After encouraging school districts last week to return to some form of in-person learning, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday he will open the vaccine queue to Group 3 frontline essential workers, beginning with anyone working in child care or pre-K-through-12 schools, on Feb. 24.
“Essential workers are just that – essential,” Cooper said in a press briefing. “They have worked throughout this pandemic, and we know that educators can continue to work safely even before the vaccine being administered as long as schools follow state health guidance. Schools can get students back in the classroom safely right now, and that’s what I want them to do.”’
The state will gradually allow other frontline essential workers in Group 3 to be inoculated.
“Starting with a smaller number of Group 3 frontline essential workers helps providers streamline vaccine distribution effectively and efficiently,” Cooper said.
The state will start with anyone who teaches, drives buses or vans, works in custodial, food or maintenance departments at childcare centers and homes, traditional public, charter or private schools, as well as Head Start Programs and pre-K. It is an estimated 240,000 people.
On March 10, the state will expand into Group 3, which consists of a vast population of frontline essential workers, from public transit operators to restaurant staff. Cooper and North Carolina’s top public health official, Dr. Mandy Cohen, explained a future decision will need to made about whether the third group will open up all at once or there will be subcategories. These decisions will be based on how much supply has increased at the time.
Cohen announced Tuesday the state is averaging 150,000 vaccines a week, but the federal government has agreed to increase supply by 5%. That’s about 7,500 more doses for North Carolina this week.
Cooper also signed an executive order Tuesday allowing Cohen to onboard more vaccine providers without normal regulations needed to approve them. Additionally, Johnson & Johnson is on the brink of approval from the FDA and state officials are taking steps to plan administration of the one-dose shot.
North Carolina will continue vaccinating people in Groups 1 and 2 as well, which includes healthcare frontline workers, long-term care staff and people 65 and older. Almost 50% of people ages 65 and older have received the vaccine to date. Overall, close to 1.5 million vaccines have been administered.
“I know that people are frustrated and more than ready for their vaccine,” Cooper said. “Everybody should get one and it’s important. And I know a lot of people want to be next. I look forward to the day it’s my turn. I appreciate the hard work of health care workers across our state to quickly and fairly get these shots into people’s arms.”
Health workers, long-term care staff and residents and people aged 65 and up are still getting first and second vaccinations, and they will continue to receive their doses as the next phase starts.
The state has two more weeks to inoculate as many older adults as possible before educators start lining up.
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