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Health Team

NC reports 10,000+ reinfected with coronavirus since March 2020

Posted October 5, 2021 11:38 a.m. EDT
Updated October 5, 2021 5:10 p.m. EDT

The North Carolina of Department Health and Human Services will begin reporting coronavirus reinfection information starting in October, in compliance with new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As the more infectious delta variant has become more prominent, the number of refinections has surged, according to state health officials.

Since the start of the pandemic, 10,812 people became reinfected with coronavirus and 94 of those people died. Only 200 people who were vaccinated and previously infected tested positive for the virus a second time.

Infectious disease expert with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Dr. David Wohl said that this new data shows just how effective vaccinations are.

"It says the vaccine works great," he said, about the new data. "Almost 11,000 cases of reinfection and really a sliver, a fraction of those people were fully vaccinated."

The majority of people who reported being reinfected with coronavirus were between 25- and 49-years-old, state data shows. The majority of infections were among White women, though the state emphasized reinfection data is underreported particularly in people who are Hispanic.

A reinfection is classified by the CDC as someone who tests positive for coronavirus 90 days after previously testing positive.

This data falls in line with what health experts have been touting since the development of vaccines — being previously infected with the virus does not make someone immune to getting sick again.

Wohl, said these numbers show people who are vaccinated are more protected from reinfection than people who are relying on natural antibodies from an earlier COVID-19 case.

"It will help us understand more and more the risk people who are relying on natural infection have, and I think this data will show us that there’s certainly some folks, especially with these new variants and during surges, who think they’re protected, who may not be as protected as they could be," Wohl said.

He added that immunity after getting sick from the virus tends to wane at around 3 months.

While coronavirus cases continue to decline, the number of deaths per capita is rising. A new report from the CDC says coronavirus-related deaths in North Carolina have increased by 145% since last week.

"Even though you survived COVID-19 once, doesn't mean you won't get it again," Wohl said.

The reinfection rates are similar to that of the common coronavirus cold, according to Alex Dornburg, University of North Carolina at Charlotte Assistant Professor. He worked with Yale University researchers on the recent report that the state health department published.

"Sometime over a year would be completely reasonable and completely expected," for someone to become infected again, he said.

"It’s similar to the way we get seasonal colds year after year," Dornburg said. "We don’t have long-term immunity."

Cameron Jackson, a travel nurse currently working in Johnston County, said she was infected with the virus twice. Her second infection was much more mild than her first. 

"It’s basically everywhere. It’s at the hospital, it’s at the grocery store," she said. "There’s no running away from it."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, addressed the idea of "natural" immunity in a White House COVID-19 Task Force meeting on Sept. 28.

Fauci said that herd immunity will not be able to be achieved through "natural infection," or the immunity that one's body develops after being infected from the virus. The solution to the pandemic, he said, is to get the shot.

"Herd immunity is really a complicated issue of protection by vaccination and those who have continued endurable protection following infection," Fauci said. "We do not know what that number is right now."

Compared to the rest of the country, North Carolina is lagging behind in vaccination rates. More than 37 states have better vaccination rates than North Carolina.

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