Winston-Salem teacher first to win million dollar prize for getting COVID vaccine

Shelly Wyramon becomes North Carolina’s first million dollar winner in the vaccine lottery.

Shelly Wyramon decided to get the COVID vaccine to protect herself and her family and that decision paid off big time.

The Winston-Salem teacher and mother of three became the state’s first $1 million vaccine lottery winner on Monday.

Wyramon refused to believe that she had really won the life-changing prize until she got on a video phone with state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen.

“My husband and I have aging parents that we weren’t getting to spend much time with, and I love to teach children and I wasn’t getting to do that in person,” said Wyramon at a Monday press conference. “I wanted to do my small part to stop the spread.”

Wyramon says the vaccine will also her to get back to spending precious time with those that she loves including her students.

Officials also announced 14-year-old Vania Martinez from Wilmington was the first winner of a $125,000 college scholarship prize for getting the vaccine.

Martinez said she was inspired to get vaccinated after seeing young people contract the virus, and after losing someone close to her.

“I did my research. It was safe for me. It was safe for my family.”

Martinez said the added benefit of the scholarship money will help her and her mother cover college expenses.

Governor Roy Cooper said he is hopeful stories life Shelly’s and Vania’s encourage others to get the COVID vaccine.

“Whatever brings people in to get their vaccinations is what we want to do,” Cooper said. “One of the things I know is we have to do is to do this one person, one household, one telephone call, one shot at a time.”

“We need to do better here in North Carolina” DHHS Sec. Cohen stressed. “Areas of our state with low vaccination rates are seeing increased COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.”

Bladen County where just 33% of the population is vaccinated is experienced critically high viral spread right now.

Officials are stressing the need to get vaccinated this summer as a more contagious delta variant is emerging across the state.

“Being vaccinated protects you from becoming seriously ill. There are some break through cases, but almost all the time the illness is less serious and you have a low chance of passing it on to someone else,” Cooper said.

To date, 55% of North Carolinians 18-years-old and older have received the vaccine. Fifty-three percent (53%) of those 12+ have been vaccinated.

The next drawing will occur on July 7 with that winner will be announced the following week.

President Biden urges North Carolinians to get vaccinated against COVID: ‘Just do it’ (with video)

President Joe Biden highlighted the need for vaccine equity and the need to reach vulnerable populations during a brief trip to Raleigh on Thursday. Biden told those attending a mobile vaccination clinic at Green Road Community Center that it’s never been easier or more important to get the shot.

“The data couldn’t be clearer. If you are vaccinated, you’re safe,” Biden said. “You are still at risk of getting seriously ill or dying if you have not been vaccinated.”

North Carolina vaccination rate has held steady over the past week, with 55 percent of adults statewide having had at least one vaccine dose. Nationally, 66 percent of Americans have had one shot to protect them against the coronavirus.

Vaccination efforts are increasingly important this summer with the spread of the delta variant.

Watch President Biden’s remarks below:

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House passes bill seeking to lift mask mandate in NC schools

The N.C. House passed a bill seeking to give school boards the exclusive authority to determine whether students must wear face masks in the upcoming school year on Wednesday. 

Senate Bill 173, called the “Free the Smiles Act,” would strip away Governor Roy Cooper’s authority to  issue state-wide mask mandates for schools, leaving him with the ability to do so only for individual schools during a state of emergency. 

The Governor’s current executive order requires all students in public and nonpublic schools to wear face masks while indoors. On June 11, Cooper announced he would be extending the State of Emergency, saying that although the state has made massive strides in combating COVID-19, the emergency classification allows for easier access to federal relief funds. 

Rep. David Willis, a Union County Republican, presented the bill to the House Rules Committee on Wednesday. Rep. Erin Paré, a Wake County Republican, added an amendment to the bill that would require all local school boards to take a vote on whether or not they will require face masks by August 1. If a school does require masks, they will have to revisit the issue every month and hold a vote on whether or not to keep them. 

“It’s supposed to increase transparency and communication with parents who are concerned about this issue,” Paré said. 

Two members of the public spoke in support of the bill, including Tracy Taylor, a physical therapist based in the triangle. 

“The most important thing that I want to explain to you all is that there have been so many studies and so much data that are in support of students not masking at all,” she said. 

Taylor was also a part of a “Free the Smiles” rally that was held outside the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services building on Wednesday.

“Bring your friends + signs to let Mandy Cohen know our kids don’t need to be masked at school,” she wrote on Twitter. 

A recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that over 4 million children in the U.S. had contracted COVID-19, but the mortality rate among infected children was between 0.00 percent – 0.03 percent. According to data from 23 states, between 0.1 percent – 1.9 percent of all child COVID-19 cases were severe enough to require hospitalization. 

In a press conference earlier this month, NCDHHS Director Mandy Cohen said that it’s important that children under 12, who are ineligible to get the vaccine, continue to wear masks in school.

“The CDC continues to recommend that those who are unvaccinated … wear a mask indoors. That includes the vast majority of our children who are in K-12 schools and that will continue until the guidance changes from the CDC,” she said.

Willis said that the bill is flexible enough to mitigate infection in schools while also loosening restrictions. 

“This still allows the governor to act on a school by school basis if necessary,” he said. “If there were something to come up where a different strain were to come through, or something were to happen, I’m sure we’d be happy to bring that back in front of this body for a larger discussion. But we’re comfortable with where it’s at today.”

The bill now goes back to the Senate.

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.