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Sept. 6 Update: COVID-19 Trends Remain Stable in Buncombe County. Monkeypox Vaccinations Remain Priority for Public Health
Since our last COVID-19 update in June, Buncombe County has been in a moderate level of COVID-19 illness in the community. This wave has been relatively constant over the summer, however, within the last 4 weeks there has been a consistent week over week decline. The current case rate in Buncombe County is 132 per 100,000. Early indicators such as COVID-like illness surveillance have been decreasing across the state and hospitalizations have remained relatively low during this COVID-19 wave. While deaths have slowed and remain low week over week, sadly we have lost 636 of our Buncombe County family and neighbors in COVID-19 related deaths thus far.
This particular wave has been fueled by the more transmissible BA4 and BA5 subvariants, and while far more contagious, the cases are not translating to higher rates of hospitalizations, severe illness and death. Updated COVID-19 booster vaccines are now available. The most recent boosters provide better protection against the BA4 and BA5 subvariants that currently are causing most cases of COVID-19 in the United States. The updated boosters are recommended for those who completed their primary vaccine series or initial booster at least 2 months ago. Specifically, Pfizer’s updated booster is recommended for those 12 years of age and older while Moderna’s updated booster is for those 18 years of age and older. BCHHS began administering both updated vaccine boosters today, and many other vaccine providers, including pharmacies, have begun administering them as well.
Vaccines have and will continue to help us reduce COVID-19 in our community, protect from severe illness and prevent deaths. Find your preferred vaccine provider and consider getting your vaccine booster today if eligible. Check https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/vaccines for providers.
September is National Preparedness Month. We urge the community to use the tools and knowledge gained during the pandemic to continue to stay prepared for future waves and surges of COVID-19.
BC HHS has some simple ways for everyone to stay prepared, including:
- Stay up to date on vaccines
- Know your testing locations
- Have at-home test kits on hand
- Keep masks available for times of higher transmission
- Identify locations for treatment, if eligible, ahead of time
In addition to COVID-19, public health is responding to the global outbreak of monkeypox. Buncombe County has identified 6 cases of monkeypox. Anyone can get monkeypox as proven by the known history of monkeypox in other countries and other outbreaks. If you have been exposed to a known or suspected case of monkeypox or you have unexplained sores, blisters, or bumps on your body, have a health care professional assess and seek testing if necessary. Testing is encouraged and available throughout the state and in our community.
As of last week, BC HHS has received 1,430 vials of vaccine. BC HHS has transferred a little over 350 vials to other providers in the area. In addition, BC HHS has administered almost 1,100 doses of vaccine to neighbors through our health department clinic and outreach events. The Mobile team has added Monkeypox response to their line of service, in addition to COVID-19 testing and vaccine. To date, they have provided six outreach events with three more scheduled in the coming week.
For more information on COVID-19 and monkeypox vaccinations in Buncombe County, visit www.buncombecounty.org/hhs.
June 7, 2022
In Buncombe County, there have been a total of 56,424 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic’s start. Like many counties in the state, Buncombe County Community Level is now Medium (Yellow). The recommendations at this level are:
- Stay up to date on vaccines
- Get tested if you have symptoms
- If at high risk for severe illness, consider wearing a mask in indoor public spaces
“While the Community Level has been elevated, we actually saw a decrease in the COVID-like illness surveillance activity and a decrease in the case rate from the week prior,” said Public Health Director Stacie Saunders. “The epi curve is showing a potential plateau at this time, but I am cautiously optimistic in this trend given that we just celebrated the Memorial Day holiday and it is typically associated with large gatherings.”
Last week, the case rate was 306 per 100,000 compared to 270 per 100,000 this week. Hospitalizations have seen an increase in the last few weeks but remain relatively low. This wave of cases does not seem to be translating into high hospitalization rates or ICU burden as seen with the previous seasonal surges.
Similarly, the death rate has remained low and relatively flat for the last two months. There have been 585 COVID-19 related deaths among Buncombe County residents, including one additional death since last week.
There continue to be three main areas of COVID-19 response and operations: Vaccine, Testing, and Treatment. While there has not been any meaningful change in the proportion by age that has received COVID-19 vaccine, Buncombe County sees total numbers increase each week. The group with the largest increase week over week is the 3rd/Booster dose group.
Recently, children ages 5-11 years old became eligible for boosters. In the coming weeks, vaccine authorization is anticipated for children 6 months up to 5 years. It’s expected that on or around June 15, the FDA Vaccine Advisory Committee will review Moderna Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) EUA for 6 months through 5 years and the Pfizer EUA for 6 months through 4 years. Shortly after EUA, the CDC Advisory Council on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is expected to review, which is typically followed by the CDC Director recommendation. If all goes as anticipated, then we could see vaccine for this youngest group ready for administration on or around June 21, 2022.
When authorized and recommended, the vaccine for anyone six months or older will be available at the Buncombe County Health Department. Families can also check with their pediatrician for vaccine.
Buncombe County recently established a Communicable Disease and Infection Prevention team, a mobile team of health professionals who have the capacity to perform general medical care. This mobile team, partnering with Disability Partners, Area Agency on Aging, and Mountain Mobility, will hold a community vaccine clinic on June 29 from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Disability Partners location on New Leicester Highway.
It is important to continue to stay home and away from others if you are symptomatic or have tested positive for COVID-19 to keep from spreading it to others. Testing is available in many locations. If you need to be tested for COVID-19, click here to find testing near you. Please visit https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/treatment for more information on available treatments and providers in our area. Households are still able to receive at-home tests from the federal administration by visiting https://www.covid.gov/tests.
Through the Test to Treat program, people are able to get tested and if they are positive and treatments are appropriate for them, receive a prescription from a health care provider, and have their prescription filled all at one location. To find local Test to Treat locations, go to https://aspr.hhs.gov/TestToTreat/Pages/default.aspx.
“The COVID-19 response is ever-evolving,” said Saunders. “We’ve learned much in the last two and half years and will continue to learn and improve and modify our work based on that knowledge we gain. We are beginning to learn how to normalize our lives with COVID-19 likely to be around for the foreseeable future. This means riding out waves of cases with the tools we have like staying up to date of vaccines, utilizing testing options for quick identification, adding on additional precautions like masks and distancing when transmission is higher, and accessing treatment quickly if we are at risk for severe illness. It also means reducing and increasing the level of all of those tools and communications based on level of surges.”
The next Buncombe County community COVID-19 update is expected in September.