CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte-area health leaders continue to push vaccination and boosters heading into the winter season, hopeful it will offset any possible surge in COVID-19 cases. This comes as some parts of the country are experiencing déjà vu; more than half of the states are seeing a rise in infections as the U.S. closes in on 100,000 new cases a day, again.
Cases are slowly rising in the Carolinas, but not at the same level as other parts of the country. Even still, Dr. David Priest with Novant Health said more cases mean more patients needing treatment at hospitals.
As many prepare to travel for the holidays, data shows a growing number of people will be spending Thanksgiving in the hospital with COVID-19.
“We have about 40 patients who are admitted with COVID that have required hospitalization for a long enough time that they’re no longer in isolation for COVID, but they’re not able to go home yet. In total, 200 patients across our system,” Priest said.
While the number of people hospitalized has been slowly rising, it’s not at the same overwhelming level as during the delta variant surge. What has remained the same: who needs to be hospitalized.
“85 to 90% of patients admitted to our hospitals with COVID are unvaccinated,” Priest said. “The individuals who are admitted and unvaccinated have an average age of 58 years old.”
Vaccines aren’t perfect and breakthrough cases are possible. Those who are vaccinated and hospitalized tend to be older, with an average age in the 70s.
“Often they have other medical issues, and they were vaccinated very early in the pandemic and have not received a booster dose of vaccination,” Priest said.
Booster shots immediately trigger the body to produce more antibodies that fight off COVID-19. Research shows the number of antibodies in someone’s system from the initial shots starts to fade after 6 months. Memory B cells are still prepared to make antibodies again, but it doesn’t happen immediately, leaving a window of time that could allow for a breakthrough case.
“When people get a third dose, what they’re essentially doing is boosting those antibodies again so that the chance of getting even any case of COVID goes down tremendously,” Priest said.
Boosters are critical right now because parts of the country with higher vaccination rates are the places more likely to have fewer hospitalizations, even as cases continue to rise.
“Hopefully as we get into the spring things will start to go down, we’ll get these antiviral medications, more and more children will be vaccinated which will hopefully reduce the spread of the virus in our communities as well and we’ll get through this,” Priest said.
Novant Health will close its testing and vaccination site from East Independence Boulevard on Nov. 30 and reopen at 125 Baldwin Avenue in Charlotte on Dec. 6.