Facing elevated metrics, health officials stress precautions ahead of holiday gatherings, travel

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Tuesday, December 13, 2022
Precautions urged ahead of holiday travel, gatherings
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According to the CDC, new COVID cases topped 450,000 last week, nearly a 50% week-over-week increase, and the highest total since mid-September.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Cool temperatures Monday afternoon were unable to dull the enthusiasm of NC State seniors Jordan Gonzaga and Nick Mruk, as they completed a round of frisbee golf at Kentwood Park in Raleigh.

"The course itself is nice. My shooting is not," joked Gonzaga.

While Gonzaga had one last final later that day, Mruk was done for the semester.

"I think especially now after COVID, just staring at a computer screen all day, especially finals season, being in the library a lot, just being outside, chilling with friends is a great way to kind of de-stress," Mruk said.

The pair both plan on visiting family during their break, and are cognizant of the current uptick in COVID cases.

"My parents are kind of high-risk. They're a little older. My mom does all the precautions. We still wipe down our groceries, we still are very careful about what we do when we go outside, but she's kind of settled down a bit," Gonzaga explained.

"My grandparents are visiting down here for the first time in a while, so I guess just being safe. Really making sure that I'm feeling good before," added Mruk.

According to the CDC, new COVID cases topped 450,000 last week, nearly a 50% week-over-week increase, and the highest total since mid-September.

"We expect to see the number of infections go up after the next week or two with Hanukkah or Christmas or New Year's and a lot of family gatherings, and frankly people have been looking towards spending time together. And so we know that unfortunately with the love shared will also be a few germs," said Dr. Lisa Pickett, Chief Medical Officer at Duke University Hospital.

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While the increase is concerning, context is key: during the same period last year, weekly case counts exceeded 840,000 before eventually topping 5.6 million in January, prior to sharply dropping by the end of February.

"Plan your activities or your family get-together around the most vulnerable person. So if anyone is traveling to whether from a congregate living or just being on an airplane, train, public transportation to someone who is vulnerable, then testing and isolating makes sense for them. And even just masking around them for the first few days," Pickett explained.

COVID is not the lone concern for health officials entering the holidays.

"We definitely saw a huge spike in RSV in children (earlier in the fall). Fortunately, that's just leveling off and starting to come down a bit, although we expect another spike after the next set of holidays," said Dr. Pickett.

The CDC's flu activity map lists North Carolina's level as "very high," which is stable over the past few weeks. Regionally, it's lower than neighboring Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina, though higher than Georgia.

Daniel Brown, the owner of Durty Dogz, a hot dog cart on the corner of Fayetteville St. and Davie St. in downtown Raleigh, said he feels safe, though is taking precautions as he interacts with customers.

"The plastic really basically, just keeping my hands sanitized," said Brown, referring to the tent with a divider he works in while preparing food.

NCDHHS reports the percentage of emergency department visits because of flu-like illnesses has dropped from 6.4% in early November to 3.8%, though the latter figure is still well-above rates during the past two years.

"Nothing is 100%, but actually the flu vaccine is a pretty good match this year. So I would absolutely recommend (it). It's not too late to get a flu vaccine," said Pickett.

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