COVID-19 cases have risen 587% since the end of November in Orange County, with 1,010 new cases reported last week. Orange County health officials urge the public to take steps now to protect themselves and others and to avoid overwhelming hospital capacity and healthcare workers.
Most new cases are due to the extremely contagious variant Omicron, which is spreading rapidly and is expected to cause the pandemic’s highest rates of COVID-19 infections in the coming weeks. Vaccinating and boosting against COVID-19 remain the most effective ways for people to protect themselves from serious illness, hospitalization, and death. Early evidence shows boosters provide a significant level of protection against Omicron.
This Winter Everyone Should
- Vaccinate and Boost: Get vaccinated now, including obtaining a COVID-19 booster as soon as you are eligible. This is critical for those over age 65, those with underlying medical conditions and healthcare workers. The Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines are the best choice for most people. Layer protection with a flu shot.
- Test: Get tested if you have any symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
- Mask: Wear a face covering indoors in public, even if you are vaccinated. If possible, wear a medical grade mask for more protection, such as a surgical mask, procedural mask, KN95, or N95.
- Avoid large gatherings: Omicron has spread quickly even in gatherings of vaccinated people where proof of negative tests was required.
Extra Protection Is More Important Now
“Omicron is highly contagious; therefore, well-fitting and high-quality face masks are immensely important. Wearing masks is nothing new. Masks have been among the most effective ways to limit the spread of COVID-19,” said Renee Price, Chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners. “With Omicron surging, we have to be more conscientious and diligent. Please take the necessary precautions by wearing masks and wearing them properly."
Orange County Health Director Quintana Stewart said, “If people wear face coverings and avoid indoor gatherings, it could help to flatten the curve. Currently our percentage of positive tests is 11.2% which is way above our goal of 5% or below. It is important for us to flatten the curve to make sure we all continue to have access to hospital care when we need it, whether it’s for COVID-19 or all of the other life-threatening conditions that demand care in a hospital.”
High Quality Masks
Use the best quality and best-fitting mask you can get, especially in higher risk situations and if you are at increased risk for severe illness. Scenarios that call for better protection can include being in close and prolonged contact with people whose vaccination status is unknown, being in crowded indoor settings, riding on public transportation (especially when you can’t keep distance), and working at a job where you interact with large numbers of people.
The highest quality masks, in order, are:
- N95, KN95 and KF94. These disposable masks are better at filtering the virus and are more widely available now for the public. Replacement depends on amount of wear. These masks can be more expensive. Beware of counterfeits.
- Surgical masks. These disposable masks should be tested to meet a national standard (ASTM 2/3).
- Cloth masks with at least two layers. A disposable mask also can be worn underneath a cloth mask. (Note: N95/KN95 masks should not be layered with other masks.)
Masks that are loose, with gaps around your face or nose, are not as helpful in protecting you or others. For visuals of these tips, visit the guidance for improved mask use from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If you see someone without a face covering, assume they have a valid reason for not wearing one and increase your distance from that person.
For more information on masks visit the Orange County Health Department face coverings page.
- Visit the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services website for more information about boosters and additional doses. More information about vaccines for kids can be found here.
- To find a vaccine location, or for more information about COVID-19 vaccines in North Carolina, visit MySpot.nc.gov or call the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Help Center for free at 888-675-4567.
- Visit the Orange County Health Department website for information on vaccines, boosters, testing and masks.