Apr 28, 2021
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript April 28
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper held a press conference on coronavirus on April 28, 2021. He provided updates on vaccinations and mask restrictions. Read the full transcript of the news briefing here.
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Governor Cooper: (01:51)
Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining today’s update on COVID-19. As of today, we have had 965,536 confirmed cases, 1,765 new cases reported since yesterday, 1,117 people in the hospital and sadly, 12,619 people who’ve died. Our prayers are with those who’ve lost loved ones and who are struggling to fight this cruel virus. We’re grateful that North Carolina continues to hold steady when it comes to our COVID-19 metrics. But while our numbers remain stable, we’re not seeing the decline in metrics that we’d like to see. This tells us that the pandemic is not over. But we do have the power to put it behind us if we do what works, wearing our masks when we’re supposed to, keeping our distance when we’re supposed to and getting vaccinated. In a moment, I’m going to share with you about plans for May and the summer. But first, I’ll recognize our Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mandy Cohen, to share an update on our COVID-19 metrics. Dr. Cohen.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (03:08)
Thank you, Governor. It’s charts and graphs time. And as a reminder, we look at a combination of trend metrics, COVID-like syndromic cases, new cases, positive tests as a percentage of total tests and hospitalizations. Let’s dive in. This first graph looks at people who come to the emergency department with COVID-like symptoms over the past year. And you can see when looking at that yellow line, it has stayed level the past few weeks and remains very close to baseline. This is very good news. Next, we look at new cases. This first graph shows you the trajectory of those new cases each day since we had our first case last year. You can see that cases have come down dramatically since our January peak and have largely leveled off. If we narrow in on the trajectory of cases from early March through today, you can now see a clear picture of where we are. Our cases have been mostly level, averaging about 1,500 to 2,000 new cases daily. Overall, the cases are still elevated, but they’ve ticked down slightly over the past week.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (04:18)
As a reminder, the faster people get vaccinated, the faster this line will go further down. That’s what we’re seeing in our 65 and over population. With more than 70% of older adults fully vaccinated, we are seeing significantly fewer cases and hospitalizations in older North Carolinians, and that’s positive. We also look at the percent of tests that are positive since March. Looking at the yellow line, the percent of positive tests has ticked up just slightly, but really holding steady and averaging around our goal of 5%. I will note that we are seeing some of our lowest levels of COVID testing, and that context is important when interpreting this metric. Finally, we look at day over day hospitalizations since March, and you can see looking at the yellow line, this trend is largely level. Up slightly a week ago, down slightly this past week. And the good news is we have hospital capacity. Okay. So in summary, here’s where we are. Our surveillance data is close to baseline, it gets a green check.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (05:26)
North Carolina’s trajectory of cases has plateaued, but with new COVID variants in the state, we need to keep our guard up, cases get a yellow line. North Carolina’s trajectory of tests that are returning positive is level. This gets a green check. And North Carolina’s trajectory of hospitalizations is level, but still elevated, it gets a yellow line. Our fast and fair approach to getting vaccines to people is also showing results. As of today, 49% of all North Carolinians 18 and older are vaccinated with at least one dose, and more than 39% are fully vaccinated. As we shared last week, if we work together getting vaccinated and keeping our COVID metrics in a good place, we can lift mandatory social distancing capacity and math gathering restrictions on June 1st. That’s our first goal, and it’s a big step to bringing summer back to North Carolina. What won’t change on June 1st is the requirement for people to wear masks indoors in public settings.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (06:36)
If you’re fully vaccinated, you can already do more things. Yesterday, the CDC said if you are fully vaccinated and you’re outdoors and not in a big crowd, you’ll no longer need to wear a mask. And that’s great news for the almost 40% of North Carolina adults who are already fully vaccinated. Everyone still needs to wear a mask when they are in an indoor public setting. That’s where our second goal comes in. Once at least two thirds of North Carolina adults have had at least one shot and our trends are stable, we will lift indoor mask mandates and lighten other public health recommendations. When will that happen though is up to North Carolinians and how quickly people get vaccinated. Fortunately, we now have enough vaccine for everyone. They are free, they’re widely available across the state. And in many places, you don’t need an appointment. All three vaccines are tested, safe and effective. And last week, we saw just how thorough and rigorous our vaccine safety system is.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (07:43)
The CDC and FDA recommended resuming vaccinations with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine after thorough evaluation, finding only 15 cases of a very, very rare blood clot among more than eight million doses given. For those who have questions, I encourage you to go to yourspotyourshot.nc.gov to learn about the benefits of the vaccine, potential temporary reactions you might experience and answering your common questions. We also have a help center you can call. 888-675-4567. We also launched our Bringing Summer Back, Get Out the Vaccine campaign. I’m asking for community organizations, private businesses and individuals to sign up for the campaign and help us to promote vaccinations in every community across the state. The campaign will run during two weeks in May and two weeks in June during which organizations across the state will work together to promote vaccinations. Go to yourspotyourshot.nc.gov to learn how you can help bring summer back. Thank you, Governor.
Governor Cooper: (09:01)
Thank you, Dr. Cohen. As you can see…
Governor Cooper: (09:03)
Thank you, Dr. Cohen. As you can see, while our numbers are mostly stable, we have more work to do to beat back this pandemic. Last week, I outlined some of the state’s priorities in our COVID-19 response for this summer. And as I said, we anticipate lifting mandatory capacity, mass gathering and social distancing restrictions by June first. As Dr. Cohen said, we hope to go even further when we get at least two thirds of adults vaccinated with at least one dose. Once we get there, and if our trends are stable, we plan to lift the mask mandate completely. Let’s work hard and May, and get as many people vaccinated as we can before summer gets here.
Governor Cooper: (09:46)
So now for this executive order. Today, I’m announcing that North Carolina will cautiously ease some restrictions starting Friday, April the 30th. Masks will no longer be required outdoors and mass gathering limits will increase to 100 people indoors and 200 outdoors. Masks will continue to be required indoors in public places, since this virus still can spread easily when we’re inside. Even though we’re continuing our dimmer switch approach of easing restrictions, we need to stay vigilant. In addition to indoor masks, many of our strong safety requirements remain in place for public places in May, including social distancing and capacity limits, which continue to be important. Following these protocols, along with getting vaccinated, will get us through this and will lead to easing even more restrictions on June the first.
Governor Cooper: (10:47)
The critical piece of our success is getting vaccinated. We have safe and effective vaccines available for every adult in the state at no cost. They’re easy to find, so many different locations, they’re convenient appointments and walk-in opportunities. Right now about half of our adults, as Dr. Cohen said, are partially vaccinated and almost 40% are fully vaccinated. That’s great progress. But to get to two thirds, we need everybody to work on this. Tell your loved ones why it’s safe and easy. Give them a ride if they need it. Go get vaccinated yourself if you haven’t already. And as Dr. Cohen said, you can find more information at YourSpotYourShot.nc.gov.
Governor Cooper: (11:29)
We’ve already shown that North Carolinians are made of tough stuff. Together, we’re going to get through this. Also with me today is director of emergency management, Mike Sprayberry, Monica McGee and Brian Tipton, our sign language interpreters, and behind the scenes, Jackie and Yasmin Metivier our Spanish language interpreters. Will now take questions from the media and we’ll take the first one. If you can identify yourself, please, we’d appreciate it.
Governor Cooper: (11:56)
(silence). Question because we know it’s critical. One incentive you just heard us mention that today for the next order, beginning, April 30th, we are lifting the mandate on outside masks. And if we can get to two thirds of our adult population at least partially vaccinated, we plan to lift the indoor mask mandate. So that is a real incentive. We’re also talking about other things with local groups and a strong campaign is starting and I might let Dr. Cohen tell you a little bit more about some of the things we’re doing to try to get people to get vaccinated.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (13:11)
Thanks for that question, Caroline. And I hope first and foremost that folks go and get vaccinated because we know these vaccines protect you, your family and your community from getting COVID. And unfortunately we have seen that COVID can be deadly here in our state and around the world. And so we hope that in and of itself is an incentive, but we know we need to make this easy for folks. So one of the things we’re focusing on is to make sure that we have access to vaccine in all places across North Carolina. So we’re making sure we’re having even more places where folks can go, can go walk in and just get their vaccine. Hopefully, maybe they’re at Walmart or Harris Teeter or Publix, they’re shopping already and they can get their vaccine that same day. So we’re trying to make things easy.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (13:58)
But then we also want to make sure that folks are hearing from their friends, their family, from their trusted community members. That’s why we launched the Bringing Summer Back campaign. We really encourage businesses and organizations to join us in this campaign. We’re going to have two weeks in May and two weeks in June where we really focus on really talking to others about the importance of vaccinations. And I’d encourage you to call your doctor or your other healthcare professional from where you get your medical advice. Talk to them about the vaccine, ask them questions that if you have any concerns and hopefully just get a vaccine from them right in their office. We’re really working with all of our primary care practices across the state, and really appreciate all of the work our vaccine providers are doing to make things easy, to answer questions and make sure folks know that we want them to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. Thanks.
Governor Cooper: (14:57)
Thanks. Next question, please.
Speaker 1: (15:01)
Our next question is from Ben Sessoms with the News and Observer.
Ben Sessoms: (15:04)
I thank you for taking my question, Governor Cooper. This is Ben Sessoms with the News and Observer. The number of new coronavirus cases dropped dramatically in February and March and they’ve stayed steady since then. You announced this executive order today, and then your plans for June first but if metrics stay the same and vaccination rates stall, would you consider extending restrictions that will be in place in May past June first?
Governor Cooper: (15:34)
We plan on lifting capacity limits and mass gathering limits on June the first. We believe that we will make enough progress during the month of May and we want everybody to work hard in order to be able to do that. Obviously we’re going to continue to look at our trends and we know that in other states and here at home and across the world, that variants have jumped on certain places and have driven a lot of people to the hospital, gotten a lot of people sick. We’re always going to keep an eye on that and make decisions following the science and the data. But our plan is on June first to lift those particular restrictions. And in addition, hopefully when we get to two thirds of people vaccinated, we can lift the indoor mask mandate. Today we’re lifting the outdoor mask mandate. There’s still some recommendations for people who are unvaccinated if they’re around other people in a big crowd that it’s recommended that they wear a mask, but there is no mandate in the executive order outdoors. Next question.
Speaker 1: (16:52)
We have a follow-up, Ben Sessoms, News and Observer.
Ben Sessoms: (16:58)
Thank you for taking another question Governor Cooper. I want to ask about the situation in Elizabeth City. So you said previously that a special prosecutor is needed in this case. In your capacity as governor are you able to make that happen? And in terms of the community response there and all the protests, what do you think needs to be done to build more trust between the community and the state investigation? And are you satisfied with the judge’s decision today not to immediately release the video? And are you satisfied in general with how officials have handled everything in Elizabeth City?
Governor Cooper: (17:35)
Well, first the law right now is clear that the district attorney has the authority to decide whether he wants to keep the case or give it to a special prosecutor. Our task force on racial equity in the criminal justice system recommended that in police shootings that a special prosecutor be appointed and I believe that that’s-
Governor Cooper: (18:03)
… execute or be appointed. And I believe that that’s good just in general for that to happen. But under the law right now, the district attorney has that authority to make that decision. I believe in as much transparency as possible. And I believe that this video should be released as quickly as possible. And I have called for that. I also know that our state officials are working closely with local officials on making sure that protests are peaceful. People are speaking their mind. And I think so far, protests have been peaceful. I do know that changes need to be made to ensure fairness in our justice system and to stand up against racial injustice in North Carolina. And I’d urge everybody to look at our task force recommendations that have been made as we move forward in this. Next question, please.
Speaker 2: (19:14)
Our next question is from Brian Anderson with the Associated Press.
Brian Anderson: (19:19)
Hi, governor. Hey Dr. Cohen, Brian Anderson here with the AP. I had a question for Dr. Cohen. We see on the state dashboard that fewer than 85,000 people got first doses administered last week, which would be the lowest weekly count since the end of December, 2020. And it seems that that percent, partially vaccinated number, it would take forever to get to two thirds if it continued at this progress. How concerning is that to you? And what’s your message to folks who are still not coming in for even a first shot?
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (19:54)
Well, thanks, Brian. We have noticed that there’s been a slowing of folks coming in for the vaccine. I think it’s why you’re seeing us do things like launching a campaign to bring summer back and make sure that we’re getting a whole state of North Carolina effort to remind folks about the importance of vaccinations. We want folks to know that they’re safe and effective.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (20:16)
And what I would say is we’re also changing the way in which we want to approach folks. No longer are we thinking about large mass vaccination sites, but rather making sure that it’s easy for folks to access very close to their home. We now know that most folks not only here in North Carolina, but around the country, can access vaccine within five miles of their home. And that’s really good news. So we want folks to know there aren’t long lines. There isn’t a scramble to get appointments. There’s supply here in North Carolina, it’s easy for everyone to access, and they’re completely free. So go sign up and make sure you’re getting your vaccine today. A lot of places have walk-in appointments. And again, we’re just encouraging everyone to share the message about the importance of vaccination. Not only for the individual who gets it, but for our entire state. It makes us healthier. Thanks.
Governor Cooper: (21:15)
Speaker 2: (21:18)
Follow up. Brian Anderson, Associated Press. I had one for each of you, just pure politics. Governor, are you planning to endorse any Democratic Senate candidate before the primary election? And Dr. Cohen, are you actively considering running or are you completely ruling it out?
Governor Cooper: (21:38)
I don’t have any plans to endorse at this time. Dr. Cohen?
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (21:46)
Hi, Brian. I have no plans to run for the United States Senate. I love my job here working for the governor and for the people of North Carolina. Thank you.
Governor Cooper: (21:58)
Well, that’s a relief. Next question, please.
Speaker 2: (22:03)
Our next question is from Ashley Tallie with WRAL.
Ashley Tallie: (22:08)
Hi, thanks for taking my question. I wanted to follow up quickly on your comments about that the video should be released as soon as possible. Obviously, the judge today that he will not release it to the media or the public, but that he will disclose it to the family within 10 days, waiting until the FBI and FBI investigations are done over a month from now. We’ve seen how other states have handled this and how sometimes more reaction can come without the video. Do you have any other comments for suggestions about that decision today?
Governor Cooper: (22:43)
I really don’t because I haven’t seen the decision we’ve been working on this order. You know, I will say that I have continued to support a change in the law that would presume that these kinds of videos are public record and that a court would have to come in and find reasons not to have them release to the public. The law is the other way now. They can only be released unless the judge says that they can be released. And I’ll just continue to say, I believe that for trust in the system and confidence that these videos should be released as quickly as possible. I don’t want to do any second guessing of decisions made today, because I don’t know what was argued in court and I don’t know what this situation is. Next question, please.
Speaker 2: (23:39)
Follow up. Ashley Tallie, WRAL.
Ashley Tallie: (23:41)
I completely understand that. Thank you for the answer. On another note, there’ve been some questions asked to you about how people can demonstrate that they’re vaccinated in North Carolina. And some Republicans came out this week, I think and asked you to reject the vaccine passport. What is your opinion or stance on that sort of demonstration of vaccination?
Governor Cooper: (24:08)
I believe that any person who gets vaccinated should be able to get a verification of that vaccination if they ask us for it. And so the Department of Health and Human Services is working to make sure they can. Right now they can, in most instances, be able to go using their email address and get a copy of their vaccination record. The Department of Health and Human Services working to make that easy. Some businesses may want to, to require that sometime in what they’re doing. So we believe that the state should be ready to give that information to a person who’s been vaccinated and the department plans to do that. Next question, please.
Speaker 2: (24:58)
Our next question is from Dwan Hilgard with ABC 11.
Dwan Hilgard: (25:03)
Good afternoon, Governor Cooper and Dr. Cohen. Dwan Hogarth, ABC 11. Just a quick question about this two-thirds goal you’re looking at trying to reach. Where exactly does that two thirds come from? And is there any concern with what case numbers will look like following the Memorial Day holiday?
Governor Cooper: (25:21)
Dr. Cohen, I’ll let you address that.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (25:26)
Hi, Dwan. So we chose a two thirds goal in consultation with our public health experts and really believe that with two thirds, at least partially vaccinated, we know a couple of things. First, most folks who’ve gotten their first vaccine are on their way to getting their second. 90% or more of folks who come for their first shot get their second. So that’s how we landed on partially vaccinated. And what we believe is at that level, that we’ll have enough protection in our community to hold this virus at bay, to allow us to live with it. We know that that is not a herd immunity level that folks may have heard about, but we believe that that is enough protection in our community that we can live with this virus, that we believe that we can lift things like the indoor mask mandate, and put this pandemic in our rear view mirror. Thank you.
Governor Cooper: (26:25)
Next question, please
Speaker 2: (26:29)
Follow up, Dwan Hilgard, ABC 11.
Dwan Hilgard: (26:33)
Thank you. And Governor Cooper, with respect to what’s happening in Elizabeth City, just yesterday, Senator Dan Britt released a statement saying not releasing this footage, or at least in the terms of this goal, the law rather, the goal was to remove politics from the decision making process and to forestall the possibility of a law enforcement agency refusing to release video. Now, do you foresee that then a judge today not deciding to release that video, does that instill any public trust or promote transparency-
Dwan Hilgard: (27:03)
… that video. Does that instill any public trust? Does it promote transparency at all, do you think? Interested in your take on that.
Governor Cooper: (27:08)
Well, I did not hear the arguments in court, I’ve been here at the emergency operation center today, but I will tell you, I believe that video like this in all situations should be released as quickly as possible and that the law should be changed so that video is presumed to be public. You always need a safety valve for a judge to rule that there may be some portions that would not be public, but we believe the law should be changed. I continue to believe that the video here and in these kinds of cases should be released as quickly as possible. Transparency is important. Next question, please.
Speaker 3: (27:58)
Our next question is from Reuben Jones at Spectrum News.
Reuben Jones: (28:04)
Good afternoon. This is Reuben Jones from Spectrum News in Charlotte. I just want to clarify on the outdoor mask mandate changes, that high school athletes now will be clear not to wear a mask when they are participating in sports outside. Then I also wanted to ask about companies, at what point do you tell companies it is safe to start bringing more people back into in-person work?
Governor Cooper: (28:29)
Dr. Cohen, address those.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (28:34)
Hi, thanks for that. Yes, with the changes we’re making related to the mask mandate today, for those doing youth sports outside, they will no longer need to be wearing a mask when they’re actively doing their sports. I do want to remind folks that that folks under 16 are not able to get vaccinated, so they are an unvaccinated population. For all of our un-vaccinated population, whether it’s children or adults, we continue to recommend that folks where masks outdoors when they can’t be distant from other people. The unvaccinated population, we continue to recommend wearing masks. However, today’s changes in the executive order do allow for youth sports, when folks are playing youth sports outside, that they do not need to be wearing masks.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (29:21)
Could you repeat your second question?
Reuben Jones: (29:25)
Yes, sure. It was about whether at what point do you recommend companies that they can start bringing people back into in-person work?
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (29:33)
Ty., Sorry about that. I think that there are businesses clearly that are open and folks are working in person. I think we want to make sure of a couple things. One, that there is still a requirement for masks indoors. You still want to make sure you’re doing social distancing to the greatest extent possible indoors as well. I know that folks are starting to transition back to in-person work, but we just want folks to be as thoughtful as possible as they do it. Make sure that you’re continuing to follow our guidance, masks, social distancing, hand washing, are going to continue to be important pillars, particularly until we can get two-thirds of our adults vaccinated. I would also encourage all businesses to join us in the Bringing Summer Back campaign and to encourage all of their employees to get vaccinated, have a vaccine day, make sure you’re giving time off, both for the vaccine and for recovery, and making sure that you’re encouraging folks who do work in your businesses to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Thank you.
Governor Cooper: (30:38)
Speaker 3: (30:41)
Our final question today will be from Michael Hyland with CBS17.
Michael Hyland: (30:46)
Hi, this is Michael Hyland from CBS17. I wanted to ask first, more specifically related to the proposed body camera legislation, I know you’ve talked about you supporting presumably those records to be public. Do you think it needs to be on any particular timeline? There’s a bill that Democrats are supporting here that would make those records public in 48 hours, I believe in the taskforce that you had put together they’d recommended I think 45 days. Do you think there needs to be a specific timeline in place that there’s some more certainty about when video like this would become public?
Governor Cooper: (31:18)
I don’t have a particular timeline in mind. When this law was passed in 2016, I said at the time that I believe that we had it backward, that we should presume that these records are public and that a judge would have to find a reason not to make them public instead of what the law is now, that they are presumed to be not public and that a judge would have to open that up. I think that presumption is important. I’m not sure about the amount of time. I think that’s something that we should discuss regarding legislation.
Governor Cooper: (31:55)
I think you’ve got a follow up, Michael.
Michael Hyland: (32:00)
Yes. If you’re still able to hear me, this is related to the COVID-19 restrictions. Just so we all have some clarity about what’s coming on June 1st, to what extent is totally lifting the restrictions tied to the two-thirds people getting vaccinated, or do you anticipate that will be able to happen regardless of where we are at that point in terms of vaccinations?
Governor Cooper: (32:22)
We are planning to lift capacity, mass gathering, and social distancing restrictions under the order on June the 1st, that is the plan. It’d be great if we had two-thirds vaccinated by then, but we probably won’t. But we will still, on June 1st, we plan to continue the indoor mask mandate. When we get to two-thirds, what we’re hoping is that we can lift the indoor mask mandate when we get to two-thirds vaccinated. That’s the goal and we look forward to that day, I know everybody does. Thank you guys for being with us today and we appreciate it. Stay safe, thank you.