On Tuesday, the Halifax County Health Department released a report showing the area as the second-highest county in the state for COVID-19 cases per 100,000 persons.
The report from the health department included data from the past 14 days between Dec. 27-Jan. 9.
“It’s distressing news,” Health Director Bruce Robistow said on Wednesday when asked about the report. “Of course, I am somewhat surprised by it.”
Robistow said Halifax County hit a spike last week with a record number of more than 1,200 new COVID-19 cases.
Over in Northampton County, Public Health Administrator Megan Vick for the county health department said Northampton is ranked 11 in the state.
While the COVID-19 delta variant became dominant in early 2021, the new omicron variant emerged in the U.S. in early December.
Robistow said the omicron variant is infectious and spreads like “crazy” but is less severe than previous variants. He said his concern is that there are opportunities to mitigate the spread that Halifax County has not taken full advantage of, with one getting people to be vaccinated. Robistow said the county is 52% fully vaccinated and has remained at that percentage for weeks.
For Northampton, Vick said, “Like the majority of the state, there has been a decrease in county citizens getting first or second doses, but we are still seeing full booster clinics. Per the CDC, 46% of our population is fully vaccinated and 56.2% of Northampton County’s population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.”
When asked if those who received the full vaccination but not the boosters were included in the unvaccinated category, Robsitow said, “Yes, we’re at 55% of people are partially vaccinated, but now, the booster is a requirement to be fully vaccinated.”
Robistow said another area Halifax County falls short in is wearing a mask whenever around people in a type of group setting. He said the county was doing fair for a while, but in his own personal experience being out in the public buying groceries, going to restaurants, and even in workplaces, he has seen compliance with mask-wearing wane. Robistow said some people are not wearing their masks in places that mandate the wearing of masks.
“When I get phone calls from people who want guidance because they want to know, ‘Do we need to shut down or whatever?’ and the first question out of my mouth, ‘Is everybody wearing a mask?’ and their response is, ‘Well, not all the time,’ ” he said, giving an example.
Robistow said he would get calls from businesses and county offices because they have a couple of positive COVID-19 cases.
“In my health department, for example, we don’t overreact because we are wearing our masks throughout the health department,” he said. “But each time I speak to any of these facilities, I’ve yet to have one company or office tell me that yes, they’re complying with the mask recommendations. So it’s, so we have considerable fat failings from getting vaccinated following the three W’s, especially the masks. And I think that plays a great role in our being number two worst in this state.”
When comparing the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, there was also a large spike between January and February of 2021.
Robistow said the spikes in cases have to do with the holidays and cold weather where people are not going out and huddling in small gatherings inside.
“This has all been predicted — not to this magnitude, of course, but this spike — a spike, not this spike — a spike was projected strongly throughout the country,” he clarified.
Robistow said people not following the three Ws — wearing a mask, waiting six feet apart and washing/disinfecting hands frequently — contributed to the cause.
“Again, this was expected and would be a strong cause,” he said. “At the same time, we did get a new variant. So that exacerbated the concerns we had about cold weather and holiday gathering.”
Vick echoed Robistow and said, “We are quite certain that the rise in COVID-19 cases is mainly contributed to the highly transmissible state of the omicron variant paired with the close gatherings of family and friends for an extended period of time for the recent holidays.”
Last year, Robistow planned to mandate vaccination for employees in his department.
However, Robistow said he has not been able to implement the vaccine mandate.
“That’s been stalled, and we are doing the best we can with that. We have a majority of our health department that are vaccinated but not 100%. I’m disappointed to report that,” he said. “Like anything that this country has ever experienced the only way for us to get through anything — all challenges in history, this great country has defeated or gotten through, has taken a unified effort of all citizens. And I’m calling for a unified effort of all citizens in Halifax County to get vaccinated, follow the three W’s, wear your mask whenever you’re around others, and do everything you can to mitigate this. If we don’t, this virus will continue to mutate. And we will not get it under control until we commit to doing all that’s possible to mitigate this virus.”
As of Jan. 6, the Halifax County Health Department reported 9,618 total positive COVID-19 cases since March 2020, with 1,238 new positive cases reported since Dec. 29, 8,069 patients recovered and 906 not recovered since Jan. 3. There are a total of 146 COVID-19 related deaths.
As of Wednesday, the Northampton County Health Department reported 3,314 total positive cases, of which 2,909 patients have recovered. There have been 75 COVID-19 related deaths and 330 currently active COVID-19 cases in Northampton.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services website, the COVID-19 dashboard showed as of Monday, there are 3,991 COVID-19 patients hospitalized with 97% reporting and 722 COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit. A weekly COVID-19 hospital severity trend chart showed 27% adult hospitalization on Dec. 12 and 18% on Sunday, which the highest the chart showed was 32% on Sept. 13. The chart also showed 16% of patients were on ventilators on Dec. 19 and 11% on Sunday, which the highest was on Oct. 24 at 22%. The pediatric chart showed 1.0% hospitalized on Dec. 19 and 2.3% on Sunday.
Halifax and Northampton counties fall under the Eastern Healthcare Preparedness Coalition, covering data over 29 counties, including 20 medical facilities. According to the dashboard, EHPC shows 487 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized, with all other regions combined totaling 4,098. The dashboard also reported 69 COVID-19 patients in ICU.
According to the American Hospital Directory website, as of Dec. 14, Vidant North Hospital has 114 staffed beds.
Manager of Marketing and Development Betsy Morris for the hospital said there are 204 licensed beds at Vidant North, which is the maximum number of beds the facility can operate.
“Staffed beds typically refers to the number of available/vacant beds which changes frequently depending on the number of patients seeking care,” Morris said. “So the number reported by the American Hospital Directory is not applicable in this instance. As for the number of COVID patients, throughout the pandemic we have only provided system data because we are a system of care that can transfer patients and allocate additional resources where needed.”