Wake County leaders encourage virtual holiday celebrations as cases rise

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Wake County health officials met virtual Thursday morning to discuss rising COVID-19 metrics and vaccine administration plans.

"During the first two weeks of December alone, cases increased 63%. And we surpassed 700 cases in a single day for the first time," said Dr. Nicole Mushonga, the Wake County Associate Medical Director and Epidemiology Program Director.

North Carolina's COVID-19 county alert system labels Wake County as "orange," which means 'substantial community spread.' The five days with the highest case count in Wake County have happened in December.

Donald Gintzig, the President and CEO of WakeMed Hospitals, noted they are seeing more COVID-19 patients now than at the peak of the summer, though they still have capacity.

Triangle hospitals have begun receiving and administering the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine this week; WakeMed is receiving 3,900 doses of the vaccine Thursday with plans to start giving them out Friday.

"Within the first several weeks, we'll have enough vaccine to be able to protect all those patient-facing workers and providers who want it," said Gintzig.

It will be several months until there is enough vaccine available to disperse to the general public. Coupled with increased cases and hospitalizations, there is a continued need to wear masks, wash hands, and socially distance, as well as potentially alter holiday plans.

"We encourage you to trade in-person holiday parties and get-togethers for virtual celebrations. We know it's a sacrifice and it goes against the traditions you enjoy in normal times. But these are not normal times. We have to take extraordinary measures to keep our loved ones safe, our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed, and our economy on the path to recovery," said Dr. Mushonga.

Recent polls have shown the public's increased willingness to take a COVID-19 vaccine, with advocates making a concerted effort to reach out to underserved communities.

"We're working again with our partners at Resolve to Save Lives, El Centro (Hispano), community partners like that. We're also planning on knowing that we need to meet these communities where they need to be served," said Dr. Jason Wittes, Wake County's Pharmacy Director.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been more than 36,000 cases and 320 deaths in Wake County. November saw a record-high 7,443 cases, with Dr. Mushonga noting December is on track to eclipse that total. As of Thursday morning, there were 6,112 cases this month.
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