North Carolina’s COVID-19 metrics, vaccine rollout gradually improving

ARMS RACE: As of Jan. 21, North Carolina health officials had administered 573,130 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, including 13,700 in Buncombe County. Photo courtesy of Buncombe County Health and Human Services

Exactly one year ago, the United States diagnosed its first case of COVID-19 in Washington state. This week, the nation stopped to mourn more than 400,000 lives lost from the coronavirus, including 8,339 North Carolinians. 

The past year has been hard on every single person in the community, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina’s secretary of health and human services, at a Jan. 21 press conference. But hope is on the horizon: Vaccine distribution across the state has tripled over the last two weeks, and key COVID-19 metrics are beginning to stabilize. 

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 7,187 new cases of COVID-19 on Jan. 21 — a figure Cohen said is still higher than she would like to see but significantly better than the record 11,581 cases recorded on Jan. 9. As of Jan. 20, 3,666 North Carolina patients were hospitalized with the coronavirus, the lowest figure since Jan. 3. And the statewide percentage of positive COVID-19 tests now hovers around 10%, down from the record 17.1% reported on Jan. 4. 

As of Jan. 21, more than half a million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been distributed throughout the state, Cohen noted, although supplies continue to remain low. According to data collected and compiled by NCDHHS — the most accurate count of the state’s vaccine rollout, she emphasized — North Carolina now ranks 10th in the nation for the most overall vaccinations. Per the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination dashboard, however, the state ranks 14th lowest in doses administered per capita. 

Despite those improvements, Cohen said, North Carolinians must continue to follow public health guidance. According to NCDHHS’ latest county alert report, all but one North Carolina county is experiencing critical or significant community spread of the virus. 

And months will likely pass before enough vaccines become available for everyone who wants one. Cohen urged residents to be patient as local health departments and hospitals navigate the rollout.  

“Our county report continues to paint a dangerous picture,” she said. “Do your part and stay home until you’re eligible to get your shot.”

Biden administration begins federal pandemic response

Just hours after being sworn in, newly inaugurated President Joe Biden followed through with a campaign promise to make the COVID-19 pandemic his first priority. On Jan. 20, he signed an executive order requiring face masks to be worn inside all federal buildings and on all federally controlled land. 

Federal lands in Western North Carolina include the Blue Ridge Parkway, Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Nantahala National Forest. 

Cohen commended Biden’s actions, saying the move “fits hand in hand” with Gov. Roy Cooper’s state directive requiring face masks to be worn in the presence of anyone outside one’s immediate household. “We know masks work, and I applaud the federal government’s leadership,” she said. “Consistent messaging on masks is going to be crucial to stopping this pandemic.” 

As the new administration pushes additional legislation to help with pandemic relief, Cohen said, state health officials are hoping for increased federal funding to hire additional testing and vaccination personnel, increase reimbursements for vaccination costs and boost resources from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In other news

  • Buncombe County Health and Human Services has opened a waitlist for all health care workers and individuals 65 and older wishing to get a COVID-19 vaccine. As vaccines are received from the state, county health officials will contact people on the waitlist to schedule appointments. Members of the public do not have to receive a vaccine in their county of residence. Individuals can sign up at buncombeready.org or by calling 828-250-5000. 
  • North Carolina has allotted $2.5 million in federal coronavirus relief to help local transit agencies transport individuals who need assistance to get their COVID-19 vaccine. Eric Boyette, secretary of the N.C. Department of Transportation, said the funding will provide 30,000 residents with rides to and from appointments to get their first and second doses.
  • In Buncombe County, 17 nursing homes and eight residential care facilities are currently experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks. An outbreak at the Buncombe County Detention Facility has infected 39 people. View the full list here.
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About Molly Horak
Molly is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and writer for Mountain Xpress. Her work has appeared in the Citizen-Times, News and Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow me @molly_horak

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