The 2,249 new cases reported Friday, Nov. 18, gave the county a cumulative total from throughout the pandemic of 3,515,225. The eight new deaths lifted the county’s virus-related death toll to 34,098. According to state figures, there were 666 COVID-positive patients in county hospitals as of Friday, up from 648 on Thursday. Of those patients, 74 were being treated in intensive care, down from 77 the previous day.
Health officials have said previously that roughly 40% of the patients were actually admitted for COVID-related issues, while the rest were admitted for other reasons but tested positive at the hospital. The seven-day average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus in the county was 6.8% as of Friday.
The county has been seeing steadily rising case and hospitalization numbers since the beginning of November, prompting health officials on Thursday to announce that they are again “strongly recommending” that people wear masks at indoor public settings. The recommendation falls short of a masking mandate, but masks are still required indoors at health-care and congregate-care facilities, for anyone exposed to the virus in the past 10 days, and at locations where they are required by the operator, county Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said.
For the past few months, indoor masking has been a matter of personal preference, unless individual businesses or locations chose to require them. The county shifted back to “strongly recommending” indoor mask wearing on Thursday when the local seven-day average of daily new COVID-19 infections rose to 100 per 100,000 residents, up from 86 per 100,000 a week ago. The rate the previous week was 65 per 100,000 residents. The increasing case rate mirrored steady rises seen in daily reported case numbers and hospitalizations since the beginning of November.
Davis said the county is currently reporting about 1,500 new cases per day, up from 1,300 per day a week ago and up 52% since Nov. 1. He noted that the reported cases only represent a portion of actual infections occurring in the county, since many residents rely on at-home tests that are not reported to health officials, while many more don’t get tested at all. Average daily COVID-related hospital admissions are averaging 97 per day, up 26% from 77 per day last week, and a 54% jump since Nov. 1, Davis said. Daily reported virus-related deaths remain relatively low, at about eight per day, but Davis said with the increases in case rates and hospitalizations, that number could begin to climb.
Health officials have been warning of a third straight winter surge of COVID-19 cases, noting the increased risk of transmission as people spend more time indoors due to colder weather and the winter holidays. Davis also noted the continued threat of new variants emerging that can spread more rapidly from person to person, even those who are vaccinated. He again urged residents to get vaccinated or receive the latest available booster, which is engineered to combat the current Omicron variants. He urged residents to exercise caution over the Thanksgiving and other winter holidays, particularly while attending large gatherings.
“We are grateful this year to have the tools that allow us to gather with a lot of safety,” Davis said. “It will mean however that all of us likely will need to take some common sense precautions to avoid future disruptions and the spread of illness.”