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January 18, 2021

State officials reluctant to add new restrictions

By Bryan Anderson

Associated Press/Report for America

RALEIGH — As coronavirus trends continue to worsen, North Carolina’s top public health official reiterated Thursday the same messages of mask wearing, hand washing and physical distancing that have been promoted for months with mixed success.

“If we were all to follow the things that are currently in place right now, I don’t think we needed to do more (tightening of restrictions),” said Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, during a Thursday news conference. “But we know that that is hard. We know that we are asking a lot of folks, and it may be possible that we need to go backwards.”

North Carolina on Thursday reported its highest single-day increase in coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, with more than 5,600 people testing positive for the coronavirus. The percentage of tests coming back positive also has risen sharply in recent days. On Sunday, the positivity rate surpassed 10% for the first time since April.

And for the first time ever, more than 2,100 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. On Wednesday, the state reported a daily increase of 82 deaths, the highest since the start of the pandemic.

“I am certainly concerned about our numbers,” Cohen said. “We can all do things right now to slow the spread of this virus. We have to because our hospitalizations are going up, and people are dying.”

At a time when all available metrics appear to show coronavirus transmission at or near its worst levels yet, the state has shown some reluctance to impose additional restrictions to slow the spread of the virus.

An executive order Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed last week included stronger language aimed at boosting enforcement of the statewide mask mandate. Ahead of Thanksgiving, he reduced indoor gatherings from a maximum of 25 people to 10 people. He also has said he’s open to reimposing business closures and convening state lawmakers back to Raleigh.

But the mild-mannered governor, who has repeatedly said science is guiding his decision-making process, has shown little interest in revisiting the business closures many experienced in the spring and summer when virus numbers were not as dire as they are today.

Meanwhile, the state is awaiting an initial wave of nearly 85,000 Pfizer vaccine doses, which Cohen says could arrive as early as Dec. 15.

At Thursday’s news conference, Cohen outlined how the state is directing the initial doses it expects to receive from President Donald Trump’s administration later this month.

She said health care workers at a limited number of mostly large hospitals in North Carolina will be the first in line to receive the vaccine once it is approved.

“We will do a distribution to our hospitals based on their hospital size,” Cohen said. “The way the Pfizer vaccine is packaged, you essentially have to ship 975 in a unit. That’s a lot we have to package together, so we can’t actually break it down into smaller units and get it to even more hospitals. … We certainly don’t want to be wasting any vaccine in our early days.”

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