Local News

Wake officials fear spike in virus cases before vaccine widely available

Posted December 17, 2020 10:35 a.m. EST
Updated December 17, 2020 6:42 p.m. EST

— Most healthy adults in Wake County will likely not get a coronavirus vaccine until late spring or summer, local health experts said Thursday.

Meanwhile, the virus is raging in the county, with more than 7,400 new infections reported in November. Associate Medical Director Dr. Nicole Mushonga said the county is on pace to top that record in December.

Daily cases increased 63 percent in the first two weeks of December and have now topped 700 a day for the first time, Mushonga said.

"There is a lot of concern about a spike in cases after the holiday season," said Matt Calabria, chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, which got a local vaccine timeline from doctors and other experts on Thursday.

“We see the spikes after each of these holidays, and we are watching this closely," Mushonga said.

Local hospitals are also seeing increases in patients being treated for COVID-19, surpassing numbers seen during peaks in the summer, officials said.

“Our staff is tired – everyone’s staff is tired – but they all step up and do what needs to be done," said Donald Gintzig, WakeMed president and chief executive.

WakeMed in Raleigh and Cary, UNC Rex Hospital and Duke Raleigh Hospital all were scheduled to get their first shipments of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine on Thursday, allowing them to begin inoculating some of their staff.

The county health department will start getting some vaccine doses next week, after a second vaccine, produced by Moderna receives emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“We are nowhere near out of the woods. We are going to combat this pandemic for months," Calabria said.

"Everyone who wants a vaccine will eventually get one, but it is important that the community understand the vaccine process is going to take months," said Jason Wittes, Wake County's pharmacy director. "Realistically, most healthy and middle-aged adults will not get vaccinated until late spring or early summer of next year."

The nationwide distribution plan calls for vaccinating health care workers and long-term care residents and staff first, followed by adults at highest risk for severe illness from or exposure to the virus. Critical industry workers and students come next, followed by everyone else.

Both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines require two shots, with the second Pfizer shot coming three weeks after the first and the second Moderna shot after four weeks. Wittes said an organized system involving an immunization card will guarantee each person gets both vaccine doses of the correct type and at the right time.

“Everyone will be able to have record of who is receiving what vaccine when, what they are due for," he said.

The pandemic also has hit Wake County hard financially.

“COVID-19 has caused an economic downturn, and that in turn has caused a decrease in our tax revenues, especially our sales tax revenues," Calabria said. "That has where we have seen a hit to our budgets to the tune of probably tens of millions of dollars."

The county has cut positions and deferred projects to trim its budget.

"We are extremely lean right now,” he said.

The county received nearly $200 million from the federal government through the CARES Act to help cover much of its response costs, but Calabria said Congress needs to provide more support for local governments in any new aid package.

“This next several months will be critical in our fight against the pandemic," he said. "It is very important to provide robust support to local governments because we are engaging the day-to-day battle with the virus."

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