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Mecklenburg County leaders update COVID-19 metrics ahead of Labor Day

Health Director Gibbie Harris and other county officials discussed Mecklenburg County's COVID-19 vaccination rates, hospitalizations and cases ahead of Labor Day.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With COVID-19 hospitalizations on the rise due to the delta variant, Mecklenburg County health leaders gave an update on the county's metrics Friday afternoon. 

The update comes ahead of Labor Day weekend, with millions of Americans expected to travel on the unofficial final weekend of summer, and the Duke's Mayo Classic, which will bring tens of thousands of football fans to Bank of America Stadium through Sunday. 

"The game this weekend concerns me the most," Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris said. "There's no way that crowd will be COVID-free."

Harris said the county is at a tipping point, and it is up to the community to control if cases and hospitalizations will start to plateau and drop off or if the situation will continue to get worse before it gets better.

The resounding message is the same as it has been, vaccination and masking are necessary right now, especially with hospitals full and more young people dying.

“Guidance from public health quite often has to be personal before people really listen to it,” Harris said.

Vaccination rates are slowly inching up and some metrics are stabilizing but far too many people are still experiencing the personal side of COVID-19.

Deputy Health Director Dr. Raynard Washington said deaths have increased 10-fold since June and in the last few weeks, four young adults in their 20s and 30s died.

“They didn't all have underlying conditions but and the common risk factor particularly in young folks was that they weren't yet vaccinated,” Washington said.

The mask mandate has been in effect since Tuesday and the county has gotten 139 complaints about noncompliance, 91 of them on private schools. The county’s mask mandate applies to all schools, public, private and parochial. Still, several have already had to switch to virtual learning. The latest, St. Ann's kindergarten through third graders.

RELATED: Saint Ann Catholic School pre-k through 3rd grade temporarily switching to remote learning

“We are continuing to try to encourage families and parents to do the right thing by having their children wear masks and we'll continue to do that,” Harris said. “It’s just an ongoing process."

Harris says COVID-19 may be an ongoing process too, but before we can figure out how to live with it like other viruses, this surge must get under control.

“We know vaccinated people are becoming infected but they're not ending up in the hospital in these significant situations. So again, emphasis, emphasis, emphasis on the vaccine," she said.

Harris added any unexplained illness someone experiences right now should be treated as COVID-19 until proven otherwise.

As of Sept. 1, Mecklenburg County reported an average of 536 lab-confirmed infections per day. That was down slightly from the previous 14-day average of 550 confirmed cases. Hospitalizations are on the rise, with Mecklenburg County having an average of 451 people hospitalized over the past week.

The latest update from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services painted a similar picture. The state reported 3,789 COVID-19 hospitalizations, about 200 short of the pandemic's all-time high. Health officials said they're seeing younger patients in the ICU and it's heartbreaking because they believe it's avoidable. 

"Disappointment comes from teams that are weary, they're tired," Fletcher said. "There's less staff working more hours. [They've] been at this 18 months now, to see it happen when it's preventable, with some incredibly helpful and very highly effective vaccines that are just not being taken."

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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