CHARLOTTE, NC — At least five people who attended the Mecktoberfest beer festival in Charlotte last month have tested positive for COVID-19, Mecklenburg County's top health official said Tuesday.
The news comes as county officials learn that spikes in communities surrounding Mecklenburg County are leading to overwhelmed hospitals diverting patients to Charlotte hospitals, Gibbie Harris, director of Mecklenburg County Public Health, told county commissioners Tuesday afternoon.
Saturday, MCPH held a free testing event at The Old Mecklenburg Brewery located at 4150 Yancey Road in Charlotte. The brewery held a three-day beer festival Sept. 25-27.
Of the 137 people tested during the MCPH event, two tested positive, increasing the total number of known COVID-19 cases associated with the beer fest to five, Harris said.
"What that tells me is there were a large number — they're saying a 1,000 or more — who participated in that event over three days." she said. Given the small number of attendees tested, the expectation is there are likely more positive cases, she said.
In an open letter to patrons, The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery's founder John Marrino called the situation "an unfortunate turn of events."
The brewery, which expected a smaller crowd at the annual event due to the ongoing pandemic, prepared for the event according to local, state and national guidelines that included spacing tables and instituting mask requirements for employees and customers, Marrino said. During Saturday, Sept. 26, however, a group ignored face mask and social distancing requests from the staff. "Perhaps they were confused since they were outside in the Biergarten," Marrino said. "This was certainly NOT with our encouragement or our permission."
Videos of the group on social media "has distorted people's perceptions of the overall event and our brewery," he said.
As of Tuesday, 30,567 COVID-19 cases have been reported in Mecklenburg County, along with at least 374 deaths of county residents. Six of the deaths were reported Oct. 13, Harris said.. In the past week, the county has averaged about 99 positive cases a day, she said.
"We are seeing slight increases in our number of cases but some of the other metrics are fairly stable for us, which is great news," Harris said. "Unfortunately, we're not seeing the same things in some of our surrounding counties."
Lincoln and Cleveland counties, for example, have reported a 200 percent increase in positive cases in the last 30 days. In Gaston County, hospitalizations have tripled in the past month.
"We are hearing that hospitals in the western part of the state are overwhelmed, and they are diverting patients to the Charlotte area and the Winston-Salem area," Harris said.
Last week, North Carolina's top public health official acknowledged that coronavirus trends were taking a turn in the wrong direction in the state. "Our cases have ticked up, as have the percent that have tested positive and hospitalizations," North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said.
North Carolina public health officials reported the number of newly confirmed coronavirus cases rose to 234,481 cases Tuesday, an increase of 1,734 cases since Monday. As of Oct. 13 the state's coronavirus death toll was 3,816, 43 more than reported a day earlier.
Globally, nearly 38 million people have been infected by COVID-19, and more than 1 million people have died, Johns Hopkins University reported Tuesday. In the United States, more than 7.8 million people have been infected and more than 215,000 people have died from COVID-19.