By Clayton Henkel, NC POLICY WATCH
While many North Carolinians have been transfixed this week by the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol, state Health Secretary Mandy Cohen sought Friday to refocus the public on the pandemic.
Friday marked a second day this week that North Carolina has recorded more than 10,000 new cases of the coronavirus with nearly 4,000 people hospitalized across the state.
“In the ten months that we have been fighting this pandemic, this is the most worried that I have been for our state,” Sec. Cohen said.
Many hospitals have stopped non-urgent procedures to free up staff, others have opened additional COVID units.
Cohen’s secretarial directive issued earlier this week underscores how dire the situation has become as the state experienced exponential virus spread.
“You should only leave home for essential activities, like going to work or school, to care for family members or to buy food,” cautioned Dr. Cohen.
If you are over 65 or at high-risk, the state is recommending using delivery services or an alternative pick-up method and not spending any unnecessary time indoors shopping or around others outside your household
“It is likely, and we are operating as if it is here. We need to realize this virus was contagious before, and now is even more contagious as we go forward.”
Vaccine rollout advances despite some hesitancy
More than 180,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been given with 20,000 shots going into arms in the last 24 hours.
“We are hearing from our vaccine partners that they are anxious for more doses.”
Cohen says the vaccine remains in limited supply with essential workers such as police officers and child care providers the next group in line to be vaccinated.
Another challenge for North Carolina remains the rollout at long-term care facilities.
“We are hearing anecdotal reports of more vaccine hesitancy in our long-term care workforce,” Cohen explained acknowledging the need for better education about the safety of the shots.
The state is also not receiving direct data regarding the numbers vaccinated at North Carolina’s long-term care facilities. That distribution is managed by the federal government through a contract with CVS and Walgreens.
As of Tuesday that partnership reportedly had received 166,000 vaccine doses, but had administered just 13,000 doses.
Cohen said better transparency about the CVS/Walgreens partnership from the federal government could help address the logjam.
National Guard supporting local health departments
The first National Guard teams to support the vaccination process will be reporting early next week starting with Forsyth County and Albemarle Regional Health Services.
“Additional teams from the National Guard are being assembled and will be deployed based on the needs of our county partners,” said Mike Sprayberry, director of NC Emergency Management.
Emergency management is also coordinating the availability of dry ice, needed to keep the Pfizer vaccine in ultra cold storage.
“Let me encourage everyone to get the vaccine when your turn comes,” Sprayberry told reporters. “It’s safe and it’s free.”
Cohen also praised those with medical experience who have volunteered to help expedite local vaccinations.
“There have been a lot of folks who have raised their hand and said they could be vaccinators, and our team is working to match them up where the need is. The rate of vaccines going into arms has really picked-up.”
COVID-19 vaccinations are now available to North Carolinians 75 and older.
Click here to learn when and where you can get the vaccine. It’s expected be widely available to the public by the spring.