Mar 23, 2021

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript March 23

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript March 23
RevBlogTranscriptsCOVID-19 Briefing & Press Conference TranscriptsNorth Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript March 23

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper held a press conference on coronavirus on March 23, 2021. He announced eased restrictions for businesses. Read the full transcript of the news briefing here.

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Governor Cooper: (00:53)
Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you for joining today’s COVID-19 update. As of today, we have had 899,164 cases. 1,062 new cases reported since yesterday. 956 people in the hospital and sadly 11,854 people who have died. Our prayers are with those who have lost friends and loved ones who are battling this cruel virus.

Governor Cooper: (01:22)
Today, we are still seeing improvement with our COVID-19 metrics and that’s great news. As you know, last month, we cautiously eased some restrictions using our dimmer switch approach. This helped our economy continue to move forward while protecting our health. I’m pleased that we’re holding steady and our numbers remain stable. Our hospitalizations are dropping and our percent of positive tests hovers around the 5% benchmark. The millions of people in North Carolina who’ve worn masks and acted responsibly deserve credit for this success. Today, I’ll share what this means for the next executive order, which begins Friday at 5:00 PM. But first I’ll ask Dr. Mandy Cohen, our secretary of our Department of Health and Human Services to share more about our COVID-19 metrics and an update on our schools. Dr. Cohen.

Dr. Many Cohen: (02:23)
Thank you, governor. Let’s jump right into the data and look at our four key metrics. They’re COVID like illness, cases, the percent of tests that are positive, and hospitalizations.

Dr. Many Cohen: (02:32)
First graph, as usual looks at people who come to the emergency department with COVID like symptoms. It’s our earliest detection mechanism and you can see when looking at that yellow line, it continues to trend downward and is getting very close to our baseline, and this is very good news.

Dr. Many Cohen: (02:49)
Next, we look at new cases and this first graph shows the trajectory of those new cases each day, since we had our first case over a year ago, March of 2020. And looking at the yellow line, you see that cases have decreased since peaking in January.

Dr. Many Cohen: (03:03)
The next slide narrows in on the trajectory of cases since the middle of January. And what you can see is they have been declining, but are starting to plateau or level. We need to keep an eye on this, particularly with the new variants of the virus we’re seeing in the state.

Dr. Many Cohen: (03:19)
Next, we look at the percent of tests that are positive, and this graph goes back to the middle of January as well. And looking at the yellow line, the percent of tests has averaged just below the 5% mark. On our next graph, we look at day over day hospitalizations since mid January. And you can see looking at that yellow line, the trend is decreasing.

Dr. Many Cohen: (03:39)
Okay. Here’s where we are. Our surveillance data is decreasing. It gets a green check. North Carolina’s trajectory of cases is plateauing. With new COVID variants to the state, we do need to keep our guard up, and cases get a yellow line. North Carolina’s trajectory and percent of test returning positive has been just below our goal of 5%. This gets a green check. And North Carolina’s trajectory of hospitalizations is decreasing, but it’s still elevated and leveling. It gets a yellow line.

Dr. Many Cohen: (04:09)
This next slide shows the great news where we are in vaccination. 32% of all North Carolinians 18 and older are at least partially vaccinated. And 19% are fully vaccinated. These rates include North Carolinians who received their vaccines from the federal pharmacy programs, such as in the long-term care settings or through Walgreens or CVS. And we’ll have this new data on our public dashboard tomorrow.

Dr. Many Cohen: (04:40)
We’re in a promising place. With North Carolinians, COVID-19 metrics are improving and vaccinations are increasing. We can responsibly use our dimmer switch approach to ease restrictions guided by the science and the data. While we’ll continue to need to wear masks and maintain six feet of distance, lower risk settings can open further, while higher risk settings really must maintain caution. As a reminder, those lower risk settings are one where you have fewer people or where you can keep masks on the entire time. You have good ventilation or you’re outdoors, and your interactions with people are short and activities such as singing, yelling, and cheering are really avoided.

Dr. Many Cohen: (05:23)
In addition to the easing of restrictions, which the governor will outline in a second, we’re also updating our school guidance. Schools should return to in-person instruction to the fullest extent possible while following all the public health protocols in our Strong Schools NC toolkit. This includes wearing masks all the time and cleaning of high traffic areas. Schools are highly encouraged to conduct screening testing as recommended by the CDC and is provided for free to schools in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Many Cohen: (05:58)
We’re making positive progress, but our work is not done just yet. Please keep wearing a mask, waiting six feet apart and washing your hands, while everyone gets a spot to get their shot. Thank you, governor.

Governor Cooper: (06:18)
Thanks Dr. Cohen. It’s great to see that almost every school has returned to in-person instruction and we know how much children benefit mentally and physically from safely being in the classroom.

Governor Cooper: (06:32)
Another cause for optimism is North Carolina’s success with our vaccine distribution. As of today, you heard Dr. Cohen tell you, we’ve administered more than 4.1 million doses. And that means almost a third of adults have received at least one dose and 18.8% are fully vaccinated. Our vaccine equity efforts remain a priority, along with speed, and we’re continuing to vaccinate people in a way that’s fast and fair.

Governor Cooper: (07:03)
I want to express my gratitude to our hard working vaccine providers. Every shot in an arm gets us a little closer to turning the corner on this pandemic. Our fast and fair vaccine distribution and our sustained progress with COVID-19 metrics tell us we can move forward with easing restrictions if we do it safely. Today, I’m signing an executive order that will continue to ease restrictions in several areas starting this Friday, March 26th. Strong safety protocols, including the mask mandate, will remain in place. It will be as important as ever to stay socially distant and use good judgment. This virus and its more contagious variants are still spreading and we may need to be even more careful as we ease restrictions in that we will likely come into contact with more people when we leave our homes and go into public places. This order will increase maximum occupancy limits in several areas, but importantly, masks and six feet of social distancing still will be required for all of these establishments. And that means that some of them may not be able to reach the maximum occupancy that’s allowed by the order.

Governor Cooper: (08:21)
So here are the main changes. Some places will be able to increase capacity up to 100% indoors and outdoors, with safety protocols in place. They include museums, aquariums, retail businesses and shops, salons, and personal care shops. The new order will allow some places to increase capacity up to 75% indoors and up to 100% outdoors. They include restaurants, breweries, wineries, amusement parks, gyms and pools, and other recreation establishment. Additionally, the new order will allow some places to increase capacity up to 50% indoors and outdoors. That includes bars, conference centers and reception venues, sports arenas, and other venues for live performances. In addition, effective Friday, we will fully lift the 11:00 PM curfew for onsite alcohol consumption. And finally the mass gathering limit, which covers other kinds of gatherings that are not laid out in the order will be increased to 50 indoors and 100 outdoors.

Governor Cooper: (09:39)
These are significant changes, but they can be done safely. And we’ve said all along that the science and the data would be our guide in this dimmer switch approach. And they show we can do this. North Carolina has done the work to slow the spread of this virus and get people vaccinated, and I’m grateful for the efforts of people across the state. But I emphasize this, this pandemic is not over yet. We’re only able to keep this virus in check while we ease restrictions if people act responsibly and follow safety protocols. That means continuing to wear a mask and social distancing. We want to strengthen our economy while keeping people safe and it’s on all of us to make that happen. The last thing we want is to backslide.

Governor Cooper: (10:33)
Spring has brought sunnier days and the continued hope and belief that we will move past this pandemic. Our students are in the classrooms. People are getting vaccinated and our COVID-19 numbers remain promising, but for us to truly turn the corner and leave this pandemic behind, we have to stay strong to the very end. We have to continue keeping ourselves and each other safe. That way we’ll be able to move forward once and for all.

Governor Cooper: (11:03)
… that way we’ll be able to move forward once and for all into a stronger and healthier future. Also with me today is our Director of Emergency Management Mike Sprayberry. Monica McGee and Cameron Larson are our sign language interpreters. And behind the scenes, Jackie and Jasmine Metivier are our Spanish language interpreters. We’ll now take questions from the media. If you can identify yourself and your organization, and we’ll take the first question.

Moderator: (11:32)
Our first question will be from Tina Terry with WSOC.

Tina Terry: (11:42)
Hi there. Thank you so much for taking my question, this is Tina Terry with WSOC TV in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s been predicted that we could move into vaccinations for group five by May. Do you anticipate a supply increase that will allow us to move into vaccinations for group five earlier than that timeframe? Thank you.

Governor Cooper: (12:09)
Do anticipate an increase in supply and in fact Dr. Cohen and I just got off the phone with the White House Coronavirus task force, predicting that we will see increase in vaccine supply. So we are hoping that we can get earlier into the rest of the group four and ended group five even earlier. But I’m going to let Dr. Cohen address that specifically. Dr. Cohen.

Dr. Many Cohen: (12:38)
Hi Tina. As the Governor said, yes, we do think that we will well within the May 1st timeline that President Biden laid out, be able to open to all adults who are eligible to be vaccinated before May 1st. And in fact are working with our vaccine providers right now to understand what they are seeing coming through their doors. And as the Governor said, looking at options for potentially even accelerating, moving to the next phase of group four and then into group five. So stay tuned as we work through that with our vaccine providers.

Dr. Many Cohen: (13:08)
Again, we are seeing more supply each and every week. It’s just a small amount of increase, but even those small amounts go a long way and we have put those vaccines to good use. We’re getting them out fast and I’m very proud of the equity work that we’ve done in getting our vaccines out. So we’ll continue to do our fast and fair vaccine distribution across our state with the increase in supply that we see. We do hope that by next week, we’re going to see more Johnson & Johnson, the one shot vaccine here in our state. We got an initial shipment of Johnson & Johnson, back the first week it was authorized and now we expect more to come to our state next week. Thank you.

Governor Cooper: (13:52)
Next question.

Moderator: (13:54)
Our next question is from Michael Hyland with CBS-17.

Michael Hyland: (13:59)
Hi, this is Michael Highland from CBS-17. I wanted to ask first about the decision regarding the capacity at various businesses. Since the bars have reopened a few weeks ago, have you noticed any significant impact that they have had on the spread of COVID-19 and if not, why continue to treat them differently than restaurants, breweries and wineries?

Governor Cooper: (14:19)
So our healthcare officials have spent a lot of time analyzing data and grouping certain settings and activities into various risks columns, and the Executive Order is based upon those different levels of risks. I will let Dr. Cohen address that more specifically.

Dr. Many Cohen: (14:47)
Hi Michael, thanks for the question. We know in settings where you are indoors gathered together and you don’t wear your mask consistently the whole time, those are places where this virus spreads. We have certainly seen that happen in some of our college campuses that are having some additional outbreaks. We’re seeing that in sports teams as well, when folks are together not wearing their masks all the time and particularly when they’re indoors.

Dr. Many Cohen: (15:11)
We know that that is that what happens in a bar, folks are gathering inside together and not wearing their mask all the time. So we do still see that as a higher risk setting. We do feel like our trends have moved in the right direction so that we can move forward with further easing of restrictions, but we want to make sure we’re still following those underlying safety protocols, meaning wearing your mask when you can, when you’re not actively eating or drinking and still maintaining six feet of distance from other parties there at the bar. Thank you.

Governor Cooper: (15:49)
Next question, please.

Moderator: (15:52)
You have a follow-up Michael Hyland, CBS-17.

Michael Hyland: (15:56)
This question may be more so for Dr. Cohen, we saw in the CDC’s tracker showing the number of cases, while still fairly low for the UK and South Africa variants of COVID-19, that those numbers nearly doubled over the past week. And while those numbers are still small, at what point does the rate of growth and the doubling time become an even bigger concern for you all?

Dr. Many Cohen: (16:17)
Thanks, Michael, for bringing up the concerns about the new kinds of this virus that we are seeing circulating, we’re often calling them variants. But, we know this virus is changing and we know particularly the one that started in the United Kingdom is more contagious, meaning it spreads more easily. So it is not surprising to us that we’re seeing more and more cases with that variant here in North Carolina.

Dr. Many Cohen: (16:42)
Now the good news is, as you said in your question, it is pretty small, but we also know we are doing the gene sequencing on still a pretty small number of samples here in North Carolina. So we do expect for that virus to continue to spread, that strain of the virus or the variant of the virus, to continue to spread in North Carolina. Which is exactly why we have to maintain this balance, use that dimmer switch.

Dr. Many Cohen: (17:05)
We can ease restrictions because our trends are moving in the right direction, but we’re not out of the woods yet. This virus is here, this virus is changing, it’s still contagious and it is still cruel. It still takes someone’s life if they are not protected with a vaccine. So we all have to protect each other and do the things we’re talking about, which is do the Three Ws and get your vaccine as soon as you are eligible and it is your turn. Thank you.

Governor Cooper: (17:35)
And Dr. Cohen and other doctors have told me that even though the variants are more contagious, that the vaccine is still pretty effective against all of those. So that continues to show us that the more people we can get vaccinated, the better off that we are and we’re continuing to push toward that. Next question, please?

Moderator: (17:58)
Our next question is from Dawn Vaughan with The News & Observer.

Dawn Vaughan: (18:03)
Hi, Dawn Vaughan with The News & Observer. I had a question about if the outdoor cap is being removed entirely on some businesses, why not just remove the outdoor cap on gathering size? And is that and the other changes to restrictions tied to the businesses being the enforcers about people complying with it, or just this is has been a year now as a state of emergency?

Governor Cooper: (18:28)
Well, first, on outdoors at 100% for some of the venues, remember that we still in those settings have requirements for masks and social distancing and it is a more controlled environment. We have the mass gathering limits just as something that can fill in the gaps for in places where you aren’t in a formal public setting. For example, if you’re in a big park, the mass gathering limit would apply to people who are coming together in the park and we just don’t want that many people coming together at one time. Because, the more people you get together, the more chance that the virus has to be transmitted and it’s much greater indoors and that’s why the gathering limit is lower indoors.

Governor Cooper: (19:20)
Obviously, we still want the mask mandate and the capacity limits to be enforced. I think that since we have been doing this for a year, these protocols have become ingrained in businesses and in customers and, overall, we’ve seen much better compliance over a period of time because people have recognized that masks do slow the spread of the virus, that social distancing does, and that these capacity limitations can have success in driving the spread of the virus down.

Governor Cooper: (20:01)
So as we continue to increase capacity limits, we want to continue to emphasize mask and social distancing. And we believe that since people are getting more used to this, that people can do it responsibly and that we’ll continue to have good success in bringing down our numbers and making sure they are stable and finally getting enough people vaccinated so that we turn the corner on the pandemic. Next question, please?

Moderator: (20:34)
You have a follow-up Dawn Vaughan, News & Observer.

Dawn Vaughan: (20:38)
Yeah, on the follow-up, I think it was Michael Hyland’s question about bars versus other businesses. Is there evidence beyond what Dr. Cohen sited about what we’ve seen with the university clusters, that the alcohol curfew had an impact and the limits on bars versus other places that served alcohol?

Governor Cooper: (20:56)
[crosstalk 00:20:56] want to address that.

Dr. Many Cohen: (21:01)
Thanks, Dawn. I think you’ll see in this Executive Order, it is not just bars that we think are higher risk areas. Higher risk settings include anytime when, as I said, folks come together, you can’t wear your mask consistently, where there are a lot of people, you’re indoors, you’re singing, you’re yelling. Those are the kinds of things that we know, put this virus out into the air and spread it to other people. So not only bars, but there are other venues like conference centers, meeting centers, arenas, and others that we feel are higher risk. We want to keep the capacity at 50% at this point, let’s look at our trends over a period of time, like we always do, and we’ll use our dimmer switch as we go. And if things continue to be stable, if we continue to get vaccines to folks quickly, as we very much intend to do, then we will continue to evaluate our metrics and make more changes as we go forward. Thank you.

Governor Cooper: (22:00)
Next question, please?

Moderator: (22:03)
Our next question is from-

Governor Cooper: (22:03)
Next question, please.

Speaker 1: (22:03)
Our next question is from Ashley Talley with WRAL.

Ashley Talley: (22:08)
Hi, thank you so much for taking my call. I wanted to ask about the change in vaccine allocation that HHS announced in the past couple of days, where you are allocating based on percentage of people in a county that haven’t been vaccinated rather than number of residents in a county. Can you talk a little bit about that decision and why you think pushing vaccines to those areas will change maybe uptake rates or mindsets there of people that don’t want to get the vaccine? And are you concerned that this new approach could lead to more unused doses sitting on shelves?

Dr. Many Cohen: (22:40)
Well, thanks for that question. We’ve been really looking at our data very closely every single day. We are making sure that we can get vaccine out, as the governor said, many times, fast and fair. As we went into this effort, this is all the way back in December, we really looked at the county’s population and use that as our guide for how do we want to allocate across counties to make sure we’re reaching all 100 counties and lots of different communities. But we now know that folks are crossing county lines to get their vaccine, which they’re totally able to do. But then we need to look at how many in a particular county are vaccinated or not, and then we want to be sure we’re sending more vaccine to the places where folks aren’t vaccinated. That’s the change that came over the last number of weeks.

Dr. Many Cohen: (23:28)
We’ve worked with our vaccine providers so they had that time to have that visibility, to know we’re going to make a change in their allocation so they can adjust. Every week, we ask them, do they feel that they can take on the amount of vaccine that they are being allocated. By agreeing to take it, they are agreeing to be fast and fair. They’re agreeing to get it out before the next shipment comes. And they are agreeing to do that in an equitable way that reflects the community that they serve. Every time, every single week they are saying yes to that. And there are some that say, “This week. We need to accept less vaccine;” and that’s fine. We work with other providers and make sure that we have vaccine going, again, to all 100 counties. That is when we’ve been able to bring on additional vaccine providers.

Dr. Many Cohen: (24:14)
If we see one vaccine provider isn’t able to meet the needs of their community, we look for other partners, or we use a paid vendor through the state to even fill in those gaps there. Again, keep monitoring to make sure we’re fast and fair. We do think this new formula is better at matching up. Where are people unvaccinated and matching it with a vaccine there and making sure we’re keeping on top of providers to get things out fast and fair. I will say, they’ve been doing a terrific job and it is why North Carolina continues to be recognized nationally for the work we’re doing. Thank you.

Governor Cooper: (24:52)
Next question, please.

Speaker 1: (24:55)
We have a follow-up. Ashley Talley, WRAL.

Ashley Talley: (25:00)
Thank you so much for that thorough answer. I really appreciate it. One quick clarification, does the reopening of 50% for sports arenas include high school sports? One more quick question about charter schools not being included in SB220. I’m hearing from a lot of parents about that. Do you think that they should be included, or is there any movement to do that right now? Thanks so much.

Speaker 1: (25:24)
Yes, the 50% does include high school sports and observing those both 50% indoors and outdoors and the same rules regarding social distancing and masking requirements. I’ll let Dr. Cohen address the school’s issue.

Dr. Many Cohen: (25:45)
Thanks, Ashley. As I mentioned, DHHS updated our Stronger Schools toolkit today, and it did include guidance, not just for K-12 public schools, but charter schools as well. Within that guidance, it does recommend that we think kids could be back in school to the greatest extent possible Plan A or Plan B. There are safety protocols in there. We want folks to still continue to do like wearing masks and wiping down high-traffic surfaces. But again, those are updated today and that applies to those charter schools in addition. I think this will clear up any of that confusion about what applies to who.

Dr. Many Cohen: (26:21)
I think what the governor, myself and many others have been saying, we want kids to be in school. If you’re following those safety protocols, it is safe to do so. We know there are so many benefits to being in-person and we look forward to seeing all of our, those smiling kids back in classrooms again.

Governor Cooper: (26:41)
Next question, please.

Speaker 1: (26:45)
Our next question is from Ginger Livingston with the Daily Reflector.

Ginger Livingston: (26:50)
Hello. To go back to the vaccine allocations, is the plan to still focus on getting vaccines out to large-scale sides, or is there going to be any move to perhaps have pharmacies and private doctor’s offices start administering more vaccines?

Governor Cooper: (27:15)
Thank you for that question, Ginger. We’re going to continue to have vaccine at the larger sites, but as we go more and more into getting people by larger percentage of the population vaccinated, we’ll move more and more into these smaller venues of pharmacies and doctor’s offices, and other places, because we’re really going to have to get out into the community.

Governor Cooper: (27:40)
Right now, our demand still exceeds the supply that we have. We have people who really want this vaccine. But at some point, we will reach a time where we have more supply than demand. We’ll really need to work hard to get this vaccine out in a lot of different places and to encourage everybody to get this vaccine. We know that that time is coming.

Governor Cooper: (28:05)
Doctor Cohen, do you want to add to that?

Governor Cooper: (28:07)
Okay, next question, please.

Speaker 1: (28:11)
Our next question is from Derek Dellinger with Fox 46.

Derek Dellinger: (28:16)
Yes. Thank you for taking my question. This is Derek Dellinger with Fox 46. We’ve asked questions actually in the past couple of times about vaccine hesitancy. We’ve addressed it in the African-American communities as well as Latin X communities, but more and more what we’re seeing, at least in terms of the polling, is that more rural counties, there could be some vaccine hesitancy there. We know the Biden administration is kind of trying to address it with Christian Broadcasting Network and also NASCAR. Is there anything that the state is doing to address some of that vaccine hesitancy as well? Are there programs down the line that you guys are planning to do to address any hesitancy that might be in those communities that just don’t want to get the vaccine yet?

Governor Cooper: (28:53)
Yeah. We are seeing that as well and are concerned about it and we’re working to focus our messaging to those groups. The King, Richard Petty, has done an ad for us saying that he got his vaccine and that’s something that you should do. We’re going to continue, just like in the other communities that we’re working in, to try to get leaders of these particular rural communities to step forward and to say this is important, to get preachers of churches to step forward and say it’s really important for you to get your vaccine. We’re going to continue to work to shave away this vaccine hesitancy, because I think we’re seeing it’s proving time and time again, this vaccine is safe and effective and that we can completely rely on it to help us turn the corner on this pandemic.

Governor Cooper: (29:51)
Next question, please.

Speaker 1: (29:54)
We have a follow-up. Derek Dellinger, Fox 46.

Derek Dellinger: (29:56)
A question real quick involving spring break in any worries that you have in regards to students coming back to campuses here in North Carolina that may have been, shall we say, possibly out in Florida, or any situation that you might be having to worry about at least in the communities surrounding those colleges and universities, or kids in general coming back to campus that may have been exposed?

Governor Cooper: (30:18)
We’re concerned anytime that people gather together in larger crowds. Oftentimes we’re even more concerned when they do it without masks and without social distancing. We know we see that from college students at times and from spring break.

Governor Cooper: (30:36)
I know that our universities are working hard on these issues trying to message to kids to either stay at home or not to go out, and if you do, to be careful. There is a significant amount of testing going on at our universities with our students, because we know that sometimes they can be hotbeds of virus. We see clusters in our universities, so we’re trying to stay on top of testing and messaging to students.

Governor Cooper: (31:08)
Anything you’d want to add to that?

Governor Cooper: (31:09)
Okay. Next question, please.

Speaker 1: (31:14)
Our next question is from Brian Anderson with the Associated Press.

Brian Anderson: (31:19)
Hi, Governor. Hi, Dr. Cohen. I had one for each of you. The first one to Governor Cooper. We know that Krispy Kreme donuts recently announced that it will allow a free glazed donut each day for the rest of the year for people that show their vaccination card. I’m curious, what incentives will North Carolina as a state offer to people who get vaccinated, or perhaps what punishments are you considering governor for people who choose not to get vaccinated?

Governor Cooper: (31:49)
Well, first, we thank Krispy Kreme for being willing to do that. I think it gets a lot of people talking. I think that’s something positive, that we want people to get vaccinated. Like I said earlier, right now, our demand exceeds supply, but when we do get to the point where we have enough shots for everybody, and we’re trying to encourage people to get it, we, we probably do need to consider some kinds of incentives to get people to get vaccinated. I’ll be glad to talk with health officials, work with the legislature.

Governor Cooper: (32:29)
I’ll let Dr. Cohen come up. I know she’s got some ideas on this as well.

Dr. Many Cohen: (32:38)
Hi, Brian. I also want to thank Krispy Kreme for that, though remind everyone, everything in moderation. I love me at Krispy Kreme donut, but maybe not every day. But I would also say that we are making sure that folks know the true benefits of this vaccine for themselves, for their families, and for their community. We are certainly focused right now on that positive messaging. I will remind folks, right, these vaccines are in emergency use-

Dr. Many Cohen: (33:03)
I will to remind folks, right? These vaccines are in emergency use authorization status, and while they are in that status, I know that there is a conversation in the legal community about whether you can even mandate that, but that is not our intent here. We want to make sure folks are knowing the benefits of this vaccine and are making sure to take the opportunity when it is their spot to get their shot. These vaccines are safe, they’re effective, and we want to make sure that everyone takes advantage of it. So I think it is the fact that we are talking about it and sharing those benefits. And it’s really important for folks to hear about it from those within their own community, as the governor said, their own pastor or their preacher or a reverend within their own church community, their community organizations that at their schools, right?

Dr. Many Cohen: (33:50)
It’s really important for us, if you have gotten your vaccine, share that with others and your experience. I think it really will help all of us make sure that we are taking advantage of these really important vaccines.

Speaker 2: (34:02)
Second question.

Dr. Many Cohen: (34:04)
Brian, you had a second one for me?

Brian Anderson: (34:07)
Yeah, thanks. I appreciate that. I was just wanting to ask sort of a question just sort of about the new allocation shifted strategy. We know, for example, Orange County, which covers Chapel Hill, they’re getting twice as many of their residents vaccinated as say people in Cumberland County, which covers Fayetteville. And I’m just sort of curious, will this new strategy mean more people in Cumberland County get it and fewer people in Orange County? We know that a lot of these rural communities, well, four of them are transitioning to group five. So would this sort of shift in strategy reward places that have limited demand among their existing residents?

Dr. Many Cohen: (34:53)
Brian, so a couple of things, what I think we’re trying to figure out here with this new allocation methodology is how many folks in their communities are already vaccinated. And if your vaccine level rate is lower, to make sure you get the vaccine to your community so more folks can get vaccinated. What I want to remind folks is with the allocation, that is just what is coming through the state. There are a number of other channels in which folks are getting vaccinated. The largest amongst them is the retail pharmacy program that goes through Walgreens, CVS, now to Walmart and others. And in the triangle area, we have a lot of Walgreens and that brings in more vaccine to this area. And so we want to make sure that we are balancing that out. So as we look at our allocation to the state, we are then making sure to balance things out.

Dr. Many Cohen: (35:43)
You brought up Cumberland and as we know, one of our major army bases is there and we know that there’s a lot of vaccination going on through the Department of Defense. It’s actually one of the places we don’t have as much visibility yet into in terms of how much they’re vaccinating. So I would say to take some of those counties like Onslow and Cumberland, we think there’s a little more digging we need to do. I don’t know if the demand is low or rather they are getting it on the base. So again, I think that there are folks everywhere who want this vaccine, as the governor said. I think demand is still exceeding the supply we have. We want to make sure everyone is getting the opportunity to have access to the vaccine. And again, we will be quickly working through the rest of the groups and it will be very soon until everyone is eligible for this vaccine. Thank you.

Gov. Cooper: (36:33)
Next question.

Speaker 3: (36:37)
Our final question today will be from Rose Hoban with North Carolina Health News.

Rose Hoban: (36:43)
Hi, folks. Thank you for taking my question. I was looking at the CDC map and it shows that you were talking about the genomics testing of variants. It shows that we’re doing only about four out of every thousand tests to check for variants. Are there any plans to scale up this level of testing? There are some states that are doing five out of every hundred tests.

Dr. Many Cohen: (37:11)
Hi, Rose. The short answer is, yes. So we are in the process of scaling up our genetic surveillance efforts here. The federal government just put forward a new swath of resources to be able to do that. We are working here in North Carolina to sort of scale up those efforts. We do send a large number of our samples to CDC right now to get sequenced. We know that there’s also sequencing going on amongst some of our academic research partners. So we are working to make sure we can share all of that information within North Carolina and also back up to the CDC. So I think there’s a number of ways, both with our academic partners, this new effort through the federal government and our own efforts that we’re going to be scaling up genomic surveillance as we go forward. Thank you.

Speaker 2: (37:55)
Take a follow up.

Dr. Many Cohen: (37:55)
And Rose, is there a follow up?

Rose Hoban: (37:58)
Yes, there is. I’ve got a slightly different question. Thinking about folks who are really sort of those last mile folks, people who live in very far rural places, folks who are home bound, people who don’t have broadband, I just heard this week from a 72 year old who’s still been unable to get an appointment. What’s the plan for reaching those folks?

Dr. Many Cohen: (38:29)
Thanks, Rose. We know that there are hard to reach populations and actually particularly for homebound because you mentioned that, is particularly challenging with the way these vaccines are both shipped and stored. As you know, they need to be frozen, they need to be administered quickly. And so going to individual houses and only vaccinating one or two people at each home is challenging. I think that’s where the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can be a game changer from a homebound perspective. It needs a different kind of refrigeration and so I think that will allow us to be a lot more mobile with our vaccine efforts. And I think this is exactly what we’ve been working on and how we think about allocation, we think about our vaccine partners. And as the governor said, we need a mix of strategies.

Dr. Many Cohen: (39:15)
Some folks are going to be able to come to high throughput sites like the one in Greensboro or in a number of places that the governor and I have visited, but we know we need to get hypermobile and we do have a lot of folks who are going to churches and doing vaccine events or having folks go to local pharmacies, to their primary care doctor’s office, to federally qualified health centers. So we know we’re going to need a mix of strategies. We have them now and we know we’re going to build on that as supply continues to increase. Thanks so much.

Gov. Cooper: (39:49)
Thanks everybody. We appreciate your attention and stay safe out there.

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