By Eliot Duke
Dunn Daily Record
Harnett County’s acting manager recommended reimposing COVID-19 restrictions in local government facilities amid a rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
Acting County Manager George Wood on Tuesday morning briefed commissioners on concerns related to workforce disruptions caused by people missing time due to COVID-19.
Steve Ward, director of Harnett Regional Water, informed Wood that four customer service representatives contracted the virus at the same time. Ward asked if customer service could temporarily return to drive-thru only to protect county employees from exposure.
After conferring with Harnett County Health Director John Rouse and Emergency Services Director Larry Smith, Wood recommended reimposing mandatory mask use and social distancing in county buildings.
“That’s basically where we’re at,” Wood said. “What our main concern is … the trend line is starting to go back up for testing positive. What we’re particularly focused on is not just that trend line but hospitalizations. They have gone up. That’s a primary concern. The hospitals are starting to get filled up with COVID patients. We really can’t afford to lose any of our frontline people.”
Rouse reported a spike in positive cases from an average of 100 a week to more than 300 over the weekend. Approximately 90% of positive cases, Rouse said, were unvaccinated people and 7% were in the process of getting vaccinated. The rest were referred to as break-through cases or instances where someone tested positive for COVID-19 after receiving the full vaccine.
Harnett County’s vaccination rate registered at 36%, but Rouse said the number doesn’t paint an entire picture as not every resident is eligible for the shot.
“When you look at the total population, we’re about 30%,” Rouse said. “But the whole population has never been eligible for the vaccine. That’s what we did back in January when we were looking at 65 and older. When you just look at 65 and older, we’re at a little bit above 70%, but for 12 and up we’re at 36%. We’re a long ways from herd immunity.”
Kelly Honeycutt, Harnett Health director of administrative operations, said COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are up significantly at both Central Harnett Hospital and Betsy Johnson, and all but one were unvaccinated people.
Central Harnett and Betsy Johnson reported 19 and 16 patients with COVID-19, respectively, Honeycutt said.
“They’re 100% not vaccinated,” Honeycutt added. “We have had some breakthrough cases but they weren’t hospitalized. There was one that was hospitalized but not in critical condition and has been discharged.”
This recent surge in the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus impacted younger children more than the original strain, as Honeycutt said there is a higher rate of pediatric positive cases.
“It’s higher than we’ve seen in the entire pandemic,” said Honeycutt. “Fortunately, there are not any that have been admitted (to the hospital), but we’re seeing a lot of positives.”
Honeycutt said one reason why many patients now hospitalized are younger is a high percentage of people 65 and older are vaccinated.
“I definitely think the Delta works a little bit differently than the previous strain,” Honeycutt said. “I think that’s why we’re seeing 20, 30, 40 year olds hospitalized in critical condition and intubated is because they’re not vaccinated.”
Honeycutt recommended taking the necessary steps to protect others who are at higher risk from the virus.
“There are genuinely people out there who are not cleared to be vaccinated,” said Honeycutt. “Those are the people we really need to be protecting. They don’t have a choice. We all have a choice. You can debate on the vaccine. We as a health system whole-heartedly believe this is the only way out of this pandemic.”