COVID-19 cases, percent positive surge in NC, but which metrics mean the most right now?

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – About 1-in-5 COVID-19 tests in North Carolina came back positive Sunday. The 21.9 percent positivity rate across the state was a pandemic record.

“I think what you’re seeing is a lot of people getting tested because of the holidays and because of exposures. And we have a variant that is infecting more people,” said Dr. David Wohl, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Hospitalizations have been increasing. They’re up by about 900 people since Thanksgiving, but hospitalizations are not as high as at other points during the pandemic.

The current number of hospitalizations, 1,992, is about half the record number of 3,992 hospitalizations reported on Jan. 14. Nearly 4,000 people were hospitalized on multiple days in January, according to numbers from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

“The good news is we’re not seeing hospitalizations or deaths proportionally increase, which shows us all the hard work the vaccines, the boosters — these are making a difference,” Wohl said.

Wohl said hospitalization is the key statistic.

“Maybe, over time, we won’t care that much about cases. It’ll really come down to how many people are getting sick, sick enough to be in the hospital,” Wohl said.

Wohl said we are not at that point yet. However, he said case numbers are still important because there are enough people who could get sick and end up in the hospital if they caught the virus. He said mainly unvaccinated people.

When will COVID-19 become endemic, like the common cold? Wohl said once people don’t have to worry about hospitalizations. He said that could happen after the winter surge, combined with more vaccinations, boosters, and people becoming infected, meaning the pool of people vulnerable would shrink.

“And that’s when I think we might find ourselves in the spring, summer, back to maybe relaxing a little bit,” Wohl said. “I’m really hopeful keeping my fingers crossed, but it’s very hard to predict. A new variant can come along, something else can happen, we know that can occur, but I’m just remaining hopeful that’s all we can do.”

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