variant of concern.'
" 'The devil is already here,' said Dr. Charles Chiu, who led the UCSF team of geneticists, epidemiologists, statisticians and other scientists in a wide-ranging analysis of the new variant. 'I wish it were different. But the science is the science.'"
The evidence is still based on too few samples to make it certain, but suggests the the new strain is not only more transmissable, but also more deadly. The Times reports: " the researchers found that the 21% of these patients who were infected were more likely than their counterparts to have been admitted to the ICU, and they were 11 times more likely to die. That finding held up even after researchers adjusted for differences in the patients' age, gender and ethnicity.
However, Chiu cautioned that this increased risk of death may not be a sign that the variant is inherently more lethal. Rather, it may simply be a reflection that its greater transmissibility caused hospitals to become so overwhelmed and health care resources to be stretched so thin that more deaths were the result — especially in Southern California."
CLICK HERE to read their article.
The good news is that we now have vaccines--and while they may not provide total protection, they're far better than not having one. It's still very important that we continue the other measures that have helped to cut back on some of the infections that might have occurred--maintaining social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, wearing face masks properly, etc.
The idea that it's all nearly over is a dangerous one--because some people think that means they no longer need to comply with the 3Ws. The emphasis on getting vaccinated has also reduced the public's efforts to avoid the disease. While vaccination clinics are increasing, the number of people getting tested is declining.
Kintegra Health, which has been conducting tests in Gaston & other counties for months now, was testing an average of 300 tests per day in late December and early January. The average now is about 65 per day.
Just like with most diseases, learning that you're infected early increases the likelihood that you'll not only avoid spreading it to others but that if you need treatment, beginning it early can help your chances of survival.
The Lincoln County Health Dept. has partnered with OPTUMServe and NCDHHS to provide FREE testing for Lincoln County residents at the old Health Dept. site on Sigmon Road just off N. Generals Blvd. The testing will continue in March:
March 2-6, 9-13, 16-20, 23-27 and March 30-April 3 from 9 AM - 4 PM daily.
To schedule an appoinment, visit lhi.care/covidtesting or call 877-562-4850 if you are registering for a minor.
Cleveland County Public Health will have FREE drive-thru COVID testing this Saturday (Feb. 27th) from 10 am - 2 pm at Shelby Middle School, 1480 S. Dekalb St.
Kintegra Health continues to offer FREE drive-up testing at sites in several area counties. Testing Friday (Feb. 25th) will be at Kintegra Family Medicine, 502 W. King Street in Kings Mountain. Kintegra will conduct tests at multiple locations during March. On March 29th, they'll be doing testing at the Kintegra Lincolnton location on Gamble Drive near the Health Dept. All their testing sites operate 10 am - 2 pm. CLICK HERE for a complete schedule.
We've already previously reported on the various locations that are conducting ongoing vaccinations including area health departments, Atrium Health and Walgreens. Since suppliesd of vaccines are increasing, getting an appointment will become easier--and you may get one much quicker than had been the case.
Teachers have already been informed so they should already be aware that Atrium Health Lincoln is conducting an educator vaccination event in Lincoln County Friday and Saturday (Feb. 26th & 27th).
Atrium Health is also holding another mass vaccination clinic this weekend at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte--but this one is just for those who got their first shot there three weeks ago and will now get their second.
Kintegra Health is conducting a vaccination clinic in Cherryville Saturday--but all appointments for that one have already been taken. Kintegra wll conduct a vaccination clinic Tuesday afternoon (March 2nd) 1 - 5 pm at the Lincolnton location, 212 Gamble Drive. As of late Thursday, there were still over 50 appointments available. Kintegra began by just vaccinating existing Kintegra patients, but their clinics are now open to anyone who currently qualifies, including all over 65 and teachers & childcare workers. Pre-registration is required. CLICK HERE to see the clinics schedule and to register.
The latest figures on the pandemic:
Lincoln County for the first time since early June reported less than 100 active COVID-19 cases Friday (Feb. 25th)--84, down from 179 Tuesday (Feb. 23rd); the county has now had 77 deaths
Gaston County--as of Friday (Feb. 25th)--391 deaths
Catawba County--as of Friday (Feb. 25th)--279 deaths
Cleveland County--as of Wednesday (Feb. 24th)--214 deaths
North Carolina--as of Friday (Feb. 25th)--11,186 deaths, 1,465 hospitalized, positive test rate 4.7%
The improved figures prompted Gov. Roy Cooper to reduce restrictions he had previoulsy imposed. Cooper's executive order that had set a curfew of sorts for many businesses expires at 5 PM Friday. A new order goes into effect.
One thing--perhaps the one about which you have heard the most--is that the new order will allow more people to attend sports events including high school football games. The old order called for no more than 100 fans, which meant that many parents wouldn't get to see their student athletes perform.
The order issued Wednesday and effective Friday will also roll back restrictions on some businesses. Bars will be able to reopen at 30% capacity with a numerical maximum of 250 customers. That same restriction applies to movie theatres and entertainment venues (like the Lincoln Cultural Center). Restaurants, gyms and breweries will be allowed up to 50% capacity--although in truth, most locally have already been operating in excess of that level.