Gov. Cooper lifts curfew, eases some pandemic restrictions. What it means for you.

With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in decline, Governor Roy Cooper said his office will lift the statewide 10:00 p.m. curfew established in December to slow the spread of the virus.

Cooper’s latest executive order will also allow for bars, night clubs, movie theaters and sports arenas to increase their capacity.

“Today’s action is a show of confidence and trust, but we must remain cautious,” said Cooper.”People are losing their loved ones each day. We must keep up our guard.”

Here’s how Executive Order No. 195 would impact local businesses:

30% Capacity Limit (may not exceed 250-persons in indoor spaces)

  • Bars
  • Meeting, Reception, and Conference Spaces
  • Lounges (including tobacco) and Night Clubs
  • Indoor areas of Amusement Parks
  • Movie Theatres
  • Entertainment facilities (e.g., bingo parlors, gaming establishments)
  • Sports Arenas and Fields*
  • Venues

50% Capacity Limit

  • Restaurants
  • Breweries, Wineries, Distilleries
  • Fitness and Physical Activity Facilities (e.g., gyms, bowling alleys, rock climbing facilities
  • Pools
  • Museums and Aquariums
  • Retailers
  • Outdoor areas of Amusement Parks
  • Salons, Personal Care, Tattoo Parlors

Read the full 27-page Executive Order easing restrictions here.

Masks or face coverings remains a requirement in public places, both indoors and outdoors. Employers would have a ‘good faith obligation’ to provide a one­-week supply of reusable face coverings or disposable masks to workers who perform work outside of their home.

Still state officials are encouraging many employers to allow remote work to continue.

“We would encourage folks who can be working remotely to continue to do that,” cautioned North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen.

“We’re certainly heading in the right direction, and that is reflected in the easing of these restrictions, but remember as we ease them, we are still keeping capacity limits.”

Sec. Cohen said it is the right time to take this step forward, but if the numbers rise again and people backslide on their commitment to practice social distancing and proper mask wearing, the state could reverse course.

Both Cohen and Cooper said they were encouraged that two million doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine have been administered to North Carolinians in recent weeks.

To date, 1.2 million individuals have received one dose of the vaccine, more than 730,000 have gotten both doses.

Wednesday also marked the first day that North Carolina teachers and daycare center workers could get  vaccinated.

Dr. Cohen believes that if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine receives federal approval this week as many expect, the state could receive 30,000-60,000 additional doses of that vaccine in an initial shipment.

Leading health providers discuss ‘dramatic’ promise of COVID vaccines, appeal for greater resources

While wintry weather  cancels some vaccination clinics this week, state expects 24,000 additional doses

North Carolina leading health care providers outlined the promise and challenges of COVID vaccine distribution in a virtual town hall organized by Congresswoman Deborah Ross on Wednesday.

Kody Kinsley, the operations lead for NC DHHS COVID-19 Response, told the panel that while more than 1.8 million vaccines have been administered the need remains great.

“It’s really hard. None of us are used to living in a kind of consumer-constrained supply environment,” Kinsley said. “It makes really hard decisions for all of us.”

One bit of good news this week is that the federal government is increasing North Carolina’s share of vaccines by about 24,000 doses.

“Now to put that in context that’s still pretty small relative to a state with 10 million people. So that’s 210,000 doses that we have to spread across 100 counties in the state,” Kinsley said.

Leigh Bleecker, interim president of Duke Raleigh Hospital, said their facility has cared for more than 20,000 COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began.

But now she’s worried about others who have delayed getting care and necessary screenings.

“One of the things that has been challenging is that patients have delayed care because of COVID, and so as they are coming back into our facility, they are more acute and they are sicker, even if they don’t have COVID,” Bleecker offered.

And while the vaccine clinics have run smoothly for Duke Raleigh Hospital, 50,000 people remain on their wait list to get vaccinated.

Since vaccinations began for team members at Duke Health, employee infections have fallen by more than 75%, according to Bleecker.

Donald Gintzig, President & CEO for WakeMed, told the group that the peak for COVID admissions came about three weeks ago, with the vaccines providing measurable relief.

“Since that time, we’ve seen our census drop by two-thirds, and the majority of that has been 65 and older,” Gintzig said.

“This vaccination effort is really having dramatic results.”

Steve Burriss,  chief operating officer for UNC Health Triangle Region, said their system has administered 150,000 vaccines. The system has benefited from knowing three-weeks ahead of time how many doses to expect.

“We as a system really advocate for making sure that the allocation methodology is done in a way that fosters collaboration and not competition among everyone that is trying to get this scarce resource,” said Burriss.

“And [we] really don’t want to be put in a position of having to police various groups,” he said, referencing concerns that some may try to jump in line ahead of others in getting the vaccine.

Starting February 24th the vaccine will be available to educators and essential child care workers.

Penny Washington, the CEO of Advance Community Health Center, raised the very real concern about vaccine hesitancy among health care providers and the ripple-effect that could have in the community.

“We still have 30% of our staff that have refused the vaccination,” Washington said.

“What are we doing about education in this community? The majority of our patients are the marginalized community, African-American, Hispanic, people below the federal poverty level.”

Dr. George Mensah is a senior advisor at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

He acknowledged Washington’s concerns, and the challenge in vaccinating those who may distrust the federal government.

“Always, always provide truthful, trustworthy information, based on the science. Many of those who refuse may have misinformation about the safety of the vaccine or the effectiveness of the vaccine.”

Dr. Mensah said health care providers must never give up on winning over those who refuse the vaccine initially.

“This is a national challenge, not just a North Carolina issue.”

The Biden administration’s is currently fast-tracking a massive COVID relief package through Congress that includes:

  • 14 Billion in additional funding for vaccines
  • 46 Billion for additional testing and tracing
  • 7.6 Billion to expand the public health workforce, offering some relief and back-up to exhausted health care professionals
  • 25 Billion to address health disparities

Rep. Ross (NC-02) said she is especially hopeful North Carolina will take advantage of a sweetener in the bill for states that have yet to expand Medicaid.

“It would provide a 95% match rather than a 90% match for the first two years. In North Carolina that would provide an additional $2.4 billion in additional funding, if we choose to expand Medicaid.”

Ross said the U.S. House could vote on the initial package as early as next week.

After voting not guilty, Tillis points to flaws in impeachment trial, says Trump ‘shares responsibility’ for January 6 violence

 

North Carolina’s two Republican U.S. Senators split on the issue of whether Donald Trump was guilty of inciting the attack on the Capitol January 6th.

Senator Richard Burr was among seven Republicans to side with Democrats in voting 57-43 to convict the former president for his actions.

[Read full coverage by our colleague Laura Olson.]

Tillis who early-on called the impeachment unwise, said after Saturday’s vote that the American people would decide whether Trump disqualified himself from seeking the presidency in the future. Here is Tillis’ statement in full:

“My vote was based on two fundamental issues with the impeachment process. The first being the decision to hold a trial for a private citizen, and the second being the charge itself.

“There are valid questions whether it is constitutional for Congress to put a private citizen on trial. And even if it is constitutionally permissible, it isn’t prudent in the absence of a thorough impeachment inquiry. The House managers argued impeachment was necessary to bar former President Trump from running for president again. Their rationale is not rooted in any consistent, objective standard and collapses on itself: what accountability would a trial provide to a second-term president who commits impeachable offenses in their final days in office when they are already constitutionally barred from seeking another term? I have faith in the American people to determine whether former President Trump disqualified himself from seeking the presidency in the future.

“An impeachment trial is not the best or only way to hold a former elected official accountable for their actions. The ultimate accountability is through our criminal justice system where political passions are checked and due process is constitutionally mandated. No president is above the law or immune from criminal prosecution, and that includes former President Trump.

“Casting aside the question of whether it was wise or constitutional to hold the trial, there were also significant issues with the case made by House Democrats.

“During their impeachment inquiry, the House declined to interview a single witness and conduct a formal and thorough investigation. The impeachment power should be used sparingly and only after careful and deliberate consideration, regardless of whether the individual is still in elected office. In their haste to impeach, they completely bypassed all due process for the first time in our nation’s history— including no representation of defense counsel in House proceedings, limited sharing of validating evidence, and only calling for witnesses after they already rested their case before the Senate.

“The next presidential election is four years away. The House has plenty of time to follow due process to attempt to build a credible case if the goal is to disqualify President Trump from running for office again.

“The charge of incitement of an insurrection, which is a subjective standard where one elected official’s ‘passionate and fiery speech’ is another’s ‘incitement of violence,’ especially in an age where politicians on both sides of the aisle have repeatedly used overcharged and provocative rhetoric. That raises the question that if President Trump is to be impeached for such language, should it follow that any member of Congress who uses similar language, including telling a crowd on the steps of the Supreme Court that justices ‘have released the whirlwind and will pay the price’ be similarly sanctioned?

“The most serious aspect of President Trump’s conduct was not necessarily what he said in the lead-up to the attack of the Capitol, but the leadership he failed to provide to put an end to it, and yet the House curiously chose not to file a charge or build their case around this point.

“It is important to note that a not guilty verdict is not the same as being declared innocent. President Trump is most certainly not the victim here; his words and actions were reckless and he shares responsibility for the disgrace that occurred on January 6.

“Everyone knew going into this impeachment trial that it would infuriate one half of the electorate regardless of the outcome and make our nation even more polarized. I hope that the end result is short-lived, and the responsibility falls on all of us to do better. Elected officials must stop embracing and propagating dangerous and baseless conspiracy theories that undermine the faith we have in our nation and our institutions. And when we see violence, anarchy, and thuggery—regardless of whether it comes from white nationalists in the Capitol or ANTIFA in the streets of Portland and Seattle—we have an obligation to condemn it. And most importantly, we need to stop casting those who we disagree with as ‘enemies’ with evil motives and instead recognize that despite our differences we are all fellow Americans.”

Educators, childcare workers eligible for COVID vaccines starting in two weeks

Governor Roy Cooper said North Carolina’s teachers are next in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and those workers will become eligible starting February 24th.

The governor made the announcement at a press conference on Wednesday noting that because the group of essential workers is so large the state will need to gradually open up the number of people in Group 3 over a course of several weeks.

Those who work in child care and schools, such as teachers, bus and van drivers, custodial and maintenance staff, and food service workers, will be eligible first.

Starting March 10th the state will open access to other essential workers. Workers in the broader class include food processing workers, postal workers, firefighters, and court officials just to name a few.

The state has not put in place an ID requirement for individuals to prove they are indeed part of this essential group.

“We know that educators can continue to work safely even before the vaccine being administered as long as schools follow state health guidance,” stressed Cooper. “Schools can get students back in the classroom safely right now, and that’s what I want them to do.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen says over the next two weeks the state will focus on vaccinating those 65 and older, while developing additional guidance to help to support child care and school staff in accessing the vaccines.

“I want to reiterate just because folks become eligible on February 24th that doesn’t mean that is the day you are going to get an appointment,” cautioned Cohen.

“Our vaccinating providers may already have longer wait lists of those 65 and up and so we know this will be a gradual process.”

North Carolina expects to receive 155,000 doses of the vaccine next week, roughly a five percent increase over this week.

To date, health care providers have administered almost 1.5 million doses of the vaccine with more than 331,000 North Carolinians fully vaccinated with both doses.

Here’s a closer look at who becomes eligible on February 24th:

As North Carolina marks a somber COVID milestone, a promise of more vaccine, guidance for essential workers

More than 10,000 North Carolinians have died of COVID-19.

The somber milestone was recorded Tuesday, even as new cases of the virus and hospitalizations have been trending downwards in North Carolina.

“Each one of these numbers represents a daughter or son, a parent or grandparent, a neighbor or friend — people who are deeply loved and who were part of the fabric of our community,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen.

While Cohen reflected on the loss, she also offered praise to health care providers who have been working long-hours to vaccinate as many eligible North Carolinians as possible.

To date more than 1.4 million doses of the vaccine have been administered, with more than 280,400 individuals now fully vaccinated.

State health officials are focusing now on the speed of delivery as well as equity, to combat the perception that white North Carolinians are getting a disproportionate share of the protective vaccine.

Sec. Cohen said the percentage of vaccine administered to historically marginalized and minority populations in a county should meet or exceed the population estimates of these communities in their county and region.

For the week of February 3rd, 18 % of the vaccines administered in our state have gone to our Black/African American population. That’s up from 11 % in mid-January.  African Americans make up about 22% of  the state’s population.

More work is needed to encourage the Latino community to get vaccinated. They represent just two percent of the vaccines administered thus far, though they make up roughly 10% of the population.

Guidance for teachers coming soon

Governor Cooper said his administration will come forward later this week with specific dates on when essential workers will be able to start getting vaccinated.

While teachers have been anxious to get a firm date before returning to in-person learning, Cooper cautioned they may still find themselves in a holding pattern.

“We still have thousands and thousands of people who are on waiting lists who are 65 and older waiting for a vaccine. And we know that 83% of the deaths comes from people 65 and older,” said Gov. Cooper.

Both Gov. Cooper and Sec. Cohen agree approval of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine could dramatically improve wait times.

“We’re hopeful to see more and more vaccine from these original two and we know that a third is going to be reviewed by the FDA by the end of the month, so we hope for more vaccine by March,” Cohen said.

North Carolina is currently receiving just 150,000 doses of the vaccine weekly.

“We just did hear from the Biden administration this morning that we should see a five percent increase,” Cohen offered at Tuesday’s briefing.

The promised 5% increase to the states over last week’s allotment, would represent  a 28% increase overall since President Biden came into office three weeks ago.

For a closer look at vaccination efforts in our state, check out the latest information from the state dashboard below:
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