CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County Health officials confirmed Friday that the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 has been detected in Mecklenburg County.
Deputy Health Director Dr. Raynard Washington made the announcement during a news conference in Uptown Charlotte Friday afternoon. He said the delta variant was discovered through genomic sequencing from an outbreak at a homeless shelter a few weeks ago. The majority of those cases were confirmed to be delta.
"We sent the first initial eight cases for sequencing. Of those we were able to definitively confirm that five of those eight were the delta variant," Washington said.
Around 30 adults and children living at the Salvation Army shelter tested positive for COVID-19. Genomic sequencing is a limited resource, but the county, UNC Charlotte and StarMed Healthcare have partnered to sequence some of the positive tests in the county.
According to StarMed, the most recent data shows 62% of positives are delta.
"No excuses, Charlotte. Zero. Go get vaccinated now and quit playing around," StarMed wrote in a tweet.
"As we're seeing more spread in our community and more rapid spread in our community, I think we have to make the assumption that delta is pretty prevalent here," Health Director Gibbie Harris said.
"If people don't step up and get vaccinated soon enough, we know where this is going," said Dr. Arin Piramzadian, with StarMed Healthcare, alluding to another wave of the pandemic if the community doesn't get it under control soon.
Earlier in the day, Mecklenburg County released its latest COVID-19 metrics showing an increase in a few metrics. The county also hit the 50% mark for partial vaccinations. According to the latest data from the state, 59% of adults in North Carolina are partially vaccinated against the virus.
Twice this week, North Carolina has reported more than 1,000 new cases in a single day. The numbers are the highest they've been in more than two months.
As vaccination rates continue to drop off, most of the new positive cases are in people who have not gotten the shots.
"We can't say it enough. The answer is vaccinations," Harris said.
Piramzadian said healthcare workers know what's coming and feel defeated all over again after trying their best to fight the virus on the frontlines for nearly two years.
"It's just very disheartening that we have the ability to beat this, and there's so much of the population that's not willing to take the vaccine that is safe, that is effective," he said. "It's going to get to the point where the vaccines that we do have currently are not going to recognize the mutations on the new virus."
As of Wednesday, 990 people have died from COVID-19 in Mecklenburg County. During the past two weeks, the county has reported an average of 92 new cases per day, which is up from the previous two-week average of 74 new daily cases.
Health officials believe the increase could be linked to an increase in travel, as well as a flattened number of vaccinations and the delta variant. The county recently started door-to-door vaccinations in an effort to boost its numbers. Harris said one-on-one outreach is the county's primary focus at this time to help overcome hesitancy.
Dr. David Priest, an infectious disease specialist with Novant Health, said the rise in coronavirus spread was "inevitable" with delta out there and more people gathering.
"As people get together who are unvaccinated, there's going to be some risk of cases," Priest said. "If we want to avoid these situations, the more people vaccinated, the better, and we hope people don't wait on a personal tragedy before they decide to do it."
The fight for the COVID-19 vaccine for younger kids
While some parents may have wanted to get their younger children vaccinated by the Fall, FDA officials now project emergency authorization for COVID-19 vaccines for the under 12 age group could come early to midwinter.
The wait comes in part as the FDA is requiring 4-6 months of safety follow-up data for kids under 12 versus the 2 months required for adults.
But there is good news on the horizon, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech reports the FDA has accepted their application for full approval of their vaccine in people ages 16 and older. Right now, the vaccine is still under emergency use authorization. The company plans to add the 12-15 age group in the application after the required 6 months of follow-up data is complete.
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