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Rowan sees 4 new COVID-19 deaths as mask mandate lifted, vaccines administered continue decline

SALISBURY — With indoor mask mandates lifting and a decreasing number of vaccines being administered across North Carolina, state health officials reported four new COVID-19 deaths in Rowan County last week.

The number of deaths among Rowan residents increased from 301 one week ago to 305 on Friday. After one death reported early in the week, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported another on Thursday and two on Friday.

The exact dates on which the deaths occurred was not immediately clear because of a lag in state reporting. State data show a majority of deaths have occurred among people 75 and older, but age and other demographic data isn’t available for any recent fatalities.

The four new deaths put Rowan in the top seven counties in the state for deaths, with only larger population counties having higher death totals. The top six counties for deaths from COVID-19 are Buncombe (316), Forsyth (378), Gaston (426), Guilford (700), Mecklenburg (952) and Wake (723).

The four new deaths came the same week Gov. Roy Cooper lifted the indoor mask mandate for most locations as well as scrapping gathering and capacity limitations. He encouraged people to wear masks until they get vaccinated and said his decision was linked to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issuing similar guidance one day earlier. He said the virus remains a threat and stressed the importance of personal responsibility by those who haven’t been vaccinated.

“The pandemic is still here, especially for those who are not vaccinated,” he said.

But state data show new vaccinations are steadily declining.

The second week of March brought the largest number of first doses administered in North Carolina — 399,607. The number has been lower than that every week since.

The week of April 26, the last in April, just 102,710 people in the state were vaccinated. While data for the most recent two weeks are still preliminary, both appear to be lower than 80,000.

Locally, state data show about 40,000 Rowan County residents, or 28% of the population, has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Data doesn’t include veterans who live in Rowan County and received a vaccine from the Salisbury VA, which takes the number of people vaccinated over 30%.

In other COVID-19 data:

• Rowan County last week improved slightly in the state’s county alert system for COVID-19 — moving from the “substantial” tier to the “significant” tier. The change is due to a lower number of tests returning positive. Otherwise, the county still fits criteria for the higher tier.

• 282 Rowan County residents tested positive for COVID-19 in the previous two weeks, which includes 107 last week.

• Of neighboring counties, Rowan’s number of positives in the previous two weeks is better than all but Stanly and Davie.

• The number of people hospitalized in Rowan County’s region, the Triad Health Care Preparedness Coalition, was 213 on Friday. The number has been relatively flat in the previous two weeks.

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