Will North Carolina’s vaccination lottery work?

Gov. Roy Cooper

North Carolina is the latest state to bank on a lottery to reverse flagging COVID-19 vaccinations.

North Carolina joins Ohio, New York, Maryland, Oregon, Colorado, California, New Mexico, West Virginia, and the state of Washington in offering the chance at some serious money or college scholarships in an effort to get more people to roll up their sleeves.

Will it work?

It’s too soon to tell in North Carolina, but some states saw quick upticks in vaccinations after their lottery announcements.

In Ohio, vaccinations increased 55% for 20-49 year-olds the week after Gov. Mike DeWine announced that state’s  lottery, Vax-a-Million, NPR reported. Vaccinations jumped 94% in that week for people ages 16 and 17. Lottery winners in Ohio ages 12-17 get a full ride to Ohio state colleges.

In Colorado, vaccinations increased 17% the day Gov. Jared Polis introduced Colorado Comeback Cash, and then held steady for the next few days until Memorial Day weekend started, a Colorado television station reported. Colorado is giving five people 18 and older $1 million over five weeks.  Coloradans 12-17 years old are in a lottery for five $50,000 college scholarships.

Four people 18 and older in North Carolina will get $1 million each in the Summer Cash lottery. People younger than 18 will be in a drawing for four $125,000 scholarships for use after high school.

Vaccinations in North Carolina peaked the week of April 5 at 685,156 doses administered and dropped steadily since then, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. The week of May 31, 134,547 shot were administered. Forty-seven percent of people 12 and older have been vaccinated.

“After seeing the benefit in other states, we believe this program will help get more North Carolinians vaccinated, making our state a safer place for everybody,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a Thursday news conference.

The state is trying other incentives, including cash cards.

People who were vaccinated at certain sites on particular days from the last week of May to June 8 in  Guilford, Rowan, Rockingham, and Mecklenburg counties received $25 cash cards. People who drove others to those vaccination sites also received cash cards.

DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said Thursday that the cards are meant to help cover the cost of transportation or time away from work.

A DHHS spokeswoman said in an email Thursday that more than 1,700 cards were distributed to vaccine recipients and more than 700 cards were given to drivers.

“More than 40 percent of people said having someone to drive them was a very important reasons that they got vaccinated at a Summer Cash Card event,” she wrote, and 25% said that the cash card was a “very important motivation for getting vaccinated that day.”

Cohen said the cash card program worked to reach underserved communities. “We’re really excited about what we’ve seen,” she said.

The great mask conundrum: What’s the best course for a responsible vaccinated person?

Mask rules differ from store to store. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Last week, Washington Post columnist Tamar Haspel tweeted: “My local supermarket has (a) sign saying they ‘strongly encourage’ everyone to wear a mask. Do you wear one, and feel silly engaging in hygiene theater? Or not wear one and feel a little like an (a–hole)?”

It’s a great question, and on a lot of people’s minds, as evidenced by the comments that followed.

Concord (New Hampshire) Monitor columnist and reporter David Brooks, known on Twitter as @GraniteGeek, replied: “I wear mine although I’m fully vaxxed but I do feel a little silly. I tell myself it gives psychological support to people who need to stay masked (immunosuppressed, etc), and is a reminder that the pandemic hasn’t magically disappeared.”

Haspel replied: “I have similar feelings. But the vast majority of people who are unvaxxed choose to be unvaxxed. And the thing I’d really like to normalize is vaccination. So there’s no place I’m comfortable here.”

A thoughtful conversation – something of a rarity on Twitter – ensued, with some pointing to the importance of normalizing and encouraging mask wearing, including during cold and flu season, and others settling on something more fundamental: common courtesy. All good points, but for me “The Answer” remains elusive.

A couple of weeks ago, the grocery store I frequent swapped out its “Masks required” sign for one saying there were now separate rules for the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. Get the shot, ditch the mask. Skip the shot, cover up.

The first time I saw the new poster, I stared at it dumbly for a few seconds, took a couple of steps into the store, identified maskless employee after maskless employee, and then removed the cloth mask from my face and put it in my back pocket. My steps felt lighter during that excursion, and I found myself doing something I rarely do while food shopping: smiling.

When I returned to the store a few days later, the mask stayed with the loose change and crumpled receipts in my truck’s console. This time, however, it wasn’t the maskless faces that struck me but the number of people still wearing them. My naked face clearly landed me in the minority – and I knew that a lot of those masks were being worn by people who, like me, were fully vaccinated. Inner conflict took root. 

What message did I want to send: “Hey, I’m not wearing a mask and that means it’s been at least two weeks since my second shot. Yay, science!” or “I’m still wearing a mask because I don’t think you can be too sensitive when it comes to the physical and emotional well-being of others.” Both are fine things to signal to the world, but what if my fellow shoppers misread my decision entirely and thought I was wearing a mask because I’m skeptical of the vaccine or not wearing one only because I think COVID is overblown?

I’ve returned to the store several times since then, always maskless, and the struggle continues. When I walk down an aisle with others not wearing masks, I feel like we are leading the charge to normalcy and should be high-fiving. When I pass, say, a masked older couple, I feel nothing but guilt. I want to apologize and explain that the last thing I want to do is make them feel uncomfortable, that I really do care about them, and if they would rather that I still wear a mask I would be happy to run back to the parking lot and grab one. 

But then I’d pass another older couple, both with easy smiles on uncovered faces, and righteousness would return.

Grocery shopping is now something very much like my childhood as a Catholic: rapid transitions between joy and guilt.

I am no closer to definitively answering Haspel’s Twitter question today than last week, but I will make one small change in my behavior: I plan to keep a mask in my pocket when I shop. That way I can read the room, as they say, and remain flexible. 

Going maskless, or wearing one, doesn’t have to be my religion. For now, in these odd days, that answer will have to do.

Dana Wormald is the editor of the New Hampshire Bulletin, which first published this essay.

Need a reason to get the COVID vaccine this summer? How about a million?

Governor Roy Cooper is hoping to encourage more North Carolinians to get vaccinated against the coronovirus by offering millions of dollars in cash and prizes to cover college expenses.

Cooper announced the $4 Million Summer Cash and Summer Cash 4 College Drawings at a Thursday press confrence.

“A chance at a million dollars is pretty good motivation,” the governor said. “Even if your name isn’t drawn, the worst you’ll do is get strong protection from a deadly virus.”

Here’s how it will work:

  • All North Carolina residents 12 and older who have been vaccinated with at least one dose are eligible, some restrictions may apply.
  • Those vaccinated on or after Thursday’s announcement will be entered twice for each drawing increasing the chance of winning for the newly vaccinated.
  • Drawings will take place every other week on Wednesdays with the first drawing on June 23.
  • New entries will close at midnight on the Sunday prior to the Wednesday drawing.

Read the official rules here.

North Carolina is hoping the new cash incentives will generate the same response seen in Ohio, where vaccination rates jumped 28 percent among those 16 and older in the first two weeks following their million dollar giveaway.

DHHS Sec. Mandy Cohen

State officials are worried by the lack of urgency seen in early April in getting one of the three vaccines.

“When you look at North Carolina compared to some other states, we are starting to lag behind,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the NC Department of Health and Human Services.

“I am proud that we are doing well compared to a lot of other states in the South, but there are many states that are now seeing 70% of their adults vaccinated. We can get there too.”

North Carolina has about 2.5 million adults who still are not vaccinated, according to the governor.

Individuals will be automatically enrolled in the drawing based on receiving a dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine.

The prizes are funded by the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund.

State lawmakers recommit to failed austerity despite ongoing pandemic, documented hardship

For months, the state’s legislative leaders have been negotiating the fate of North Carolinians and our shared future behind closed doors as they decide on a total spending figure for the biennial state budget.

Yesterday, they reached a decision to maintain their status quo approach, despite unprecedented hardship for North Carolinians. The arbitrary spending amount announced by House and Senate leaders — $25.7 billion in 2021-2022 and $26.7 billion in 2022-2023 — will continue the now decade-long trend of austerity budgeting in which state infrastructure, services, and publicly supported programs cannot adequately respond to long-term challenges or meet the needs of a growing state.

The recent practice of “pre-conferencing” proposed spending levels across the chambers is not a requirement of the process. It is a symptom of larger dysfunction that has plagued North Carolina’s state budget process. The tradition of backward budgeting doesn’t serve our state’s best interests. In backward budgeting, chambers agree on an arbitrary spending cap, often prioritizing tax cuts for the wealthy and profitable corporations, and then dollars are allocated based on what remains.  Our leaders set North Carolinians up for failure before the state budget process has even begun in the public realm.

Read more

Stock wealth boomed during pandemic for wealthiest 1%

For people who derive most of their wealth from stock equity, it has been a very good financial year. In turn, massive stock market gains in the middle of a global pandemic have widened inequality along both wealth and racial lines.

Although the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on job loss and wage fluctuation have been felt personally by many North Carolinians, the pandemic’s effect on company stock ownership may be less obvious to the average resident. This is largely because those in the top 1 percent of the wealth index own more than half of all corporate equity and mutual fund shares in the United States, whereas the bottom 50 percent own less than 1 percent. Despite this, changes in share value during 2020 have had a significant impact on economic inequality.

Stock and mutual fund wealth fell off by roughly 23 percent during the first quarter of 2020 when the stock market was first feeling the effects of COVID-19. However, by the end of 2020, equity ownership had not only returned to pre-pandemic levels, it had also surpassed them by over 17 percent. In the last fiscal quarter before the pandemic (Q4:2019), the top 1 percent held $15.10 trillion in stock and mutual funds, which had ballooned to nearly $17.8 trillion by the end of 2020. Last year, the richest 1 percent in the U.S. acquired $2.7 trillion in stock and mutual fund wealth while the poorest half of Americans saw less than $0.03 trillion in this kind of equity wealth growth. A typical household in the top 1 percent amassed around 4,500 times more new wealth in stock and mutual fund growth during 2020 than the average household in the bottom 50 percent.

Barriers to access to stock ownership mean COVID-19 also widened the racial disparity in equity wealth. Black people own only 1 percent of corporate equity and mutual fund shares, while an overwhelming 89 percent of shares are owned by white people. As a result, the growth of the stock market over the last year has exacerbated the pre-existing economic inequality between Black and white workers, further concentrating wealth in a small number of rich bank accounts.

Emma Cohn is an intern at the N.C. Budget & Tax Center.