Gov. Roy Cooper and state health officials said North Carolina could soon start receiving COVID-19 vaccines, as the state sees an ominous surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Cooper continued to stress that "all options are on the table," including returning to previous restrictions, if the COVID-19 metrics continue moving in the wrong direction.
Cooper on Tuesday urged North Carolinians to keep adhering to the statewide mask mandate and other social distancing guidelines as the vaccine distribution process nears.
Cooper and state Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said North Carolina could receive, within weeks, a limited first round of Pfizer vaccine doses, with the Moderna vaccine expected as early as January.
"Safe, effective vaccines should be available soon," Cooper said. "Our job is to get them to people as quickly and effectively as possible."
Cooper's current executive order on COVID-19 restrictions is set to expire at 5 p.m. Dec. 11.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported Tuesday a record 2,033 coronavirus-related hospitalizations and a pandemic-high positive test rate of 10.2%.
The state has reached a daily high for hospitalizations each of the past four days. North Carolina is at 367,395 total cases and 5,284 deaths.
Local and state public health officials are bracing for another surge in COVID-19 cases related to family and social gatherings around the Thanksgiving holiday.
DHHS' vaccine distribution strategy was submitted in October to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cooper and Cohen said Tuesday the priorities haven't changed.
Cohen said the state is expected to initially receive about 85,000 doses, and then weekly allocations after that. Those initial doses are likely to be the Pfizer vaccine. Individuals will be required to receive two doses.
"We do not know at what level and how many doses the weekly allocations will be, so it is hard for us to pinpoint exactly when we will be able to expand beyond our healthcare workers," Cohen said.
Cohen reiterated the "goal of the plan is to immunize everyone who is eligible for and wants a COVID-19 vaccine."
The state's strategy calls for the first doses to go to health-care providers and emergency responders who are at high risk for exposure, those who are vital to the initial COVID vaccine administration efforts, and staff in long-term care facilities.
DHHS estimated that up to 951,000 individuals could receive vaccine doses in Phase One.
There will be a limited number of hospitals statewide capable of handling the ultra-cold storage setting required for the Pfizer vaccine.
DHHS said the next priority will be for individuals at high health risk for COVID and at high risk for exposure, including residents in long-term care facilities, those over age 65, staff of congregate living settings (migrant farm camps, jails and prisons, and homeless shelters) and anyone with two or more chronic conditions identified by the CDC to be high risk for COVID complications.
Historically marginalized populations and teachers also are represented in this prioritization groups.
Remaining phases will include lower-risk populations and have more of a focus on decreasing transmission through the population.
Cooper said he has confidence in the vaccine vetting system being used by federal health regulators and the Food and Drug Administration.
"We want people to get vaccinated when it's your turn," Cooper said. "We have some concerns about people not wanting to be vaccinated.
"In order for this to work, we need to get as many people vaccinated as possible."
DHHS reported 2,883 new cases statewide Tuesday. There were 23 additional deaths reported statewide.
The number of daily COVID-19 cases in Forsyth was at 117 Tuesday after 133 on Monday and 214 on Sunday. Forsyth has an overall case total of 13,538.
The record daily high of 268 was reported Friday. The first time that Forsyth surpassed 200 cases was the 211 reported on Nov. 19.
The last time Forsyth's daily case count was below 100 was Nov. 16, with 76.
There were no additional COVID-19 related deaths reported Tuesday in Forsyth, with the total remaining at 166.
The latest Forsyth Department of Public Health COVID-19 surveillance report, released Tuesday, listed a more detailed breakdown of deaths by ages as of Saturday.
There have been 47 deaths of those ages 75 to 84, followed by 37 for those ages 85 to 94, 32 for those ages 65 to 74, 29 for those ages 55 to 64, nine for those ages 45 to 54, seven for those ages 95 and older, two for those ages 25 to 34 and one for those ages 35 to 44.
There have been 90 deaths involving white residents, 51 Blacks, 21 Hispanic, one Asian and one whose race is not known.
DHHS lists COVID-19 cases and deaths on the day they are confirmed by medical providers and public health officials, so individuals may have been infected or died days before their case is counted.
The percentage of Forsyth tests returning positive results was at 9.7% out of 750 tests on Sunday. The record high for Forsyth is 10.1% out of about 1,200 tests on Nov. 19.
"We've been concerned for a number of weeks about the level of viral spread in the Triad," Cohen said when asked about Forsyth's rising positive test rate.
DHHS' latest semiweekly outbreak reports for child care, K-12 schools and long-term care facilities, disclosed Tuesday, did not include any new clusters for those categories.
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