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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Mecklenburg Health Director Fears Post-Holiday COVID-19 Surge Could Overwhelm Hospitals

COVID-19 vaccine
Courtesy Atrium Health
Health care workers at Atrium Health were among the first in North Carolina to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in mid-December.

Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris says the growing number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in the county is straining many hospitals, and a post-holiday wave could push some medical centers to their limits.

Her comments came as North Carolina reported a record high 3,377 COVID-19 hospitalizations Tuesday. The state also reported that the percent of tests coming back positive for COVID-19 had risen to 13.5%. The target rate is 5%.

Data released by Mecklenburg County on Tuesday shows that an average of 600 infections per day were reported in the past week, a decrease from the 14-day average of 640 infections. However, an average of 407 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized at acute care facilities in the county, an increase over the last 14 days.

Mecklenburg County
The average number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Mecklenburg County.

Harris said the county is expecting a surge in new cases and hospitalizations in the coming weeks stemming from holiday gatherings and travel. She said that could be bad news for county hospitals, especially smaller ones that have been near capacity in recent weeks.

"If we do see that additional surge based on increased numbers from Christmas and New Year's — like we saw from Thanksgiving and like we saw from Halloween — then we do have some concerns about what the hospitals will look like another week or two after that," Harris said.

Local hospitals have been forming surge plans in case that happens, Harris said.

Meanwhile, the federal government has begun shipping out tens of thousands of doses of the Moderna vaccine to CVS and Walgreens pharmacies around North Carolina, including in Mecklenburg County. The pharmacies are partnering with the federal government to help vaccinate residents and staff at long-term care facilities.

State health officials say the pharmacy partners visited more than 50 facilities Monday. More than 650 long term care facilities have signed up for the federal program.

Local health departments are helping vaccinate some staff and residents at other long term care facilities that did not opt into the program.

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Nick de la Canal is a reporter for WFAE covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal