RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The number of COVID-19 particles in North Carolina’s sewage spiked by nearly 70 percent to its highest point since last January.

Hospital admissions across the state for COVID also reached their highest peak in nearly a year for the second consecutive week, according to the weekly update Wednesday from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Those spikes during the week of Jan. 1-7 came as new cases were down slightly and people visited emergency rooms across the state for COVID at a marginally lower rate last week than they did during the last week of December.

Those increases in particles found in wastewater — a key predictor of a surge in cases — and hospital admissions likely reflect the viral spread that took place during the winter holidays.

NCDHHS also added another 209 deaths, bringing the total to 27,908, and reported no change in the percentage of vaccinated people who have received the new bivalent booster. That rate held steady at 20 percent.

The state lists 11 omicron subvariants that were detected in sequencing labs across the state from Dec. 18-31, and five of them made up at least 5 percent of samples. 

That includes the BQ.1.1 variant (43 percent), the BA.5 variant (17 percent) that was the state’s dominant strain throughout the fall and the XBB.1.5 variant (5 percent) that experts predict will be next to outpace all others and has been called the “kraken” because of how quickly it spreads and how well it evades antibodies.

NCDHHS, for the second week in a row, reported a nearly 11-month-high in the number of people admitted to North Carolina hospitals with COVID.

The agency counted 1,659 new admissions last week, up nearly 5 percent from the previous week’s count of 1,585. It’s the most since there were 1,786 during the week that ended Feb. 19, 2022.

Hospital admissions rose for the seventh week in a row.

The biggest jump came in the average number of viral particles spotted in wastewater across the state, with 82.4 million representing a jump of 68 percent from a week earlier.

That total is the fourth-highest since June 2021, the earliest point on the NCDHHS chart, and the most since the record of 106 million during the height of the original omicron surge in January 2022.

The agency counted 20,727 new cases last week, 11 percent fewer than the previous week but still the third straight week with at least 20,000 of them.

It also says 6.6 percent of ER visits last week were for symptoms of COVID, down slightly from 7.9 percent during the last week in December.