RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — New cases of COVID-19 have been declining across North Carolina and three Triangle counties are leading the way into the delta dip.
Orange, Durham and Chatham counties had three of the state’s four lowest new per capita case numbers over the past week — and they have one important thing in common: High vaccination rates.
“The promising thing is that the numbers are getting better,” Chatham County Health Director Mike Zelek said Monday.
Durham County had 14.5 new cases for every 10,000 people over the past seven days — best in the state — according to North Carolina Department of Health and Human Resources data updated Monday.
Orange County was second with 16.3 new cases, and Chatham County was fourth at 17.7 — less than 0.5 of a case behind Watauga County. Orange, Durham and Chatham ranked 1-2-3 in that measure Friday.
“We’re definitely seeing some declines, in terms of number of cases,” Orange County spokesman Todd McGee said.
The state averaged just over 5,100 new cases per day over the past seven days — down more than 16 percent in the past week, and a drop of 30 percent from where it was at the apparent delta peak on Sept. 17.
But just because the numbers are lower, that doesn’t make them low: Every county remains colored red — with high transmission levels — on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s map.
“There is still a lot of COVID out there,” Zelek said. “We’re still seeing a lot of transmission, a lot of positive cases. So I don’t want that to get lost.”
A composite model coordinated by an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health projects the counts of new cases, hospitalized patients and deaths to drop slowly but steadily during the next six months.
“The modelers would tell you take it with a grain of salt because it depends on a lot of factors, adherence to masking, vaccination rates, and the emergence of things like new variants,” Zelek said. “It’s good, but we, as local public health on the ground, know that we do have some control over the ongoing spread of COVID. And that’s really influenced by main the two main factors right now. That’s vaccinations and masking.”
The biggest reason, of course, is the vaccine. Orange County leads the state both with 82 percent of its residents at least partially vaccinated and 80 percent of them fully vaccinated. Durham County is fourth at 66 percent partially vaccinated and 63 percent fully vaccinated. Chatham County also ranks in the upper quintile.
“We tend to see that numbers are dropping faster in areas with higher vaccination rates,” said Dr. Lisa Pickett, a trauma surgeon at Duke Health. “So that’s good news, that our vaccines are very effective.”
Zelek also credits Chatham residents for their adherence to mask policies, saying “I always say public health is a team sport. And it really takes a community to respond to COVID.”
CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.