Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen says North Carolina is at a critical point in the trajectory of the pandemic.
Days ahead of the new school year, all 100 counties are showing high levels of transmission of the coronavirus and hospitals are experiencing a strain from the rising COVID admissions.
“We are experiencing the fastest acceleration of cases since the pandemic started,” warned Cohen at a Wednesday press conference. “We are now averaging 5,000 new COVID cases each and every day.”
Cohen said the rapid increase can be traced to the highly contagious Delta variant leaving the unvaccinated very vulnerable.
Cases are highest among those 18-24 years of age, followed by those in the 24-49 age bracket. Both groups tend to have lower vaccinate rates across the state.
And to date, only 30 percent of North Carolina children ages 12-17 have been vaccinated.
“This trend is alarming,” Cohen said.” Our hospitals are managing by proactively scaling back non-urgent procedures and working with one another to transfer patients so people get the care they need. But this is exactly the situation we’ve been working to avoid.”
By getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in public, Cohen said hospitals will not be stressed to the breaking point when someone has a heart attack or is involved in a car accident.
Governor Roy Cooper offered praise Wednesday to local school boards that have reversed course over the past two weeks, making masking mandatory for students, teachers and visitors. But improving the state’s vaccination rate holds the key to getting us through the pandemic.
“It’s encouraging that our state’s vaccine rate has increased in recent weeks. We need to double-down on that progress,” Cooper said. “Talk to your friends and family about why it’s important for all of us to get our shots to protect each other.”
The governor said his office was also encouraging more businesses to actively talk to their employees about getting vaccinated.
He noted that organizations like Live Nation are requiring their workforce to get vaccinated, protecting the economy and making the events that we enjoyed before the pandemic safer for everyone.
“Live Nation is committed to finding the best ways for shows to continue and to bring live music back to North Carolina,” said Jeannine Benson, Vice President of Regional Venue Operations at Live Nation.
“We are working to ensure that we are continuing to do shows in the best way for staff, artists, crew members, fans and our community. We are looking forward to continuing to bring the magic of live music to North Carolina.”
Live Nation is implementing a policy that requires proof of full vaccination or proof of negative COVID test results in all of its venues starting October 4th.
And while stressing the need to get a first and second doses of the COVID vaccine quickly, Sec. Cohen said North Carolina was also preparing to offer booster doses of the vaccine starting in September.
Boosters will be available pending review and authorization by the Food and Drug Administration and approval and recommendations from the CDC.
The plan outlined earlier in the day by the White House ensures that people who were vaccinated earliest in the vaccine rollout will be eligible for a booster first. This includes the most vulnerable populations, like our health care providers, nursing home residents, and seniors.
For people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it’s anticipated vaccine boosters will be needed, once more data becomes available in the coming weeks.
“We need to layer protections now,” explained Cohen.”We need to get vaccinated, we need to use masks, we need to be sure if you have symptoms you get tested, we need to use our tools.”
“That’s why we can safely make sure our kids are going back to school. We can make sure events at Live Nation can happen safely, when we use these layered protocol. But we have to all do them together.”
The governor’s office estimates 75 percent of North Carolina’s public school children will be covered by a mask ordinance when schools begin next week.