North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen updated the public Tuesday on pandemic numbers that keep rising in North Carolina: 446,601 cases, 2,735 hospitalizations and 5,881 deaths to date.
Though no new restrictions were put into place across the state, Cooper brought up a letter that he, Cohen and N.C. Department of Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks signed and sent to local government agencies across the state last Friday. The letter implores local government to make sure residents follow the governor’s modified stay-at-home order and restrictions in every county, but more so encourages they “get involved and step up,” and adapt their own local ordinances.
Though the charges wouldn’t be criminal, civil fines and penalties could be effective, according to the governor.
“Our aim isn’t to get people in trouble but to help keep people safe,” he added. “It’s coming upon us as leaders to take the steps to set good examples of what we need to be doing. The more careful we are now, the more lives we will save.”
Cooper iterated hope and help arrived on Dec. 14 when Winston Salem’s Wake Forest Baptist Hospital received the first shipment of vaccinations in the state, followed by Atrium and Duke. Each site began administering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to frontline healthcare workers. Eight more hospitals will receive the vaccine Tuesday, and by Thursday, 42 are expected to have supplies, including New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
Dr. Cohen called it an historic and emotional day, pressing the vaccine’s 95% efficacy rate. “You cannot get Covid from the vaccine,” she added. “It imitates the virus to help create the antibody defense if the real germ attacks.”
According to Cohen, the federal government decides how many doses states get by population, not necessarily by the rate of viral spread. The federal government informs the states early Friday the amount of doses they will get every week. The federal government then expects to hear back from states on where the vaccines should go by 8 p.m. on the same night, to ensure shipments are received by Monday.
“It’s not enough time to coordinate vaccines,” Cooper said.
Cooper said he asked Vice President Mike Pence if they could communicate earlier than Friday morning to give more time to properly plan the execution of which sites get the vaccines. He’s waiting on a response.
“Our N.C. team spent months preparing and now we are moving our plan into action,” Cooper said. “But supply is still very limited.”
If the Moderna vaccine is approved, Cohen said she expects the state to receive 175,000 doses as soon as next week.
When the time is right, half of vaccinations will have to be held for the federal government to oversee distribution to long-term care facilities, which are being administered by CVS and Walgreens.
Both Pfizer and Moderna are to be given in two doses; Pfizer requires a 21-day separation before the second dose, and Moderna needs 28 days between doses. The federal government holds back all second doses for the states.
“So two weeks from now, the same places will get the same numbers of doses, so by the third week they can administer it in the right time,” Cohen explained.
Cohen and a team have set up what Cooper coined a “war room” in order to answer healthcare provider questions anytime, and communicate and trouble shoot issues as need be.
“We spent months and months creating a database to know who got the first dose and when to followup with a second dose,” the governor said. “We are working together with healthcare providers, making sure there is a lot of communication and it’s spread out across the state.”
Cohen wasn’t shy saying it will take months to properly distribute the vaccines to the population at large. To determine precisely when that would be is calculated by multiple factors: how fast vaccines are being manufactured, how quickly they can be administered to patients, how many can be given in a day, how many people will even say yes to the vaccine, and how many vaccines will be on the market in coming months, beyond Pfizer and Moderna.
“I think it will be well into the spring until the vaccine is widely available,” Cohen speculated. “It will take time for that vaccine supply to build up in North Carolina.”
Thus, she and the governor advise residents to continue following safety precautions and especially the modified stay-at-home order. They called on North Carolinians to avoid traveling during the holidays, per CDC regulations.
Cohen said today’s rising numbers are indicators that Thanksgiving gatherings facilitated spread. The state is seeing double the amount of hospitalizations from Nov. 15, including 643 ICU beds taken versus 350 last month at the same time.
“If you have to gather in person, do it outdoors,” Cooper offered.
Cohen encouraged everyone get a Covid-19 test if they plan to be around households outside of their own this season and pointed to the state’s database, which lists 300 free Covid testing events. The state also began a new partnership with familiar retailers, like Piggly Wiggly and Wegmans, in seven counties to offer free testing.
“A negative test doesn’t give you a free pass,” Cooper reminded. “It just makes you safer.”
“I know we are getting numb to these numbers,” Cohen said, “but take a moment to realize who these people are: family, friends, loved ones. Too many North Carolinians are dying. Together, we can protect each other from this pandemic and make sure our hospitals can serve everyone.”
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