Dr. David Priest. QCity Metro screenshot

As Covid-19 infections resurge, Novant Health reports that the average age of its Covid patients who require a hospital stay has dropped to 47 years old.

That’s a significant decline from earlier this year, when the average age of Covid patients admitted to a Novant hospital was 61, Dr. David Priest, Novant’s chief safety, quality and epidemiology officer, said Monday.

Dr. Priest also reported a rise in the hospital chain’s overall number of Covid patients, especially at hospitals located in communities where vaccination rates are low.

“Like we’re seeing nationally, I can say that almost all the patients admitted for covid-19 today are not vaccinated,” he told reporters during an online media briefing.

Novant operates 16 medical centers in North Carolina.

Dr. Priest said youth provides no immunity to Covid-19, especially to the Delta variant, “which is more contagious and is putting younger people in the hospital.”

Across the county and in North Carolina, he said, the Delta variant has become the dominant strain. Twice last week, state health officials reported more than 1,000 new Covid cases in a single day — the highest levels of infection in recent months.

The state’s highest daily total — 12,079 new cases —  was reported on Feb. 3. And while new infections remain well below that number, state data show that infections have been on the increase since mid-June.

Dr. Priest called Covid-19 “essentially a preventable disease.”

“So as we’ve said before, the time to get vaccinated is now,” he said. “It’s really the only way we can slow the spread of these new, more contagious, variants and really to prevent new variants from being created.”

Eventually, Dr. Priest said, almost everyone will develop antibodies against Covid-19 — either by vaccination or by contracting the virus. The safest route, he said, is by vaccination.

About 60% of North Carolina’s adult population has had at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, and 56% of the population is fully vaccinated.

Dr. Priest said misinformation about the shots is deterring some people from getting them.

When asked about a widely circulated rumor that Covid vaccines can affect a woman’s fertility or harm an unborn child, Dr. Priest rejected such claims, saying medical data do not support those rumors.

“I certainly understand thinking through that,” he said. “But when you look at data, there’s no evidence that it’s harmful to fertility or to pregnant women or lactating mothers. So all of the national obstetrical groups recommend vaccine.”

During clinical trials to approve the Pfizer vaccine, pregnant women were excluded as a safety precaution, he said, but some women who took part in the trial did get pregnant after they were vaccinated. None of the women or their babies suffered side effects, he said.

“I can tell you that when pregnant women get Covid itself, it’s severe, and can be very severe, like when pregnant we get the flu,” he said. “And so if you’re playing the odds, they’re very much in your favor to be vaccinated, if you’re considering fertility or you’re pregnant — much safer for you than not getting vaccinated.”

On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics released new Covid-19 guidance for schools, recommending masks for all students over the age of 2, regardless of vaccination status.

Dr. Priest said he supports that recommendation. While children generally experience better outcomes when they contract Covid-19, he said, they are not immune to the virus. Furthermore, he said, children can spread the virus to others, including adults and family members.

With Covid vaccines in short supply in many poor countries, Dr. Priest lamented the fact that many Americans are still reluctant to get the shots, which have been safely administered to hundreds of millions of people 

“This is now a disease of the unvaccinated,” he said.

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Founder and publisher of Qcitymetro, Glenn has worked at newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Wall Street Journal and The Charlotte Observer.

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