By Sarah Nagem
The number of new COVID-19 cases has been surging across North Carolina for weeks, fueled in part by the highly contagious omicron variant.
We looked at COVID data points – new cases, hospitalizations, deaths and more – in the state’s Border Belt and compared them to previous spikes since the coronavirus pandemic began in early 2020.
The numbers in Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland counties reflect trends across the state and much of the country: New reported cases have shattered records, while the number of COVID patients in hospitals’ intensive care units has not reached previous peaks.
But experts say those figures don’t tell the whole story. Nearly two years into the pandemic, doctors, nurses and other medical staff are exhausted. And just because COVID patients don’t require intensive care or a ventilator, many are still very sick.
Health officials say they expect new cases to peak in the coming weeks.
Here’s a look at the data.
A record-high 480 new COVID cases were reported in Robeson County on Jan. 10, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
The previous record, 279, was reported a year earlier on Jan. 4, 2021.
The number of new cases far outpaces those reported last summer when the delta variant caused a spike. On Aug. 23, Robeson recorded 211 cases.
Columbus County recorded 193 new cases on Jan. 10, exceeding the previous record of 131 in late August.
Bladen County more than doubled its previous record for new cases when it saw 144 earlier this month.
The same was true in Scotland County, which more than doubled its previous record set in September 2020.
Local counties have COVID positivity rates below the statewide figure. Across North Carolina, 31.6% of COVID tests were positive as of Jan. 14. Health officials say the goal is 5% or lower to control the spread of the virus.
In Scotland County, the number is 30.8%; Bladen County, 29.6%; Columbus, 29.5%; Robeson County, 27.7%
The surge caused by the delta variant pushed hospitals to their maximum capacity in August and September.
Scientists say the omicron variant is extremely transmissible but often leads to less severe symptoms. That means fewer patients are are in ICUs and on ventilators.
As of Monday, UNC Health Southeastern in Robeson County reported five patients in the ICU and three on ventilators. On the final day of August, it had 10 ICU patients, all of them on ventilators.
Forty-nine COVID patients were reportedly isolated at Scotland Memorial Hospital on Monday, compared to 46 on Jan. 12, 2020, during last winter's surge.
The number of Scotland Health Care workers who are quarantined is now more than double what it was a year ago. As of Monday, the figure was 84 across the system, which includes Scotland Memorial.
Hospital leaders say staff shortages have contributed to burnout among staff.
Fewer COVID patients have died in recent months.
The death toll soared late last summer with the delta variant. At one point, UNC Health Southeastern brought a mobile morgue onto its campus in case the morgue inside the hospital became too full.
Columbus County recorded 56 COVID-related deaths during a two-month period (August and September.) Last month, three COVID-related deaths were recorded.
Health officials say the COVID vaccines and accompanying booster shots are the best protection against severe illness and death.
However, local vaccination rates are far lower than the statewide average.
In Robeson County, for example, 40% of the population has received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, data shows.