Holiday travel season is kicking into high gear with most of the country, including North Carolina, in the “red zone” for COVID-19 community transmission, and with with a highly contagious variant starting to spread.
Vaccinations, testing strategies, and masking are important as families come together to celebrate this year, said Thomas Denny, chief operating officer at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute.
People should be vaccinated and those who are eligible for booster shots should get them, said Denny, who held a video conference with reporters Thursday.
Denny also recommended masking and social distancing more consciously and thinking twice before hugging older folks.
“If you’re going to be with grandmoms and grandpops, or aunts and uncles who are elderly, I would suggest being cautious – masks and maybe not hug and get as close as you would normally want to do with your loved ones and family at this time,” he said.
Ideally, people should take COVID tests before they travel, Denny said. But travelers can test negative before leaving home and test positive by the time of their family get-togethers, he said.
The delta variant is responsible for a large majority of COVID cases in the United States. The more contagious omicron variant could be part of another surge next month or in the spring, The New York Times reported.
Dr. Mandy Cohen, state Department of Health and Human Services secretary, said at a news conference this week that people should get tests before attending indoor gatherings and before and after traveling.
About 65% of North Carolina residents 5 years old and older have received at least one dose of a vaccine. Vaccination rates drop with each age group. Seventeen percent of children 5-11 years old have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot, Cohen said Tuesday. Forty-six percent of 12-17 year olds have had at least one dose, and 52% of people 18-24 have had at least one shot.
“I’m concerned about our younger population,” she said. “They’re the least vaccinated and it’s where we’re seeing the highest rates of cases.” Younger people were harder hit during the delta surge, she said.
New COVID-19 infections in North Carolina spiked after Thanksgiving. The 7-day rolling average has plateaued at about 3,000 new cases, according to state Department of Health and Human Services data. More than 1,600 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized in North Carolina on Wednesday. Hospitalizations have not dipped below 1,000 since the delta wave hit the state in July.