Cooper extends statewide curfew and urges people to stay home as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens

As North Carolina hospital beds fill and spread of the coronavirus gets worse, Gov. Roy Cooper extended the statewide curfew and told residents they should stay at home when possible.

State leaders are trying to contain a virus that is sweeping through the state – with critical community spread in nearly every county – and direct the logistics of COVID-19 vaccinations.

The 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew that started Dec. 11 and was set to end this Friday is extended another three weeks, Cooper said at a news conference Wednesday.  The statewide mask mandate remains in place.

A secretarial directive from Dr. Mandy Cohen at the state Department of Health and Human Services recommends more stringent actions:

  • Leave home only for work, school, for health care, or to buy food.
  • People over 65 or who are at high risk of developing severe illness should avoid leaving home at all and should have groceries delivered if possible.
  • Public spaces where people are not wearing masks should be avoided.
  • Stay away from crowds.

“This is the most worried I’ve been in this pandemic,” Cohen said.

On Tuesday, Cooper said he had mobilized the National Guard to help distribute the vaccine.

At the Wednesday news conference, National Guard Major General Todd Hunt said the Guard will be working in teams of six, and each will include two people who can give shots. “The rest are logistical support,” he said. “They can ramp up or down. They can go anywhere in the state based on the state’s needs.”

Everyone is working hard to ramp up, Cohen said. Some local health departments need people to give the shots, enter data, answer phones, or help with IT, she said.

“Everyone shares that sense of urgency. We want to make sure we can get vaccines to folks as quickly as possible. ‘’

Vaccines are still in limited supply, Cohen said. Beyond hospitals and local health departments, the state will look to federally qualified heath centers to start giving shots.

The vaccine rollout has been slow nationwide.

In a separate Q&A session with reporters Wednesday,  Dr. Mark McClellan, director of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy and a former FDA commissioner, said he would like to see the National Guard focus on getting vaccines to high risk groups that are hard to reach.

“A lot of governors have started calling on National Guard assistance to help with this last-mile problem,” he said.

“There are a lot of people who want to get the vaccine now, who will stand in a line or call repeatedly until they get through,” McClellan said. “I’m also worried about reaching front-line workers who may not have the time, bringing the vaccines to them.”

Plans for vaccinating more people should include pharmacies, medical practices and other community sites beyond hospitals, McClellan said.

The most recent federal COVID relief bill includes about $8 billion to help states with vaccine distribution.

The money should be used to help states ramp up use of the National Guard and on targeted efforts to get vaccines to high-risk populations, he said.

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