Health Leaders Caution Community to Be Vigilant During Peak Respiratory Virus Season

Doctor in mask giving an injection of a vaccine to a teenager girl in a medical clinic, vaccine prevention against infection with coronavirus

Mecklenburg County, NC – Health leaders caution residents that respiratory illnesses including COVID and influenza are circulating at high levels in our community, resulting in spikes in emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

“We are still in the peak season for respiratory illnesses and each of us can play a pivotal role in making our community safer. It’s not too late to get your COVID and flu vaccines, and I encourage everyone to do so quickly. Importantly, if you feel sick, please stay home and isolate so you don’t infect others,” said Dr. Raynard Washington, Mecklenburg County Public Health director. “Residents, particularly those who are at risk for severe illness due to respiratory viruses, are encouraged to take additional steps to protect themselves, including wearing masks and avoiding crowded indoor spaces.”

The latest Mecklenburg County data shows that between Dec. 27, 2023 - Jan. 9, 2024, there were 1,009 visits to the emergency room. Approximately 12% of those patients were hospitalized.

Local health system leaders share these concerns. 

“We’re seeing high volumes of patients at our emergency rooms across the region, including hundreds of people with COVID- or flu-like symptoms, each day,” said Dr. Katie Passaretti, vice president and chief epidemiologist for Atrium Health, as well as a clinical professor of infectious diseases for Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “Unless a patient is in respiratory distress, they are likely to be better served going to their primary care doctor, a walk-in clinic or doing a virtual visit.” Atrium Health offers a symptom checker and guidelines about where to seek care and how to get an appointment on its website:

“As hospitalizations and emergency department visits continue to rise, we want to remind the community of the many care options we have available,” said Dr. Sid Fletcher, Chief Clinical Officer for Novant Health’s Charlotte market. “Our primary care and pediatric clinics are offering same-day and next-day appointments for sick visits. If an appointment is not available within 24 hours at a patient’s home office, we utilize a care neighborhood model and schedule them at a nearby clinic. We also have 17 urgent care locations, a pediatric after-hours clinic and 24/7 on-demand virtual care available. Patients can access our virtual care or a list of clinic locations at” 

A systemic indicator of the prevalence of the COVID virus in our community is wastewater testing. All monitoring sites in Mecklenburg County show the peak level of samples testing positive. 

Vaccinations for COVID and flu vaccines are available at pharmacies and private medical offices. Public Health offers vaccinations for uninsured residents and children with Medicaid can receive the COVID-19 vaccine – as well as other recommended vaccines including the flu vaccine at Mecklenburg County Public Health. Find flu or COVID-19 vaccines near you.

The following precautions from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should also be taken to protect against the spread of respiratory viruses:

  • Regularly clean your hands with hand sanitizer or soap and water to prevent the spread of viruses to others
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discard the tissue promptly
  • Stay home when sick, except to seek medical care or testing, and take steps to avoid spreading infection to others in your home, including:
    • Staying in a separate room from other household members, if possible
    • Using a separate bathroom, if possible
    • Avoiding contact with other members of the household and pets
    • Not sharing personal household items, like cups, towels and utensils
    • Wearing a mask when around other people

Get detailed information about actions you can take to protect yourself and others.