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Peak of local COVID-19 cases may not be reached until March

Peak of local COVID-19 cases may not be reached until March

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Fledra Hatch awaits her Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Durham County Department of Public Health in Durham on Friday.

The surge in COVID-19 cases appears likely to continue into March, according to two local infectious disease experts last week.

"We don't know the answer to when this will peak," Dr. David Priest with Novant Health Inc. said Friday. "A lot of factors will go into it.

"How well we protect ourselves and our families and our communities in terms of exposure to group settings."

The projection from Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state's health secretary, is that the majority of North Carolinians will not receive their first vaccine dose until late March or early April.

The vaccine plan could change with a new administration. President-elect Joe Biden will speed up release of first vaccine doses to protect more people, his office said Friday, a reversal of Trump administration policies that held back doses to ensure a supply for the required second shots.

Vaccinations are limited currently to individuals in the Phase 1A and first subgroup of Phase 1B, which are individuals ages 75 and over.

The current Phase 1A distribution is for health care workers caring for patients with COVID-19, individuals who are at the highest risk of being hospitalized or dying, and those at high risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Cohen said Friday it will take several months for every North Carolinian who wants to be vaccinated to get both doses.

According to DHHS' COVID-19 dashboard, 151,902 North Carolinians have received their first vaccine dose as of 11 a.m. Friday. Of those totals, 9,115 have received both doses.

Forsyth County has had 245 individuals receiving both doses and 9,499 individuals with one dose.

Priest said that for those communities that adhere to the 3 Ws of public-health and guidelines "with high uptake of the vaccine, they will reach a peak sooner."

"We're right on the cusp of turning around on this thing, but we're going to be vaccinating all year long," Priest said.

"We've just left the starting line of a marathon and giving vaccine as soon as possible based on what they give us."

DHHS has notified vaccine providers that future allocations will be based on how quickly they are able to get their supply out to eligible recipients.

"If an entity is not using their vaccine supply quickly enough, or (not) keeping the state database updated on their progress, that will impact how much they are allocated going forward," DHHS said.

Both Priest and Dr. Christopher Ohl of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center expressed concerns about social gatherings of people from different households causing the case surge.

"I'm a little bit discouraged that social activities are still occurring a lot," Ohl said.

"They're not large gatherings of people or super-spreader events, but still getting together with family and friends, and then a 'Whoops, what was I thinking moment' about three or four days later when they get the call someone tested positive."

Priest echoed warnings issued recently by Cohen that most individuals should assume they have been exposed to COVID-19.

On Wednesday, Cohen recommended "in very clear terms" that North Carolinians stay at home apart from going to work and to essential activities, such as getting groceries, getting health care or taking care of family members.

The order repeated warnings that people 65 and older and anyone at high risk for developing serious illness should avoid leaving home. 

"Don't assume it's not going to happen (getting COVID) to you, even those who take a lot of precautions," Priest said.

Ohl recommended that individuals who have had COVID-19 get vaccinated, but wait 7 to 10 days after their symptoms have ended. "Getting boosted with a vaccine can only help," Ohl said.

Ohl and Priest cautioned that individuals who have gotten the first dose of the vaccine and subsequently been exposed to the coronavirus should still go into quarantine in the short term.

Priest said it takes about two weeks following the second vaccine dose to get maximum protection.

"We have heard of people getting COVID in between the first and second doses," Priest said.

The Pfizer vaccine requires 21 days between doses, while Moderna requires 28 days.

"Remember, while these vaccines are highly, highly effective … they are not 100%," Priest said.

"People say, 'I'm going to get the vaccine and do what I want.'

"We may eventually get to that place, but we're not there yet because so few people have been vaccinated, the pandemic is still raging and the science isn't there yet."

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