Is COVID-19 in Mecklenburg reaching a plateau? Maybe, but with a long way to fall

·2 min read
Jeff Siner/jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

After a skyrocketing climb of COVID-19 in Mecklenburg County that began in mid-December, the county may be reaching a plateau.

Raynard Washington, the county health director, told county commissioners on Wednesday that the rate of new cases is beginning to slow. Still, even if the county reaches its plateau, it still has a long way to go before it falls to numbers seen before the contagious omicron variant started the latest spike.

Additionally, Washington said the county would give details over the next few weeks on how it would scale back its contact tracing efforts.

Omicron in Mecklenburg

The omicron variant helped push cases to the highest they’ve ever been, both in Mecklenburg County and throughout the United States. Cases have started to decline in some major metropolitan areas like New York City, and have dipped nationally from the record-breaking surge.

Mecklenburg County saw a high of 38% in positive COVID-19 cases earlier this month, but the rate has since declined to about 32%, according to Washington’s presentation. While the decline in its positivity rate is promising, the rate is still about double what it has been during previous spikes.

As for the average number of new cases, the county has yet to see a substantial drop from its current rate, Washington said.

While public health officials have documented a lower likelihood of extreme symptoms from the omicron variant, as compared to the delta variant, hospitalizations have increased substantially during this recent surge.

On Dec. 9, the 7-day average of people hospitalized in the county from COVID-19 was 182. It rose to 487 by Jan. 9, the most recent date made available during a presentation from Washington on Wednesday.

Testing, backlogged by the number of new cases, might be eased by the availability of free, at-home COVID-19 tests from the federal government, Washington said. A website to request the tests launched Tuesday with delivery from the U.S. Postal Service expected to begin later this month.

Commissioner Elaine Powell said the recent spike points to why now might be the “worst time” for the county to end its mask mandate — despite emails from some constituents frustrated with the requirement.

Commissioner Leigh Altman said she would not waiver on the mask mandate until she hears from the county’s public health officials that it would be safe enough to warrant removing the requirement.

“Yes, it is a hardship, a true hardship on some people” to wear a mask, Altman said, but added that the safety of the community of the whole must be paramount for public officials.