‘That can be your New Year’s resolution’: Mecklenburg Co. leaders urge residents to do their part as positivity rate soars to 15 percent

With the positivity rate at 15 percent, it appears the end of the Mecklenburg County mask mandate is getting further away.
Published: Dec. 29, 2021 at 4:39 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 30, 2021 at 3:37 PM EST
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MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - Mecklenburg County leaders gave an update about the omicron variant of COVID-19, testing and the upcoming New Year’s holiday as the county’s positivity rate has skyrocketed.

Leaders addressed questions surrounding the omicron variant, testing in Mecklenburg County, and guidance for New Year’s celebrations.

Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris was joined by Mecklenburg County Deputy Health Director Dr. Raynard Washington, Novant Health Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Sid Fletcher and Atrium Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jim Hunter for a press conference Thursday afternoon.

“We are tired in general of all the change, but where we are from one year ago, we know so much more,” Dr. Hunter said. “We know our vaccines work. We know we have plenty of PPE and masks. Our doctors know how to care for them. I knew we can do this. We are more ready than ever before. We are asking for the community to do your part – get vaccinated, wear masks, stay home if you are ill and be careful.”

The county reported the COVID-19 positivity rate among those being tested is at 15.4 percent, which was reported on December 27.

With the positivity rate at 15 percent, it appears the end of the Mecklenburg County mask mandate is getting further away.

With increased activity and travel due to the holidays and the rapid spread of the omicron variant, officials say COVID-19 testing sites in Mecklenburg County and statewide are experiencing unprecedented demand.

“We are seeing pretty high positivity rates,” Dr. Fletcher said. “We saw this coming from omicron. It is a strain on our resources and bed capacity. Please get vaccinated and get your booster. This means you won’t get very sick if you do. It will keep you out of intensive care.”

Officials say testing partners, including the health systems, have increased staffing and capacity at testing sites as much as possible,

StarMed is expected to set up mobile unit in uptown Charlotte this week, and Public Health is making efforts to restock libraries and Health Department locations with rapid at-home test kits as more kits become available.

Mecklenburg County Public Health continues to encourage everyone to get vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible, stay home and get tested if you are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, wear masks in indoor public settings, and avoid large indoor gatherings.

Mecklenburg Co. COVID-19 positivity rate climbs to 15 percent, moving further away from end of...
Mecklenburg Co. COVID-19 positivity rate climbs to 15 percent, moving further away from end of mask mandate(Mecklenburg County)

Harris, in her final press conference as Mecklenburg County Public Health Director, said that as New Year’s approaches, this still isn’t the year to be too close to other people.

“As midnight hits, they have a tendency to hug and kiss and ruing in the new year. This is not the year to do that,” Harris said. “Avoid large crowds and keep this virus from ravaging this community, Please be more cautious as you celebrate new year.”

Doctors say hospitals, urgent cares and testing centers are seeing a strain on their resources because of the COVID-19 virus.

While demand for testing has increased dramatically, officials are urging patients not to go to the emergency rooms for testing.

“We have seen an enormous increase in demand for testing. We are working with our testing sites to make sure testing is widely available,” Dr. Washington said. “Please don’t go to the emergency dept. We have to reserve those for people who really need them. Call 911 for emergencies only.”

Harris also said that contributing to the end of the COVID-19 variant can be your New Year’s resolution.

“We have tools to do what we can to protect the community,” Harris said. “Do your part. That can be your New Year’s resolution.”

Mecklenburg County commissioners voted to change guidelines and lift the mask requirement if the county’s percent positivity rate drops below 5% for seven straight days.

Related: Mecklenburg Co. officials vote to change guidelines for when mask mandate can be lifted

Previous rules required the rate to be below 5% for 30 straight days before it could be lifted. The county’s indoor mask mandate has been in place since late August.

The 7-day positivity rate is calculated by Mecklenburg County Public Health (MCPH) each day Monday-Friday based on data reported to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) at noon on the prior day.

These data include only electronic laboratory reporting (ELR) for molecular (PCR) tests submitted to NC DHHS for laboratories electronically submitting negative and positive COVID-19 results.

Delays in ELR may affect daily testing counts; therefore, to ensure the most complete capture of reported tests, MCPH further delays the 7-day period reported in the graph above by an additional day.

Harris mentioned that students will return to school next week.

As of now, schools in Mecklenburg County plan to return on time, but the districts are working on plans that they will release shortly.

“We want to do anything we can to keep our students in school. School systems are doing everything to put plans in place, and we are doing what we can to support them,” Harris said.

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