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Vaccinations impacting COVID-19 hospitalization downward trend, health experts say

Monday's data from the NC DHHS showed the number of hospitalizations was at 1,021 compared to the same date last year when it was at 1,965.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Starting Wednesday more people will be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine. North Carolina will expand vaccination to folks in Group 4.

With vaccination expanding to Group 4 it means more than four million people will join the list to compete for vaccine appointments. Officials say vaccinations and the downward trend in COVID hospitalizations reflect great progress in dealing with the pandemic.

"By all accounts, really really successful so far, really happy," said Keith Acree, North Carolina Emergency Management. 

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Acree said more than 18,600 people have been vaccinated in six days at the Greensboro mass vaccination site which has a plan to vaccinate 3,000 per day. So far more than 12% of the population have already received full vaccination shots. 

Group 4, which is made up of people with underlying conditions, will start getting their vaccines on Wednesday. Officials said in light of the large number, they have made tweaks to their operation including adding more appointments to make up for a 5% no-show rate.

 "We've refined our signage refined our traffic patterns and probably the biggest thing that we have done is we've stopped scheduling appointments for an hour and a half in the middle of the day to give all the staff a chance to have a lunch break," Acree said. 

Officials also say hospitalization rates have been going down across the state for the most part and some of it is owed to vulnerable populations getting vaccinated.

Monday's data from the NCDHHS showed the number of hospitalizations was at 1,021 compared to the same date last year when it was at 1,965.

In January, Cone Health had around 300 COVID-19 patients but according to hospital management, that number is now in the '50s.

"Overall, the epidemic is improving but we still have some ways to go and we still have questions," said Dr. Jeffrey Hatcher, an infectious disease expert at Wesley Long Hospital.

Some of those questions are about the different viral variants popping up across the United States, like the UK, Brazil, and South Africa strains of COVID-19.

"We are still a little bit on edge, worried that some of these variants may cause another peak in the epidemic," Dr. Hatcher said.

Experts say things like Spring break, resumed travel, as well as people letting their guard down as states re-open, will most likely cause a spike in more COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks.