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Newsroom Conversations: The latest data on Covid in the Cape Fear region


Over the last month, as schools returned to in-class session the Cape Fear region has seen a major Covid surge, with numbers matching the peaks in January. WHQR News Director Ben Schachtman brought reporter Kelly Kenoyer into the studio to talk about the numbers.

Ben Schachtman: Here we are again, talking about covid numbers.

Kelly Kenoyer: Indeed. So how’s it going at UNCW?

BS: Two weeks ago, the University was in the midst of a major outbreak -- peaking around 120 new cases daily, and almost 75% of its quarantine beds were full.

KK: that’s rough.

BS: Yeah, and many were wondering, out loud, why the university wasn’t shut down. But as of today things are looking better, daily cases and quarantines have dropped to single digits.

And the vaccination rates are ticking up, as well-- that’s a good thing. UNCW confirmed it actually has one-to-one vaccine records to support this data, not just the survey that they announced earlier. And their data shows that about 57% of off campus students are vaccinated, 72% of residential students are vaccinated, and 87% of faculty are vaccinated.

So, let’s talk about the younger students, too. How is New Hanover’s school system doing with the Delta variant? We’re three weeks out from the beginning of school, so it seems like a good time to check in.

KK: The schools are a mixed bag right now. There were two new covid clusters across the New Hanover County school system in the week of September 6, with a total of 224 new cases. That’s a 28% increase from two weeks ago.

Elementary schools were pretty flat compared to last week, but high schools and middle schools both jumped pretty significantly in cases. That’s a bit surprising to me, since Elementary students are unable to get vaccinated, but some middle school students and all high school students can.

As a reminder, the Pfizer vaccine is available to anyone over the age of 12. It’s free, with or without insurance, and you can get it at Independence Mall or at the Health and Human Services Building.

BS: And that goes for everybody, not just students. But if you’re 12-15, you do need parental permission to get the vaccine. That’s a recent rule that came down from the legislature.

So speaking of those clinics, how is New Hanover County doing for vaccinations?

KK: Right now, 61% of the population here is partially vaccinated, and 57% are fully vaccinated. That’s about 4% better than the overall population of North Carolina, go us!

We have seen a pretty good uptick in vaccinations statewide- after dipping below 100,000 weekly vaccinations for three weeks in early summer, we’re now consistently vaccinating around 150,000 a week across the state. But how does that look in the other counties around the Cape Fear region?

BS: Brunswick is looking at 55% fully vaccinated, slightly more with one shot -- and less than half of Pender residents have had even one shot, with only 43% fully vaccinated. That’s not great.

I also want to talk about the covid rates. In New Hanover County on Monday the numbers were still trending up -- new hanover’s positivity rate is a little lower than its neighbors, around 12.3% -- Brunswick and Pender’s numbers are about 4-5% higher, and I should say that all of that is much higher than the state’s goal of 5% positivity, which is the percentage of covid tests that come back positive.

KK: Yes. And for hospitalizations, we run with the New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s numbers. They pull from all the surrounding counties, so this is really a regional picture. 436 people have died from covid in that hospital to date, and there are currently an average of 98 people in the hospital with covid each day this week.

BS: Yeah, and we should point out that’s nearly double the hospital’s self-imposed level for starting to limit non-essential procedures. They haven’t seen those numbers in months.

KK: We only had one covid patient in the hospital on average each day back in early June. And in New Hanover County, there’s been an average of 82 cases per day since the beginning of September. This new surge is much higher than the one we had around this time last year, but still not quite as bad as the peak in February of 2021.

It’s honestly hard to overstate how significant this surge is compared to just a few months ago in June. We were at a really sustainable level then. There wasn’t a single day that month with more than 30 cases.

BS: I miss those days.

KK: Me too. I’ve got to say, I’m not a big fan of Delta.

BS: Me neither! Well, Kelly Kenoyer, thanks for being here.

KK: Thank you, Ben!

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature.
Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant new to the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.