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COVID-19 deaths in county grow to 316 as Delta variant spreads

SALISBURY — Deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Rowan County grew by two last week as the Delta variant also propelled an increasingly sharp rise in cases.

The local deaths were reported Tuesday and Friday. At least one of the two was not vaccinated, according to the Rowan County Health Department. Incomplete records meant it wasn’t immediately clear whether the other was vaccinated for COVID-19.

At 316, Rowan remains firmly among the 10 counties in North Carolina with the most COVID-19 deaths. Counties with more deaths than Rowan include: Buncombe (328), Cumberland (330), Forsyth (432), Gaston (446), Guilford (731), Mecklenburg (991) and Wake (744).

Rowan County Health Director Alyssa Harris says vaccines are the safest way for people to protect themselves and their families from the coronavirus. She called it disheartening to see new death reports and know they were potentially preventable.

While COVID-19 cases in the county hit their lowest point during the pandemic in late June and early July, positives have come at a much faster pace. Data updated Friday showed 350 COVID-19 cases in the two weeks prior, which is more than triple case totals in late June and early July. Then, there were fewer than 90 cases in a two-week period.

Harris attributed the spike to unvaccinated people contracting the Delta variant, which was first identified in India in December and now represents about 90% cases in the state. Because deaths are a lagging indicators, Rowan County hasn’t yet seen the full impact of the current spike, Harris said.

“The Delta variant is leading us in an acceleration phase of the virus where we do not want to be,” she said.

With a majority of Rowan County residents 65 and older vaccinated, the spike in cases is occurring primarily in the 25 to 49 age group, which is just 29% vaccinated, according to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services data.

“These are often the folks who do not think that COVID-19 will affect them or that it will be that bad if it does,” Harris said. “We’ve now seen a shift in COVID-19 patients in the hospital with an average age dropping from 61 to 47.”

While people who receive one of the COVID-19 vaccines can test positive and become hospitalized from COVID-19, symptoms are thought to be more mild than those who have no antibodies to fight the virus.

Hospitalizations in Rowan County’s region, the Triad Health Care Preparedness Coalition started the month at 68 and closed the month over 220, according to NCDHHS data.

Congregate living outbreaks in the county still considered active include:

• Big Elm Retirement and Nursing Center, where a staff member and resident who later died tested positive.

• Compass Health Care and Rehab, where one staff member and resident tested positive.

• The Rowan County Jail, where 12 inmates have tested positive during the current outbreak.

In other COVID-19 data:

• The CDC reports 36.4% of Rowan County’s population are now vaccinated with one dose. About 31.4% of Rowan County residents. The first doses number improved by almost a full percentage point from one week ago.

• About 11.4% of COVID-19 tests in Rowan County are coming back positive, which is higher than the state average and an increase from the start of the month.

• There was just one active case at Piedmont Correctional Facility on Friday, according to Department of Public Safety data.

• For the first time in months, the statewide number of cases reported on Thursday and Friday topped 3,000. On July 1, the state reported just 296 cases.

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