RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — August is now the deadliest month of the COVID-19 pandemic since February.
With the state and nation moving squarely into the phase of the delta-driven surge that’s marked by an increase in deaths, 478 people have died this month. The state’s daily average number of deaths recently reached its highest point since the tail end of the surge last winter.
With six days left, it’s already the most in a calendar month since there were 1,266 in February — before the vaccines were widely available — and more than there were in June and July combined.
“It’s grim. It’s sobering,” said Dr. Erica Pettigrew, the medical director of the Orange County Health Department and an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine’s family medicine department.
“It’s not where we wanted to be,” she added. “It’s not where we really even needed to be. If we had done even better at vaccination, we may not have needed to be facing these numbers.”
The profile of those dying is changing — they’re becoming younger and whiter.
“It looks different,” Pettigrew said. “It looks and feels different than it did back in December, in January when we were in our largest surge — until now.”
People between the ages of 25 and 49 make up 4 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the state. But that age group accounts for 11 percent of the deaths in August that have been broken down demographically by DHHS.
“Some of the people we’re seeing die in their 30s and 40s are not sickly people,” said Duke Health trauma surgeon Dr. Lisa Pickett. “They’re healthy, out there working, young adults, that get COVID and just become overwhelmingly ill and die despite every treatment possible.”
There’s also a racial shift: White people account for two-thirds of the total number of COVID deaths — but 72 percent of those so far in August.
That lines up with a USA Today breakdown of national data, which found that white non-Hispanics make up nearly 70 percent of deaths in July and August — but just over 60 percent of all pandemic deaths.
Their analysis also finds people from 18 through their 30s have roughly tripled their share of deaths and those in their 50s and early 60s making up more than a quarter of deaths during the past two months after accounting for fewer than 1 in 6 overall.
But those who are dying now tend to have one even more significant thing in common that supersedes age, race and any other demographic detail — their vaccination status.
“It’s really more a function of who is vaccinated,” Pettigrew said. “That is the single most important predictor of whether you will need to have a spot in the ICU or possibly even on a ventilator.”