CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, gave an update on COVID-19 Tuesday and continued to urge more people to get vaccinated.
Vaccination rates in North Carolina
Cooper started Tuesday's briefing with a celebration of vaccination rates among elderly adults. Cooper said 90% of North Carolina adults 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 87% are fully vaccinated.
The data isn't as good for younger people. Cooper said less than half of eligible people age 12 to 24 have had one dose of the vaccine.
"Every vaccine given is a potential life saved," Cooper said. "Case rates are at the highest in this age group. We remain laser-focused on helping more people make that decision to get vaccinated."
'Most of these deaths are preventable'
Cooper's update came after North Carolina's COVID-19 cases are down from the high seen during the week of Aug. 29. On Tuesday, North Carolina reported 4,381 new cases. There are currently 3,464 people hospitalized statewide with COVID-19, according to NC DHHS data. Over 15,000 people have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
"Most of these deaths are preventable," Cooper said. "If you haven't gotten the shot and you aren't sick, it's not too late. If you had COVID and are now negative, a vaccine still gives you great protection against the virus."
With case numbers down, health experts say hospitals are still at their limit. Dr. David Wohl with UNC Health told WRAL-TV in Raleigh that beds are still nearly full in many hospitals and ICU capacity is maxing out at some facilities, with over 90% of those patients being unvaccinated. Wohl said the vaccine is the best tool to fight the virus.
"We are a big country of 310 million people," Wohl said. "Even if 10% of us remain unvaccinated, that's a lot of folks that could get sick and fill up our hospitals."
NC DHHS data shows 908 patients statewide are in the ICU with COVID-19, down from 955 ICU patients on Sept. 13. As of Tuesday afternoon, 68% of eligible adults have taken at least one dose of the vaccine, with 63% of adults being fully vaccinated.
Cohen said the number of patients who are coming to emergency rooms with COVID-like symptoms has dipped for the first time in a few months. The trajectory of new cases is also falling. Hospitalizations remain high but they are leveling, according to Cohen.
"This summer, we experienced the fastest rise in cases since the pandemic started," Cohen said. "Our cases remain high. We're still averaging around 6,000 new COVID cases each day, and while the numbers remain too high, they have remained relatively stable. Our case rates remain highest for children 17 and younger."
Children and COVID-19
Cohen said children made up almost one-third of the state's new COVID-19 cases for the past three weeks. She also said the state has a "small bit" of optimism with cases leveling off as major events, like the state fair, are scheduled.
"With the school calendar in full swing, let's do our part to keep students and teachers safe," Cooper said. "We cannot lose sight of that critically important goal."
When asked about Union County Public Schools, Cohen reiterated that the state clarified its protocols for contact tracing and quarantines. Earlier this month, Cohen and the state gave UCPS until Sept. 17 to adopt its COVID-19 protocols or face possible legal action. The board voted Monday to reinstate contact tracing and quarantine periods as defined by state law. The district still hasn't required masks for students and staff.
"I think all schools should be wearing masks," Cohen said. "Masks are incredibly important. Vaccines are No. 1, masks are No. 2."
Cooper also addressed recent school board meetings that have seen confrontations between parents and school officials over COVID-19 protocols.
"Being civil and respectful of one another is more important than ever as we navigate another COVID school year," Cooper said. "Let's behave the way we want our kids to act. We owe it to them and we owe it to each other"
Gov. Cooper urging faith leaders to help with vaccination efforts
In an open letter, Cooper and Cohen thanked health leaders for their support through the pandemic and asked for help in reaching North Carolinians who have yet to be vaccinated.
In the letter, Cooper and Cohen ask faith leaders to direct their faith communities to trustworthy sources about vaccines, serve as vaccine ambassadors, and host vaccination events.
“Getting vaccinated is one of the deepest expressions of our shared values to protect human life and love our neighbor," Governor Cooper and Secretary Cohen wrote. "It is an act of love to our families and our communities. While we have made much progress in the state, too many people are needlessly getting seriously ill, being hospitalized, and dying. Our hospitals are strained, and in other states we’ve seen that care is not readily available for people experiencing non-COVID life-threatening health crises. We need your help."
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