Mecklenburg County health leaders said August 1 that transmission of monkeypox is accelerating locally for the first time. Total infections for the virus is trending upward, said Mecklenburg County Health Director Dr. Raynard Washington. 

As of August 1, the county confirmed 33 cases of monkeypox in Mecklenburg — up from 12 cases on July 20. That’s an increase of 175 percent. “The trend we’re seeing right now is for new cases to double every three to four days roughly,” Washington said. 

The county Health Department has identified several incidents of community spread within Mecklenburg, according to Washington. Previously, contact tracing revealed all known infections originated from outside the county. Said Washington: “We expect case counts to continue to increase, at least in the short term.” 

Increased monkeypox transmission coincided with the county announcing Friday that it was upgraded to high COVID community spread level by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite the heightened risk factor, Washington said he doesn’t expect the county to implement any mask mandates or other safety requirements. 

Mecklenburg getting more Monkeypox Vaccines

Mecklenburg will receive an additional 2,000 doses of monkeypox vaccine the first week of August. Washington said there are 1,800 patients on the vaccination wait list. Since the monkeypox vaccination is a two-shot treatment, county officials should be able to vaccinate around 1,000 people with the new shipment. Most confirmed infections have been with gay or bisexual men, Washington said, but reiterated that anyone in close contact with an infected person can be infected themselves. “The most common myth we’ve been hearing is that monkeypox is exclusive to gay or bisexual men, and that’s frankly not true,” he said. “While local infections have been mostly impacting those networks, that’s not the only group that’s possible to be impacted.” 

To help proactively prevent infections, Washington said the department met with organizers of the upcoming Charlotte Pride festival several weeks ago to promote safety precautions. The county has also started campaigns on dating apps to raise awareness. Lessons learned during the COVID pandemic have helped the agency more quickly create a vaccination hotline and fine-tune contact tracing, Washington said. 

On July 20, county health officials reported 12 cases of monkeypox in the county, which accounted for over half of the state’s 21 total cases. As of July 29, the CDC reported 53 total cases in North Carolina, with Mecklenburg accounting for 33 of those. Mecklenburg County announced its first case on June 27, four days after the state Health Department reported North Carolina’s first monkeypox infection in Haywood County. Rowan County identified its first case on July 15. The CDC has reported 5,189 active monkeypox cases in the U.S. as of July 29. 

No COVID Mask Enforcement Expected

Although omicron subvariant BA.5 has surged to become the most common COVID variant in North Carolina, Washington said he doesn’t expect any mask “enforcement measures” to be implemented by the county. He encouraged people to continually reassess their risk factor and mask, wash their hands and stay distanced when appropriate. Mecklenburg joined Rowan, Cabarrus and Gaston counties last week after being upgraded to high community spread by the CDC. Iredell and Lincoln counties also are on the list for high community spread, while Union County remains at medium, as are York, Chester and Lancaster counties in South Carolina. 

Last week, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported the seven-day average of patients hospitalized with COVID was 1,111. Five deaths were reported. Variant BA.5 makes up 58 percent of all cases reported in the state, according to the state health department. 

This article appears courtesy of our media partner The Charlotte Observer.

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