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RALEIGH — The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported last week that it is seeing a sharp increase in COVID-19 clusters among school sports teams. For the period between July 1 and Sept. 2, 2021, clusters among school sports teams accounted for 45% of all clusters in North Carolina middle and high schools, despite most school sports activities not beginning until August as schools began the fall semester. School sports teams are urged to follow NCDHHS guidance for youth sports.

There is increasing urgency for everyone ages 12 and older to get vaccinated as soon as possible. For the week ending Sept. 4, children age 17 and under made up 31% of the state’s new COVID-19 cases. That is the highest percentage since the pandemic began.

"We need everyone, including our student athletes and their coaches, to increase layers of prevention to fight this more contagious Delta variant: Don’t wait to vaccinate and urge others to do the same," said NCDHHS Chief Medical Officer and State Health Director Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, M.D., MPH. "Tested, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are the best tool for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Student athletes who are fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine after a close contact with someone with COVID-19."

Between July 1 and Sept. 2, there have been at least 42 athletics-related clusters in North Carolina public, charter and private middle and high schools, with a sharp increase in August coinciding with the start of the school year. Only four athletics clusters occurred in July. While NCDHHS data cannot distinguish how people were exposed in these clusters, past public health investigations in other states have shown that spread among teammates often happens off the field, including during practice. To protect students’ privacy, no other identifying information, including county or school, will be released.

Elementary schools are excluded from this breakdown since many do not have school athletics but schools with students K-12 are included. The athletics classification is made when NCDHHS receives the initial cluster report so these numbers most likely do not include clusters that later impacted a team. All data is preliminary and is subject to change.

The COVID-19 vaccines authorized and approved in the United States continue to be remarkably effective in reducing risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death, even against the widely circulating Delta variant. Teens ages 12 to 17 can get the Pfizer vaccine. To find providers with the Pfizer vaccine, click to MySpot.nc.gov and filter for Pfizer. Young people 18 and older can get the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Parents and teens can also click to TeenVaxFacts.com for more information.

In addition to getting vaccinated, to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect our communities, NCDHHS recommends everyone wear a mask in indoor public spaces if they live in an area of high or substantial levels of transmission as defined by the CDC until more people are vaccinated and viral transmission decreases. In North Carolina, that is currently all 100 counties.

In addition to wearing face masks in indoor settings, NCDHHS also recommends sports programs practice social distancing when possible, disinfect equipment frequently and avoid sharing water bottles. Teams should also consider working out, including weight training, in groups or pods to limit exposure should someone become sick. Sports in which participants have frequent and prolonged contact, such as basketball, football, cheerleading, wrestling and others, are higher risk. Additional recommendations can be found in NCDHHS’ Interim Guidance for Administrators and Participants of Youth and Amateur Sports Programs.

Anyone who has symptoms of or has been exposed to COVID-19 should get tested as soon as possible. To find a testing site in your community, go to www.ncdhhs.gov/GetTested. People who are not experiencing serious symptoms should not go to the emergency department for routine COVID-19 testing. People should seek medical attention immediately for serious symptoms such as trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse, or bluish lips or face.

While vaccines provide the best protection from COVID-19, treatment options such as monoclonal antibodies may be available if you have had symptoms of COVID-19 for 10 days or less or have been exposed to COVID-19. If taken early, they can reduce the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death. Monoclonal antibodies are authorized for use in patients ages 12 and older. For more information about monoclonal antibodies, call 1-877-332-6585 (English) or 1-877-366-0310 (Spanish).

For more information about COVID-19 vaccines in North Carolina, click to MySpot.nc.gov or call the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Help Center at (888) 675-4567. You can also text your zip code to 438829 to find nearest vaccine locations.

Area, state vaccination totals

Hospitalizations on September 13 in the state have almost doubled since the same period a month ago. NCDHHS reports 3,514 people as hospitalized as of September 13, an increase of more than 1,500 patients from roughly one month ago, when NCDHHS reported on August 9 that 1,946 individuals were hospitalized with COVID-19.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on Friday, Sept. 10, reported 5,346 new COVID-19 cases, down from 5,877 reported the day before.

Roughly 67% of adults in North Carolina have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and about 62% have been fully vaccinated, according to state statistics. State officials round vaccination numbers to the nearest whole number.

The organization reports that more than 10.8 million total doses of vaccine have been administered in the state as of Sept. 13, noting that of individuals 65 years of age and older, 89 percent of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 87 percent have received their full allotment. Of individuals 12 and older, 65 percent of the state’s residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine, with 60 percent being completely vaccinated.

Locally, NCDHHS data indicates that Avery County has administered a total of 8,952 first doses of vaccine, or 51 percent of Avery County residents who have received their first-dose vaccine as of Sept. 13, with 47 percent of the overall county population, or 8,165 individuals, having received a second-dose vaccination.

Click to https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/vaccines for more information on vaccines and vaccine distribution statewide, and to learn more about North Carolina’s vaccine rollout, click to YourSpotYourShot.nc.gov.

Latest local, state and national COVID-19 statistics

As of Monday, Sept. 13, according to available dashboard data from the NCDHHS, the total number of coronavirus cases total 1,303,390, and NCDHHS reports that 15,247 people have passed away in connection with COVID-19 since the onset of the virus in March 2020.

NCDHHS reported on Sept. 13 that Avery County has 2,435 total positive community cases. The department reports Avery with 26 deaths associated with the virus.

According to NCDHHS Dashboard data on September 13, Avery reports 70.1 cases per 10,000 residents over the previous 14-day period, In comparison, Mitchell County reports 92.9 cases per 10,000 residents, while Yancey County reports 140 cases per 10,000 residents. Watauga County reports 74.8 cases per 10,000 residents, while Ashe County reports 105.1 cases per 10,000 residents during the same 14-day period.

“Public health staff is working to complete the investigations and they are contacting close contacts to contain the spread of disease,” TRHD reported. “The Yancey, Mitchell and Avery County health departments will keep the public informed by announcing any additional cases that may arise through our local media partners.”

According to latest NCDHHS Dashboard data on September 13, Mitchell County reported a total of 1,799 positive cases and 17 deaths. NCDHHS reports Yancey County with 2,443 total cases as of September 13 with 28 deaths.

Nationwide, Johns Hopkins University & Medicine reports more than 225.0 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with the U.S. totaling 41.12 million cases in the nation as of Sept. 13. Johns Hopkins reports that the United States has experienced 660,899 deaths related to COVID-19 as of Monday, Sept. 13.

The N.C. State Laboratory of Public Health, reporting hospitals and commercial labs report more than 16.67 million completed tests as of Monday, Sept. 13, according to NCDHHS.

The estimate of people presumed to have recovered from the virus as of September 13 is more than 1,202,974 statewide, with the estimate provided each Monday afternoon by NCDHHS. NCDHHS estimates a median time to recovery of 14 days from the date of specimen collection for non-fatal COVID-19 cases who were not hospitalized, or if hospitalization status is unknown. The estimated median recovery time is 28 days from the date of specimen collection for hospitalized non-fatal COVID-19 cases.

In neighboring counties, Watauga County reports 5,607 positive tests, with 78 active cases and 3t deaths among residents, while Ashe County reports 2,982 positive cases, with 50 active cases and 54 deaths as of September 13, according to AppHealthCare data.

Caldwell County reports 11,709 positive tests as of September 13 with 111 deaths, while Wilkes County has 9,352 reported cases and 148 deaths, according to NCDHHS Dashboard data.

NCDHHS reports McDowell County with 7,313 cases and 66 deaths. Burke County reports 13,564 cases and 164 deaths attributed to the virus, according to NCDHHS.

In Tennessee, Johnson County reports 3,015 cases with 41 deaths, while Carter County reports 9,013 cases and 188 deaths as of September 13, according to statistics from the Tennessee Department of Health.

Statewide, the top four counties reporting total positive cases are Mecklenburg County (142,727), Wake County (116,591), Guilford County (59,248) and Forsyth County (45,776), the sum of which comprises 27.7 percent of all confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in North Carolina, according to September 13 NCDHHS statistics.

The reported testing numbers could be incomplete due to differences in reporting from health departments and other agencies. Sources include Toe River Health District, AppHealthCare, NCDHHS, Caldwell County Health Department and Tennessee Department of Health.

Updated news and information on the coronavirus pandemic and the state’s response can be found by clicking to covid19.ncdhhs.gov/dashboard.

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