GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – In Pitt County, along with Beaufort, Washington, and Martin counties, case counts have now reached the “high” level. Health experts say this is due to the new B5 variant, which is highly infectious.

A big jump in the number of NC counties in the CDC’s orange zone with high COVID spread

While North Carolina will lift its state of emergency for COVID-19 later than many other states, Dr. Paul Cook, a professor at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine, said he is still very concerned about the emergence of new variants, some of which may be showing to be more resistant to vaccines.

“So the other problem is that people that have either been infected or immunized are still at risk for getting infection,” said Cook.

This concern comes as North Carolina has seen an uptick in cases over the past weeks.

“So people are going in public places without masks on, and you’re talking about a virus strain that is much more infectious than the previous strains have been. So this is basically very predictable,” said Cook.

Some public health departments said they don’t necessarily see going back to masking, but they do encourage people to continue being cautious.

In a statement, health officials at the Onslow County Health Department said they are recommending continued vaccinations as well as home-testing, especially now that those tests are so accessible.

Cook said it’s very concerning that the issue is being treated politically rather than as a public health concern.

“I think that what has happened is, once that masks thing was struck down, it’s going to be much harder to reinstate it. I think that, unfortunately, what we’re going to have is more infections,” said Cook.

Cook added there is a new vaccine expected in the fall that should be more effective against new variants. He recommends everyone receive that vaccine when it comes out.