Last week, daily coronavirus case numbers in North Carolina jumped from an average of less than 2,000 a day to almost double that.

Much of the nation’s attention has turned to the new omicron variant, but the COVID delta variant accounts for almost all cases in North Carolina, doctors from Duke Health and UNC Health say.

“It’s not a new variant causing that peak,” said Duke’s Dr. Cameron Wolfe. “We are in a delta wave still in the United States.”

What You Need To Know

  • Daily coronavirus cases jumped in North Carolina last week

  • Doctors from UNC and Duke say the cases are all from the delta variant, not the new omicron variant

  • Doctors say people may have gotten complacent with the coronavirus protections that have become part of daily life

  • They warn of more cases from holiday gatherings and say people should get booster shots

Every case they’re seeing at Duke, and almost all of the coronavirus patients at UNC Health, are from the delta variant, doctors from both health systems said. The delta variant drove case numbers up in North Carolina and around the country as schools were starting in August.

North Carolina recorded more than 3,700 cases Thursday and Friday, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

“I think we were getting a little complacent, we were letting our guard down,” UNC’s Dr. David Wohl said earlier this week. “I am worried we’re going to see a bump in cases.”

That complacency, combined with the changing season and holiday gatherings, can lead to more cases, Wolfe said.

“It’s getting colder,” he said. “We have to be realistic. We as a community hunker down and spend more time inside in close-knit areas where we know COVID transmits readily.”

“I suspect that has nothing yet to do with variant activity and everything to do with, frankly, maybe we’ve just eased our guard off a little bit and it’s also occurring at a time, we learned from last year, that COVID spreads really easily,” Wolfe said.

This December could also see a surge like we saw last year, when colder weather and holiday gatherings led to an uptick in COVID cases over the winter.

“Let’s be realistic about what’s coming up in the next couple of weeks. We have Christmas parties that many workplaces are now starting to think about again, and we have Christmas and New Year’s holidays,” Wolfe said.

North Carolina has been in the CDC’s “red zone” for months, with high community transmission of the virus. The state dipped into the “orange zone” earlier this week, but was back in the “red zone” by Friday as case rates increased.

State and federal public health officials are preparing for another winter surge, and the uncertainty of what the new omicron variant could bring.

“North Carolina is working hard to increase the number of vaccinated people, including children who are now eligible,” said Gov. Roy Cooper. “If you want to make your holiday gatherings safer, get your shot today – these vaccines are safe, effective and free.”

The governor and state public health officials have focused on getting as many people vaccinated as possible. Federal regulators recently gave the Pfizer vaccine emergency approval for children as young as 5.

“Getting children vaccinated helps keep them healthy and protected from COVID-19. It’s why I got my daughters vaccinated right away,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, DHHS secretary. “With the holidays approaching and people gathering, don’t wait to vaccinate.”

Despite all this talk about the omicron variant, UNC’s Wohl said people should still get vaccinated and boosted.

“Higher levels of antibody provided higher levels of protection,” he said. The vaccines will help protect against delta, which is still killing people in North Carolina, and could potentially help keep people safe from omicron, if that shows up.

“We’ve learned before, even though the vaccines were developed to fight an original strain that’s no longer around, high levels of antibodies against that original strain have protected us against delta,” Wohl said.

The Biden administration is also preparing for cases to increase in the winter months.

“Experts say that COVID-19 cases will continue to rise in the weeks ahead this winter, and that we will see more omicron cases here in the United States in the days, weeks and months ahead,” President Joe Biden said Thursday.

He announced a plan to make at-home tests free, either paid for by private insurance or available for pickup for people without private insurance. That would allow more people to get rapid tests before joining holiday gatherings.

“We are going to fight COVID-19 not with shutdowns or lockdowns – but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more,” he said.

The president, along with public health officials and doctors in North Carolina, all say people should get their booster shots before the holiday season to help keep everyone safe.