Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Cooper accelerates vaccinations, opening to groups 4 and 5 early

Cooper will open vaccines to the rest of Group 4 on March 31 and the rest of the NC population on April 7. (Port City Daily/File)

After announcing earlier in the week his intention to lift business restrictions and the alcohol sales curfew on Friday, Governor Roy Cooper followed up today with accelerating vaccinations. All North Carolinians who want a shot will be able to receive one by April 7.

First, the governor said he will open them to the rest of Group 4, including students living in congregate settings and dorms, beginning March 31.

RELATED: Cooper lifts alcohol sales curfew, rolls back restrictions on maximum capacity for businesses

According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, the rest of Group 4 includes:

  • Chemical (including workers in petrochemical plants, agricultural chemicals, pharmaceutical facilities, consumer products)
  • Commercial facilities (including retail workers, hotel workers)
  • Communications and information technology (service repair dispatchers, data center operators)
  • Construction, residential facilities, housing and real estate 
  • Defense industrial base (including workers supporting essential services to meet national security commitments)
  • Energy (including electric, petroleum, natural and propane gas workers)
  • Financial services (including workers who maintain systems for processing financial transactions, workers needed to provide consumer access to banking and lending services)
  • Hazardous materials (including nuclear facilities workers, workers managing medical waste)
  • Hygiene products and services (including laundromats, sanitation workers)
  • Public works and infrastructure support services (including plumbers, electricians, exterminators, workers supporting parks)
  • Water and wastewater (including staff at water authorities, wastewater treatment facilities, water sampling and monitoring)

To date, North Carolina has vaccinated 4.3 million people with its first dose. It’s fully vaccinated one in five individuals, according to state officials.

“If you look at those over 65, over 70% have at least one dose and more than 55% are fully vaccinated,” said the state department of health and human services’ secretary, Dr. Mandy Cohen. “We are making quite good progress.”

Some counties and providers, she said, have been moving through vaccines quickly while others have had leftover doses. By opening the queue early, everyone will have a chance to be vaccinated earlier to help North Carolina reach her immunity (70% or so).

“Vaccines are the key to us moving forward,” Cooper said. “Our vaccine team has been talking with providers constantly to assess where they are to get out vaccines across state.”

To amp up outreach — especially to assure marginalized communities the safety of the three free Covid-19 vaccines — North Carolina announced a public-private partnership with Healthier Together: Health Equity Action Network. Though it’s accelerating the vaccinations to the public, North Carolina officials want to make sure it does so equitably in its “fast and fair” approach.

“We embed equity into all aspects of our operations,” Cohen said.

So far 22% of all vaccinations have gone to African Americans, while 14% have gone to the Hispanic community. The partnership with Healthier Together will provide grants to community-based organizations that can help increase vaccines to historically marginalized communities, coordinate events, help with scheduling, offer onsite translation services, ensure second-dose appointments are scheduled, and even arrange transportation. The public-private partnership has been funded by federal Covid-19 dollars, according to Cohen.

“Our work will support the state’s ongoing priority to maximize the speed and efficiency of North Carolina’s Covid-19 vaccine distribution while adhering to its commitment to equity,” said Stacey Carless, executive Director of the coalition. “Through Healthier Together, we will begin working with the state to address and dismantle systemic and structural barriers to healthier equity.”

As the vaccination queue expands in coming weeks, state officials still expect supply to increase as well. Once that happens, more providers, including doctor’s offices and small pharmacies, will be onboarded to get more shots into arms.

“We are hearing from providers that they can use more people coming in for appointments,” Cooper said. “We have to continue to work hard to get out to communities and convince people who are hesitant, reach out to those who are homebound and who are marginalized — particularly when we reach the point of supply exceeding demand. Opening the process will help us with that.”

Once more people are vaccinated, Cooper said he will look at easing even more restrictions to open the economy fully sooner. He iterated input from health professionals, business owners, as well as data will help inform those decisions of when the time is right. He was hesitant to put forth any numeric benchmark to get there.

“Remember, it has to be a combination of things we look at,” Cohen said, including getting more people vaccinated, following case load, hospitalizations and viral spread. “The virus changes and we have variants already. It’s likely the virus will change more. We have to consider all of that to determine what the future holds.” 

North Carolina has had 903,374 cases, 945 hospitalizations, and 11,987 deaths as of Mar. 25. It also has had 2,112 new cases reported in the last 24 hours.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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