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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 County is 'turning the corner' on the omicron COVID surge, officials say

Claire Donnelly

Mecklenburg County appears to be turning the corner on the latest surge in the coronavirus pandemic.

The Charlotte area, along with the rest of North Carolina and the country, had seen a rapid rise in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant. Now that trend appears to be slowing, according to health officials.

“Over the past week or so, we’ve started to see a decrease in the number of new cases per day, the testing demand–those initial markers that we see that we’re turning the corner on the number of cases,” Dr. Katie Passaretti, vice president and enterprise chief epidemiologist at Atrium Health, told reporters on Monday.

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Mecklenburg County
A slide from a Mecklenburg County Public health presentation scheduled for Tuesday evening's commissioners' meeting.

The latest county numbers, according to a series of slides set to be presented to Mecklenburg County commissioners Tuesday evening and including data through Jan. 23, showed the seven-day moving average of new cases has been more or less decreasing since mid-January, though the test positivity rate was roughly 33% — still well above the 5% target health officials have set. One chart indicated the “likely peak of omicron” in Mecklenburg County was around Jan. 22.

The number of people in the county hospitalized with COVID-19, meanwhile, seemed to be holding steady or even slightly decreasing, according to the data. Numbers showed hospitalizations hovered around 600 between Jan. 12 and Jan. 23.

“Our hospital census is slowly decreasing in terms of the number of COVID patients,” Dr. David Priest, an infectious disease physician with Novant Health, told reporters on Tuesday.

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Mecklenburg County
A slide from a Mecklenburg County Public Health presentation scheduled for Tuesday evening's commissioners' meeting.

Priest said Novant was still caring for roughly 700 patients with COVID-19 in its hospitals across North Carolina, adding, “It’s still a large number, but going down.” The vast majority of people hospitalized — more than 90% — were unvaccinated or under-vaccinated, meaning they had not received a complete series of COVID-19 vaccines or booster doses, Priest said.

Charlotte hospital leaders also urged calm amid reports of a mutated version of the omicron variant, or “stealth variant,” called BA.2. The subvariant has shown signs of being more contagious than other omicron strains. Priest said on Tuesday that BA.2 has so far not been spotted in any Novant patients.

“I don’t think (BA.2) is any reason to change our approach as it … seems very similar in its behavior to what we’ve traditionally called omicron,” he said.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.