Union County Health Commissioner Jason Orcena said the area recently began seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases, though it’s too early to tell if another surge is on the horizon.
During Wednesday’s Board of Health meeting, Orcena noted that there has been a sustained increase in reported COVID-19 cases since late October.
Orcena said Union County is currently seeing approximately 450 cases per 100,000 individuals. The increase follows a period in which cases appeared to be decreasing then plateaued.
“It just never went back down,” Orcena said.
The health commissioner said it is unclear whether to expect another surge in cases, or if the temporary decrease in cases was just a period of calm in the same, summer surge.
He noted, though, that cases counts are becoming “less and less of a good marker” of community spread.
Orcena said many individuals are now pursuing at-home COVID-19 tests. If they are not proctored by a healthcare professional, infected patients may not immediately report their results to the health department.
For that reason, he said it is more valuable to look at trends over time rather than the current case counts.
Still, he said the increase in cases may lead to a jump in hospitalizations.
Orcena explained that the number of individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 recently stabilized, began to decrease and now appears to have plateaued again. He said it is “too early to know,” but the area could see the number rise in a “few weeks.”
Aside from the comparatively smaller size, he said the demographic affected in this year’s surge is perhaps the largest difference from the surge in 2020.
Last year, he said many hospitalizations were among older individuals who were more vulnerable to severe illness caused by the virus.
Orcena said those in the hospital now tend to skew younger.
The number of hospitalized individuals who are of “working age,” or between 30-50 years old, has increased.
He explained that the vaccination rate of individuals who are 60 and older is extremely high, which has helped prevent hospitalizations and deaths.
Like hospitalizations, deaths have now shifted toward younger people. Orcena said several Union County individuals between 40 and 50 years of age have died of COVID-19 during the recent surge.
Though the percentage of individuals between 30-50 years old who are vaccinated is “good,” Orcena said it is “very much geography dependent.”
Locally, the percentage of individuals who are vaccinated is much lower in the northern part of the county, Orcena said.
He added that vaccination clinics for children aged 5-11 have been going well.
Over 90% of available appointments were filled last week, Orcena said. He said the health department plans to host three weeks of “intense clinics” for COVID-19 youth vaccination, then evaluate the demand to continue mass vaccination clinics.
Orcena said he anticipates the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve a pill created by Pfizer for the treatment of COVID-19 shortly.
Pfizer asked U.S. regulators Tuesday to authorize the drug, according to the Associated Press.
He said he is optimistic that the availability of an at-home drug to treat the virus will benefit local residents.
“This may open it up to much easier treatment, especially in rural communities,” he said.