Raleigh, N.C. — A second case of the coronavirus’ omicron variant has been confirmed in North Carolina, a researcher said Wednesday.
Dirk Dittmer, an immunologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said he couldn’t provide specifics about the person infected with the fast-spreading variant, only that the case wasn’t in Charlotte, where North Carolina’s first omicron case was confirmed last week.
“It appears that the virus is getting around the state,” Dittmer told WRAL News.
Duke University Health System already worry the new variant could once again swamp hospitals with very sick patients.
More than 1,500 people statewide are hospitalized with COVID-19, and health experts say that number will quickly increase if people don’t protect themselves during the holiday season.
“We are really concerned that we are beginning to see the post-travel impact now in the hospitalizations of people,” said Dr. Becky Smith, an infectious disease expert with Duke Health.
Coronavirus infections and related hospitalizations have been rising steadily since Thanksgiving. The 3,755 new cases reported Wednesday were a 14 percent jump from a week ago, and the 3,200 cases a day over the past week is the highest the state’s average has been in two months.
When combined with holiday travel and the start of the flu season, the omicron variant and the still-present delta variant of the virus create a perfect storm for infections, Smith said. She added that she believes omicron will be the dominant variant in North Carolina by January.
“It’s really going to put a strain on ICU capacity, really hospital bed capacity,” she said. “[This is] just a plea to anyone who has not yet been vaccinated: Please protect yourself.”
Already, 86 percent of the COVID-19 patients at Duke Health’s hospitals are unvaccinated, as are 96 percent of those in intensive care.
“What I really wanted to do was reach out to everyone, to just remind you that vaccination remains highly protective against severe disease, hospitalization and death,” Smith said.