1/27/21: GOVERNOR’S COVID-19 UPDATE: STAY-AT-HOME ORDER, CURFEW EXTENDED UNTIL FEB. 28; FEDERAL SHIPMENT OF VACCINE TO N.C. TO INCREASE BY 16 PERCENT. Plus “Jumping the Line” on Vaccinations.

Governor Roy Cooper announced today at a COVID-19 briefing in Raleigh that the State’s modified stay-at-home order, which includes the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, will be extended until Feb. 28 and his order permitting to-go mixed-drink sales after the 9 p.m. cutoff time for in-restaurant service will be extended through March 31.

All restrictions of the Governor’s modified stay-at-home order, which was to expire Friday at 5 p.m., will remain in effect.

The Governor also announced that North Carolina’s federal shipment of vaccine will increase by 16 percent, starting with next week’s shipment, and that this increase will be in effect for three weeks.

North Carolina had been receiving 120,000 doses weekly.

According to the Governor, federal officials notified the State of the vaccine-supply increase yesterday, after N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen held an afternoon briefing. (See The Beacon, 1/26/21.)

During her briefing, Dr. Cohen explained that her department had accelerated the rate of vaccinations statewide in order to clear North Carolina’s “backlog” of first-dose COVID-19 vaccine and show the U.S. government that it is ready to receive more.

North Carolina had been among the slowest states to vaccinate its population, ranking 43rd in percentage vaccinated just a week ago. It has since improved to No. 12.

The recent ramp-up of vaccinations—which the Governor reported today has exhausted 99.8 percent of the State’s first-dose backlog—left the NCDHHS with only 84,000 vaccine doses to distribute this week to local vaccine providers, such as the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services, Dr. Cohen said.

In a bulletin Monday, DCDHHS director Dr. Sheila Davies said that the State’s reduction in vaccine distribution—which resulted in Dare County receiving half of its expected allocation—might cause it to cancel hundreds of local vaccination appointments scheduled Friday. She described news of the reduction as “frustrating and dismal.”

Yesterday afternoon, however, Dr. Davies announced that the “vaccine shortfall” she had anticipated would likely be covered by transfers of vaccine doses from the Outer Banks Hospital and from Onslow Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville, N.C.

Cooperation among the DCDHHS and the two hospitals is precisely what Dr. Cohen had hoped would occur among local vaccine providers, she intimated, when she decided to allocate this week’s limited number of doses on a county-by-county basis, according to a county’s population.

Both the Governor and Dr. Cohen quantified the anticipated vaccine as an increase to 140,000 doses weekly.

All of these doses are first doses, said Dr. Cohen, who corrected the Governor’s assertion that they are both first and second doses.

According to Dr. Cohen, the NCDHHS “holds back for three to four weeks” the necessary second doses and apparently has them now in reserve.

As usual, both State officials stressed the “three W’s” of infection prevention to stem the spread of COVID-19: Wear a mask; wait six feet apart; and wash your hands frequently.

Governor Cooper characterized the number of new COVID-19 cases statewide as “stabilized,” after a holiday surge that peaked Jan. 10, but “still high.”

“The virus is still raging through our communities,” he said. “… We still have work to do. We cannot let our guard down,” especially during the winter months.

North Carolina is “still experiencing worrisome levels of virus,” Dr. Cohen said, a situation that she said has been “compounded” by the arrival of the more contagious United Kingdom variant of the coronavirus.

SHOULD DARE HAVE HELD A VACCINE CLINIC FOR SCHOOL WORKERS?

A number of the questions raised by media representatives after the Governor and Dr. Cohen gave their prepared remarks concerned vaccinations in nursing homes—or the lack therefore—and vaccine prioritizations observed by different local vaccine providers.

The Trump Administration contracted with CVS and Walgreens to handle vaccinations of staff and residents in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes and other group homes.

Whether or not North Carolina could have opted out of this U.S. government program was not directly answered by Secretary Cohen when a reporter asked. The Governor said he did not think it could, but then deferred to the Secretary when she sought—but did not achieve—clarification.

Apparently, some states are handling vaccinations in long-term care facilities on their own.

While NCDHHS is trying to educate and inform people about the vaccines and their safety, North Carolina has no oversight over vaccinations of nursing home staff—up to 60 or 70 percent of whom reportedly have declined to be vaccinated—and residents.

A refusal by nursing home workers–many of whom are people of color who distrust the medical system–to be vaccinated is a national problem. Online misinformation about the vaccines also contributes to their reluctance.

Dr. Cohen did clarify, however, that any vaccinations now of frontline essential workers, such as teachers, postal workers, grocery store employees, and other workers defined as essential by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Preventions, are “out of the prioritization order” announced by the NCDHHS.

A reporter raised the issue of teachers receiving vaccinations in certain jurisdictions, but not in others, even though they are not age-eligible under NCDHHS’s prioritization plan.

Although she would like to allow “flexibility at the local level” in vaccination protocol, and she recognized that some of the vaccination appointments for frontline essential workers pre-dated the State’s shift on Jan. 15 to prioritizing all people age 65 or older, Dr. Cohen said that “going out of the prioritization order should be unusual.”

Dare County held a vaccination clinic last Saturday for all Dare County school staff, as well as College of the Albemarle personnel and Dare County law enforcement officials—regardless of their age—at First Flight High School in Kill Devil Hills.

According to a release by Dare County Schools Superintendent John Farrelly, 1,100 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine were provided by Vidant Hospital in Greensville for this day-long clinic. Second doses from Vidant will be administered at a Feb. 13 clinic.

The Outer Banks Hospital is part of the Vidant Health system.

OBX Today reported that the DCDHHS scheduled this clinic, and it was approved by the NCDHHS, just 24 hours before the State changed its vaccination plan to prioritize all people age 65 or older, regardless of general health or living situation.

The Beacon believes Dr. Davies should have canceled this clinic. We think she showed poor judgment and poor form in not doing so. The COVID-19 vaccine supply has always been limited and should be reserved for those people deserving of higher prioritization. No one should “jump the line.”

As an educator, Dr. Farrelly should have immediately recognized this and requested a postponement.

Had the DCDHHS Director canceled the schools clinic, she would have had a ready supply for the people age 65 or older whose Friday vaccination appointments she cast into doubt Monday.

According to Dr. Cohen, 83 percent of the nearly 9,000 people who have died in North Carolina because of COVID-19 were age 65 or older.

The people who now should be receiving vaccinations statewide are all healthcare workers with a high risk of COVID-19 exposure; all long-term care facility staff and residents; and all people age 65 or older.

Dr. Cohen would not speculate on when there will be a statewide “shift” to the next level of prioritization, which includes frontline essential workers.

There is “still a lot of demand from people age 65 and over,” she said.

“Millions of people” need the vaccine, Governor Cooper said, but the State has “only thousands of shots.”

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 1/27/21

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