COVID’s return: Big college football weekend didn’t result in COVID outbreaks in Charlotte

COVID’s return: Big college football weekend didn’t result in COVID outbreaks in Charlotte
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This is a running stream of COVID-19 updates. It was last updated on Sept. 13, 2021 at 11am.

One of the biggest weekends in live sports in Charlotte history doesn’t appear to have resulted in COVID-19 outbreaks, the county’s top health official tells Axios.

The Duke’s Mayo Classic games at Bank of America Stadium the first weekend of September drew massive crowds to Uptown Charlotte.

  • The ECU/App game had 36,752 fans; the Clemson/Georgia game 74,187.

“Currently there is no evidence of COVID-19 cases directly linked to the football games at the Bank of America stadium over the holiday weekend. It is difficult to link cases to specific events now because of the amount of activity individuals have in the community,” Mecklenburg County health director Gibbie Harris said through a spokesperson.

Of note: Many of those in attendance came from areas outside Mecklenburg County, Harris added. The county, therefore, would not track cases among those individuals.  

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Meanwhile, physicians with Charlotte’s biggest health care systems recently issued an urgent warning: Unvaccinated patients infected with COVID-19 are an incredible strain on Charlotte hospitals.

“Quite frankly, beds are scarce. We are running short on resources,” Dr. Sid Fletcher, SVP and chief clinical officer for Novant Health told reporters on a recent call. He added that hospital staffs are exhausted and stretched thin. Hospital beds are filling up with unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.

By the numbers: Combined, Atrium Health, Novant Health and CaroMont Health had a total of 933 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the Charlotte region as of early September — and 92% of those patients were unvacccinated.

  • Of those hospitalized patients, 22% are in the ICU. And 97% of those on a ventilator are unvaccinated, the physicians said.
  • Two-thirds of the patients on ventilators are under 60 years old.

“The way out of this is vaccination. We were able to conquer smallpox and polio through vaccination. We have that opportunity now,” said Dr. Todd Davis, chief physician executive for CaroMont Health. “Do it for the people you care about and love.”

Even those who’ve been infected with COVID-19 previously should still get a vaccine, says Dr. David Priest, chief safety, quality and epidemiology officer at Novant Health, said recently.

That’s because a range of factors play into how strong the person’s immune response is — including age, other underlying health issues, medications and the amount of virus they were infected with before, Priest told reporters Tuesday.

  • Recent research from the CDC also shows that vaccination offers more protection than a previous COVID-19 infection.

“If you’ve had COVID, your immune response is not as predictable as if you’ve been vaccinated — and you’re at risk for getting COVID again,” Priest said.

The latest numbers from state health officials underscore the degree of protection vaccines offer.

  • Unvaccinated people are 4.4 times, or 440%, more likely to catch COVID-19 than vaccinated people, per the NCDHHS.
  • Unvaccinated people are 15.4 times, or 1,540%, more likely to die from COVID-19 than their vaccinated counterparts.

Full FDA approval: In late-August, the FDA granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and older.

Charlotte-area health care providers anticipate the full approval will help encourage more individuals to get the vaccine.

  • Currently in Mecklenburg County, 58% of the population has at least one dose of the vaccine, according to state data.
  • Many unvaccinated individuals have cited a lack of full FDA approval of the vaccine as a reason for their hesitation in getting it.

“Hopefully (this) will help some people’s comfort level and help increase our vaccination rates, which continue to be essential for our communities right now,” Dr. Katie Passaretti, medical director of infection prevention at Atrium Health, told reporters recently.

In late August, a mask mandate went into for Mecklenburg County.

    Details: The county mandate is sweeping. It says individuals over 5 years old will be required to wear a mask “when indoors in all businesses, establishments and public places.”

    • It will remain in effect until the county’s positivity rate — now at 12.3% — comes down to 5% for 30 days.
    • Law enforcement officers and the public health director and her designees can enforce it.
    • Last week, the county voted to include religious gatherings in the indoor mask mandate.

    Why it matters: The new mask rule adds a little uniformity to a county that would otherwise be a patchwork collage of mandates and not-mandates. But the rest of the state will still be a case-by-case basis.

      Exceptions: People aren’t required to wear a mask if they have a medical condition that prohibits it, or if they’re actively eating or drinking, or giving a speech, or a number of other exceptions (all of which you can find here by going to the 8/18/21 meeting and clicking on the Agenda).

      Zoom out: Mecklenburg County leaders still say that COVID-19 vaccination remains a priority, though they haven’t considered a vaccine mandate, as cities such as New York and New Orleans have done. County manager Dena Diorio said that could happen eventually.

        Also in Charlotte, doctors are echoing the CDC’s new recommendation that women who are pregnant and breastfeeding get the COVID-19 vaccine.

        What they’re saying: Women who are pregnant are at much higher risk of severe illness due to COVID-19, Novant’s Dr. Navin Bhojwani and Dr. Amelia Sutton told reporters recently.

        • Data show there’ve been no adverse effects related to the vaccine for women who are pregnant or for women who are trying to become pregnant, they said.
        • The vast majority of pregnant women who require hospitalization because of COVID-19 are unvaccinated, the doctors said.

        “It’s unprecedented, the number of pregnant women that are on a ventilator right now. Many of my colleagues who’ve been practicing for decades are shocked and horrified by how the ICUs are filling with pregnant women,” Sutton said.

        One recent study found pregnant women who contract the coronavirus have a 60% higher chance of having a premature baby, Bhojwani noted. That risk skyrockets if the mother has a preexisting condition like diabetes or obesity.

        “If they’re not vaccinated they’re really putting themselves at far greater risk for a myriad of consequences, some of which will be impactful to their unborn children,” Bhojwani said.

        • Additionally, the FDA recently authorized a third COVID-19 shot for individuals with compromised immune systems.

        Here are the latest vaccine mandates, mask mandates, and other news regarding the response to the new surge:

        Local government

        Mecklenburg County: Starting Sept. 1, county government employees were required to show proof of vaccination or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.

        Charlotte recently started verifying the vaccine status of about 8,000 city government employees starting, per the Observer. But the city did not say it would require regular testing if employees don’t get vaccinated by a certain date.

        Entertainment

        A growing number of live music venues in Charlotte are starting to enact tighter safety measures — including requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination, in light of the current coronavirus surge.

        • Live Nation has updated its event policy: Effective Oct. 4, all attendees must provide either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours of a show, per Rolling Stone. Live Nation operates several major music venues in Charlotte, including PNC Music Pavilion, The Fillmore and Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre.
        • The Neighborhood Theatre in NoDa also said over the weekend it’s requiring proof of a COVID-19 vaccine or a negative test result within 48 hours of a concert. “Our venue withstood more than a year with our doors closed, but if our staff were to become infected, the doors would close again and more shows would be canceled. We are committed to providing the safest environment possible for all concert goers and performing artists,” venue management posted on Facebook.
        • The Evening Muse is requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.
        • Singer Michael Buble postponed his North Carolina concerts, moving his Charlotte show from Aug. 17 to Oct. 24, because of concern over the Delta variant.
        • Garth Brooks officially canceled his concert at Bank of America Stadium Sept. 25.

        Healthcare

        • Atrium Health: Requiring all employees to be fully vaccinated (or have a medical or religious exemption) by Oct. 31
        • Novant Health: Requiring all employees to be at least partically vaccinated (or have a medical or religious exemption) by Sept. 15.
        • Seven independent medical practices are requiring all employees to be vaccinated by October 31. They include Tryon Medical Partners, OrthoCarolina, Surgical Specialists of Charlotte, Charlotte Eye Ear Nose & Throat, Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates, Charlotte Gastroenterology & Hepatology, Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center.

        Schools

        • CMS: Requiring all students of all grade levels to wear masks.
        • Cabarrus County Schools: Masks required.
        • Gaston County Schools: Masks required.
        • Kannapolis City Schools: Masks required.
        • Iredell Statesville Schools: Masks Required.
        • Union Academy, a k-12 charter school in Monroe, will now have a mask mandate after one week of classes with unmasked students brought 14 COVID-19 cases and led to 150 students and staffers being quarantined (WFAE).
        • Union County Public Schools: Masks still optional, after several heated debates.
        • Rowan-Salisbury Schools: Masks required.

         

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