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As COVID-19 cases rise, health department emphasizes effectiveness of vaccine

The Beaufort County Health Department is seeing an uptick in its daily COVID-19 case counts, and it expects that trend to continue as several variants keep spreading.

The department also expects that a new spike in cases would be much less deadly and less stressful on hospitals than previous outbreaks, given the widespread ability of vaccines.

“Yes, cases are rising, but what it shows is the effectiveness of the vaccine because our deaths are not rising,” Health Department Preparedness Coordinator JaNell Octigan reported during a Local Emergency Planning Committee meeting Thursday.

Octigan said approximately two out of every 100 COVID-19 cases involve vaccinated individuals.

“The vaccine that you get, whether you get J&J, Pfizer or Moderna, they’re not 100% effective. So yes, you can still get COVID  — we never said it was 100% effective,” Octigan said. “But the good news is that even if you do get a case of COVID, the symptoms you experience are going to be mild or more suppressed. What it really does prevent is a hospitalization — or worse, death — situation.”

45.7% of Beaufort County’s total population, 55.7% of the adult population and 14.8% of the age group 12-17 had been at least partially vaccinated as of Thursday.

North Carolina’s collective COVID-19 metrics are rising, so much so that Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday announced that the state is now recommending that all K-12 public school students and staff wear masks in the upcoming school year.

“Our trends have turned sharply in the wrong direction,” Cooper said. “Unvaccinated people are driving this resurgence and getting themselves and other people sick.”

North Carolina reported 3,268 new COVID-19 cases Thursday; the state’s daily case count has steadily been trending upward since dropping as low as 208 on June 30. COVID-19-related hospitalizations are rising as well; 1,141 North Carolinians were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Thursday.

Cooper will still let the statewide mask mandate expire on Friday.

The state’s recommendations don’t have the force of law. Cooper has the ability to make masks mandatory in schools again by issuing another executive order. The Beaufort County Schools Board of Education voted this week to make masks optional for its students and staff in the upcoming school year.

The health department is continuing to raise awareness about COVID-19 and what can be done to curb the pandemic. Its upcoming “Eat with the Experts” series is another part of those efforts. The series includes free lunches and opportunities for people to discuss their questions and concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic with local health officials. The lunches will be held from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. at the following dates and locations: Aug. 4, Snowden Elementary School cafeteria; Aug. 11, Chocowinity Middle School cafeteria; Aug. 18, The Wilkinson Center (Belhaven); Aug. 25, St. John’s Church of Christ (Washington); Sept. 1, Temple of Jesus Christ – Family Life Center (Washington). To RSVP, visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/PFD5LTX. For more information about those events, call 252-940-5090 or 252-946-6109.

“We’re going to have a panel of experts, doctors, nurses,” Octigan said. “Vidant’s going to have a representative from each local area, providers that the community trusts.”