New COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and infections at congregate housing facilities all soared this week, as the highly contagious omicron variant continued to surge across the eight-county health district.

New cases increased by more than 2,260 this week, which is more than double the number of new cases reported last week. Nearly 26,000 cases of COVID-19 have now been reported in the eight counties since the pandemic began.

Two counties in the district — Pasquotank and Hertford — reported more than 400 new cases in a week, the first time that’s happened. Two others — Bertie and Chowan — reported more than 300 new cases. Two others — Currituck and Perquimans — reported more than 200 new cases. Gates reported 156 new cases and Camden reported 86.

Active COVID cases actually fell from last week by 143. Every county in the district save two — Gates, which saw active cases go up by 47, and Bertie, which saw a one-case increase — reported fewer active cases.

New hospitalizations at area hospitals jumped to 44 over the past seven days, with Sentara Albemarle Medical Center reporting the bulk of them. As of Friday, the Elizabeth City-based hospital was treating 28 patients for COVID-19 in roughly a third of its in-patient beds.

COVID cases at nursing homes, assisted living facilities and Albemarle District Jail more than doubled from last week. Albemarle Regional Health Services reported 114 COVID cases at 10 facilities last week. This week the count was 275 cases at 16 facilities.

A quarter of the cases (69) were at Elizabeth City Health and Rehabilitation Center. Accordius at Creekside reported the second-largest number (45). Currituck House was third (25) and Brian Center of Windsor and Chowan River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center (23) had the fourth-highest total.

ARHS also reported four new COVID-related deaths in the region this week. Three were Bertie County residents and one lived in Chowan County. All were over 65, ARHS said.

The eight-county region’s positivity rate — the percentage of COVID tests that come back with a positive result — rose to 33.6% for the week ending Jan. 8, a nearly 5% increase from the previous report on testing.

“We are certainly seeing record high numbers at this time,” ARHS Director R. Battle Betts Jr. said in a press release with Friday’s report. “Our hope is that this wave will be relatively short-lived, with a decrease in cases occurring as quickly as the increase has.”

But exactly when that will be remains unknown, he said.

“What we do know is that vaccines are preventing severe illness,” Betts said.

He said about 87% of all intensive care admissions to hospitals in North Carolina are persons who haven’t been vaccinated.

ARHS released data Friday showing it administered another 479 booster or third doses of vaccine this week. It administered only 127 first and 94 second doses, however.

According to Centers of Disease Control data, more than 107,200 first doses of vaccine have now been administered to residents 5 and older in the eight counties. Nearly 81,600 residents are fully vaccinated with either two doses of Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The percentage of those fully vaccinated is now over 50% in six of the eight counties, with Camden (59.6%) and Currituck (57.4%) reporting the highest percentages. Only Perquimans (48.9%) and Hertford (48.4%) counties are still below the 50% vaccinated threshold. The percentages of those 5 and older fully vaccinated in the four other counties are 56.3% in Chowan, 55.1% in Pasquotank, 52.3% in Gates, and 51.5% in Bertie.

By comparison, only 20,082 residents 18 and older in the eight counties are fully vaccinated and have received a booster dose. Gates (30.5%) has the highest percentage of residents who've received a booster shot. Chowan and Perquimans are next with 29.5%, followed by Hertford with 27.1%, Bertie (25.5%), Pasquotank (22.9%) and Currituck (22.8%). Camden has the lowest percentage: 19.3%. 

Betts also said the region is beginning to see cases of flu, and he urged residents to continue to take precautions to protect against it — wearing a facemask, staying home when you’re sick and frequent hand-washing — that are similar to guarding against omicron.