Buncombe COVID cases drop but deaths rise; CDC recommends vaccine for kids (2024)

COVID-19 continues to slowly ease its grip on Buncombe County, Public Health Director Stacie Saunders told the county Board of Commissioners Nov. 2, but the virus is still spreading through the community at a high rate.

On the same day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended thePfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5-11, which Saunders said the county has been planning for, and will now wait for directives from the state health department to be able to administer the vaccine.

"Our current metrics do continue to show promise, so I am here with some good news," Saunderstold the board at a briefing ahead of its regular meeting.

That good news is a dropping case rate, down from 119to 107 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents per week, she said, though that still marks the county as a high transmission area.

Buncombe COVID cases drop but deaths rise; CDC recommends vaccine for kids (1)

"The big takeaway message right now is that we do continue to see improvement," Saunders said. "That decline in the surge is happening a little bit slower than the rise in the surge ... and that means that we remain in the space of high transmission right now."

The recent surge of cases driven by the delta variant was rapid and steep, Saunders said, and cases have been slower coming down.

"Please don't let your guard down right now, COVID-19 is still abundantly circulating in our community," she said.

Buncombe COVID cases drop but deaths rise; CDC recommends vaccine for kids (2)

Since the start of the pandemic, the county has reported 23,282 cases and 425 deaths, seven of which came in the last week, Saunders said, marking an increase in the county's COVID-19 death rate.

Latest figures from the state Department of Health and Human Services shows that new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue their steady decline across North Carolina, with 1,096 new cases Nov. 1 and 1,214 Nov. 2 bringing levels back to those of mid-July.

Hospitalizations are down statewide, with 1,150 reported as of Nov. 1, less than half the total of 2,815 from Oct. 1. COVID-19 patients in the ICU are dropping as well, down to 331 on Nov. 1, from 761 on Oct. 1 and 555 on Oct. 15.

At Mission Hospital, spokesperson Nancy Lindell reported 41COVID-19-positive patients in the Asheville hospital as of 1:30 a.m. Nov. 2, and 53 total across the hospital system in Western North Carolina.

More:Buncombe extends mask mandate, accounting for holidays and expanded vaccinations

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In Franklin, four COVID-19 patients were at Angel Medical Center, one was at Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine, four were at Mission Hospital McDowell in Marion, and three at Transylvania Regional Hospital in Brevard.

Saunders said those hospitalization rates, staying low and steady, were encouraging.

Test positivity,or the rate of COVID-19 tests returning positive results, has climbed acrossthe state in the past few days on record, with NCDHHS reporting a test positivity rate of 6.4% on Oct. 31, when more than 27,400 tests were completed.

In Buncombe, though, the state reports a 4.7% test positivity rate, below the county's 5% target, which Saunders called "a promising sight," though she expects it to bob up and down for the next few days.

She reported 63% of the county's total population has been partially vaccinated and 61% fully vaccinated. Of those in the county 18 and older, 73% have been partially vaccinated and 70% fully vaccinated.

Of all eligible residents in the county, those 12 and up, 71% have been partially vaccinated and 69% partially vaccinated.

The county has also been administering COVID-19 booster dosessince Sept. 27, Saunders said, a total 2,283doses.

The last vaccine puzzle piece

County officials are planning outreach eventsfor the vaccine for children at local schools and modified hours at the Buncombe Health and Human Services headquarters at 40 Coxe Ave. in Asheville.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children 5-11 on Oct. 29, "based on the FDA's thorough and transparent evaluation of the data that included input from independent advisory committee experts who overwhelmingly voted in favor of making the vaccine available to children in this age group."

In its announcement, the FDA says the vaccine's effectiveness in children 5-11 was comparable to those 16-25 years old, found to be 90.7%, and among 3,100 children studied, no serious side effects were detected.

The FDA says children 5-11 make up 39% of COVID-19 cases in people younger than 18, 8,300 of which have resulted in hospitalization and 146 deaths.

Buncombe COVID cases drop but deaths rise; CDC recommends vaccine for kids (3)

More:Buncombe's COVID-19 rates continue steady fall; county readies to vaccinate 5- to 11-year-olds

The CDC still hadto recommendthe vaccine for those 5-11 years old, which as with adults, is administered in two doses, three weeks apart, but is a lower dose, at 10 micrograms compared to the 30 micrograms used in ages12 and older.

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices officially made itsrecommendation Nov. 2.

Saunders said thatthe county will wait for a standing order from NCDHHS for the county to then be able to administer vaccines to children.

The county's vaccination clinic at 40 Coxe Ave. will move to a Tuesday-Friday schedule, open from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., she said, to allow for the Saturdays at school outreach events planned for Saturdays in November, starting with Asheville Middle School.

Saunders said NCDHHS will also host a family vaccination site, one of about a dozen it will host statewide, at the Edington Center on Livingston Street, though the details are still being worked out.

More:Buncombe hopeful 5-11-year-olds will fill COVID-19 vaccination gap, reduce quarantine time

With Thanksgiving around the corner, encouraged people to have a safe holiday, including wearing masks indoors for fully vaccinated individuals.

For those who are unvaccinated, the recommendations include only gathering with members of their own household, wearing masks indoors and outdoors, staying outside as much as possible and keeping 6 feet away from others.

Derek Lacey covers health care, growth and development for the Asheville Citizen Times. Reach him at DLacey@gannett.com or 828-417-4842 and find him on Twitter @DerekAVL.

Buncombe COVID cases drop but deaths rise; CDC recommends vaccine for kids (2024)
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