What's driving a COVID-19 surge in the country's most vaccinated state

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Here's the latest news and information on COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines.

7:05 a.m.
Vermont is one of the most vaccinated states in the country and has served as a model for its COVID-19 response throughout the pandemic. But now, the state is experiencing its worst COVID-19 surge yet, with several factors -- including its own success -- to blame, officials said.

In Vermont, nearly 72% of residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 -- more than any other state, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. At the same time, it has the 12th-highest rate of new COVID-19 cases over the last week, state data released Tuesday shows.

The seven-day average for COVID-19 cases rose 42% as of Tuesday, according to state data. Vermont does more testing than nearly any other state, though testing only increased 9% during the same period.

The statewide positivity rate also increased 30%, with the seven-day average positivity rate just under 4%. The number of new cases increased by nearly 700 in the past week, state officials said Tuesday. There were just over 2,100 cases reported for the week in Vermont, one of the least-populated states in the country.

Compare that with North Carolina, where the daily positivity rate has hovered around 5-6% over the last couple weeks and the state has added more than 1,000 new cases every day.

Case rates in Vermont residents who are not fully vaccinated are nearly four times higher than in fully vaccinated residents, according to state data. Essex County, the least-vaccinated county in the state, is reporting the highest case rates of any county in Vermont, with 1,022 cases per 100,000 people reported from Nov. 2 to 8. In Grand Isle County, which has the highest vaccination rate in the state, that number was 160.

Statewide, those driving the surge include people in their 20s, who are the least vaccinated among Vermont adults, as well as children ages 5 to 11, who are just now eligible to get vaccinated, Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont's health commissioner, said Tuesday.

There's no "one simple answer" behind the surge, according to Levine.

FRIDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Thursday marked the third consecutive day where COVID hospitalizations rose nationwide.

Fourteen states reported a 10% increase in hospital admissions over the last week. The states are Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Total hospitalizations are down nearly 55% since mid-August.

THURSDAY
7 a.m.
The U.S. daily case average has jumped by 15% since the end of October, according to federal data.

Twenty states have seen daily cases jump by at least 10% in the last two weeks: Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Utah, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Cases are still falling in most of the South, which was the first region to get hit hard by the delta surge over the summer. In Florida, where high transmission was reported in every county over the summer, now only 1 out of the 67 counties is reporting high transmission, according to federal data.

COVID-19 forecast models used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are currently predicting that weekly death totals will likely continue to fall in the weeks to come, though thousands of Americans are still expected to lose their lives.

The ensemble model expects just under 15,000 more virus-related deaths to occur in the U.S. over the next two weeks, with a total of around 781,500 deaths by Dec. 4.

The model estimates that 13 states and territories of the U.S. have a greater than 50% chance of having more deaths in the next two weeks compared to the past two weeks.

THURSDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Time is running out to get your COVID-19 booster shot and have its level of safety in place for holiday gatherings.

Nearly 1 million booster doses have been given to people in North Carolina. If getting the booster is part of your holiday plans, you better do it soon.

"The decrease in risk starts up around 10 to 14 days after you're fully vaccinated. That's where we start to see it really kick in," Dr. David Wohl said. "So now's the time to get vaccinated, if you want to be protected around Thanksgiving."

Only older Americans and those at high risk of complications with COVID-19 are currently eligible for booster shots, but Pfizer has appealed to the FDA asking for authorization to be extended to all Americans over 18 years old.

WEDNESDAY
3:30 p.m.
Durham Public Schools and partners will offer a vaccination clinic to students and families.

They'll be giving Pfizer vaccine shots for children ages 5-11 and first and second shots and booster shots for students and family members 12 and older.

You can register online or walk in.

The event will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Hillside High School, 3727 Fayetteville St.

2 p.m.
More than 24,000 children in North Carolina have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, NCDHHS Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said during a news conference on Wednesday.

"The data shows that the lower dose of the Pfizer COVID vaccine protects children from serious illness and there were no serious side effects," she said.

Cohen said her daughters got their vaccine last weekend.

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As for dropping mask mandates -- even though there isn't a state mandate -- Cohen said "we're not quite there yet."



"As a parent, having a safe vaccine to protect my young daughters from COVID-19 is a huge relief," she said.

Even though the risk of hospitalization and death due to COVID-19 is rare for children, Cohen said it's important for them to get vaccinated because severe illness is still possible.

"Importantly, any preventable hospitalization or preventable death in a child is important," said Dr. Charlene Wong, Assistant Secretary for Children and Families at NCDHHS.

As for the holidays, which are quickly approaching, Dr. Cohen gave advice for staying healthy.

If you're traveling, Cohen said that, if you got the J&J vaccine, you should get a booster, even if you're healthy.

If you got Pfizer or Moderna, she said you should assess depending on your level of risk of exposure.

As for how the state is doing with COVID-19 metrics, Cohen said the state remains in the red zone with the highest level of COVID transmission but trends have improved significantly.

As for dropping mask mandates -- even though there isn't a state mandate -- Cohen said "we're not quite there yet."

"Vaccines are what is going to put this pandemic in our rearview mirror officially," she said.

12:45 p.m.
North Carolina sees its highest daily COVID-19 case count in six days.

The daily case count Wednesday came in at 2,156; a week ago the daily cases were 1,777, and two weeks ago the cases were 2,160.

The daily percent positive rate was 5 percent. That's down from 5.9 percent yesterday, but up from 4.5 percent a week ago.

Hospitalizations remained largely steady, but another 35 people died from the virus.

10:15 a.m.
The Town of Pittsboro dropped its face covering mandate, effective Tuesday.

The mandate went into effect on September 24.

The town's mayor said it was ended because it is "no longer necessary and is therefore rescinded."
WEDNESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Nearly 15,000 children in North Carolina have received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but many more are eligible.

NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen and Assistant Secretary for Children and Families Dr. Charlene Wong will speak at 1 p.m. to answer questions about the vaccine rollout.

Cohen is making the case that while children get COVID-19 at a lower rate than adults, they're still susceptible to long-haul COVID cases, "ongoing" symptoms, and even death. Because of that, vaccines are the best way to keep them safe.

WATCH | 'It's that important': Cohen encourages COVID shots for younger children in latest fireside chat
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State Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen's mission Tuesday night was to reassure parents that the shots are safe



The U.S. Surgeon General released a step-by-step toolkit to help people combat COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. It provides a road map for vaccinated people to talk to unvaccinated people who have bought into conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile, Pfizer has asked the Food and Drug Administration to amend its authorization of a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine.

The company said all adults should get a third dose, because it raises the effectiveness of the vaccine to 96 percent.

The FDA currently allows a third dose for anyone 65 and old or with high risk factors for COVID-19.
Copyright © 2021 ABC11-WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved - The Associated Press contributed to this report.