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'Too many uncertainties' to say pandemic is over amidst holiday surge in respiratory viruses, health experts say

The full impact holiday gatherings had on viral spread won’t be obvious for a few more weeks.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Clinics and hospitals have been slammed with flu patients for the last several months, and now doctors are starting to see some more COVID-19 circulating. 

The full impact holiday gatherings had on viral spread won’t be obvious for a few more weeks but Thanksgiving did lead to an increase in flu and COVID-19 cases.

There are at least two dozen different variants of COVID-19 spreading in Mecklenburg County. The latest data shows Omicron subvariant BQ.1.1 is the most dominant.

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Concern about new variants prompted the CDC to announce anyone flying into the United States from China will be required to provide a negative covid test starting January 4. Japan reported 420 people died from COVID-19 on December 29, the second day in a row the country reached a record number of deaths from the virus.

“There are still too many uncertainties and gaps for us to say the pandemic is over. Gaps in surveillance, testing, and sequencing mean we do not understand well enough how the virus is changing,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus with the World Health Organization during a news conference.

In the past two weeks, COVID-19 cases have increased by 19% nationwide. In Mecklenburg County, there was a 73% increase in reported COVID-19 cases after the Thanksgiving holiday. The impact of last weekend’s holiday celebrations remains to be seen.

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The healthcare systems are anticipating continued high demand, despite already being overwhelmed mainly by the flu.

“Flu has remained high really since the end of October. A traditional flu season lasts about six weeks or so. We’re definitely pushing the envelope here at about eight weeks since we started seeing cases go up,” said Dr. Lyn Nuse with Atrium Health.

Doctors are stressing the need to use caution this New Year’s Eve.

“Fever or not, if you’ve got cough runny nose congestion scratchy or sore throat body aches overwhelming fatigue, that’s difficult because we’ve all been in the holiday rush. If you’ve got a day of just not feeling your normal self, it’s probably better to stay home,” Nuse said.

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Nuse said flu shot uptake at Atrium’s clinics started off slow but has since reached typical levels of demand. And even for those who have already had the flu, it is not too late to get a shot.

“There are two strains generally that circulate, an 'A' strain and a 'B' strain,” she said. “So far this year the vast majority of what we have seen over the last month to 6 weeks has been A. Whenever we have an early flu season like this, we always wonder if B is going to give us a second round.”

Mecklenburg County switched back to the CDC's medium COVID-19 Community Level last week. At this level, health officials recommend anyone who is high risk wear a face mask.

The CDC and NC DHHS did not update weekly data this week.

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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