North Carolina is in the midst of its second COVID-19 wave and conditions will continue to worsen if people don’t take the virus more seriously, said Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious disease specialist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem.

“The next three or four months are going to be a long slog for us,” said Ohl in a live COVID-19 update Thursday on Facebook. “If we don’t change what we’re doing, the numbers will continue to increase.”

He urged people to curb social activities and said drinking establishments, restaurants and fitness centers are among primary places where COVID-19 is transmitted. Outbreaks at workplaces often result from people removing their masks and socializing on lunch breaks, he added.

“The big things driving our numbers now are household transmissions and social transmissions. Small groups of people getting together — neighbors, friends and family members that you’re normally not with.”

Ohl said people are getting together more indoors now due to the arrival of cooler weather, but they should limit social gatherings to immediate household members.

“It should be a quiet and intimate Thanksgiving this year, and not large family gatherings. If there are activities, do them outside. If a family member comes who normally isn’t there, wear masks and social distance because 30-50% of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic.”

He added, “Assume everyone has it and take precautions around everyone.”

Ohl said it’s been determined that the coronavirus is mostly transmitted through the air within six feet of other people and not as much on surfaces as earlier believed. “You don’t need to stock up on Chlorox wipes,” he said, adding that grocery store spokesmen say supply chains are in good shape.

Ohl said good progress is being made with vaccines, with availability likely in late December first for health care workers and nursing home residents and staff, then elderly people with health conditions, then healthy people and children last.

He said vaccines, not herd immunity, “will be our ticket out of this…. Too many will die with herd immunity.”

While there are more COVID-19 cases in North Carolina hospitals than a month and a half ago, Ohl said he isn’t aware of any hospitals in the state having to use alternate care plans, cancel elective procedures or alter staffing.

“All of the hospitals that I know of in the area and state have been doing fantastic in preventing transmission of coronavirus to other patients and staff members…. We’re able to take care of the patients we normally do — and do it safely.”

Ohl said scientific studies show the worst COVID-19 outbreaks are in places where there are no restrictions and people haven’t been wearing masks.

He said these areas mostly are the Midwest, upper Midwest and a little farther east and mentioned Minnesota, the Dakotas, Illinois and Iowa.

“Those places are really getting slammed right now…. Their hospitals are pretty stressed out. They’re having to cut back on elective surgeries and elective admissions for procedures so they can take care of their coronavirus patients.”

Ohl said area public school systems are doing comparatively well with COVID-19 and that he currently doesn’t believe it would be justified to have all students return to full-time remote learning.

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