Amid a dangerous new COVID spike, NC DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen says North Carolinians must stay put. (Image via NC DPS) Mandy Cohen
Amid a dangerous new COVID spike, NC DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen says North Carolinians must stay put. (Image via NC DPS)

The vaccine is slowly rolling out in North Carolina, but the coronavirus’ spread is at an all-time high.

Stay put.

That was the message NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen had Friday for North Carolinians with reports of new cases at four to five times what they were just two months ago.

“They need to be staying home unless they are conducting essential business‑unless you’re going to work or school, getting groceries,” Cohen said during a Friday press conference. “You should not be going to someone else’s home indoors; you should not be having people over to your home indoors.”

And if you do head out, put that mask on.

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Thursday and Friday each saw reports of more than 10,000 new cases, the first (and second) time the state had crossed that threshold. In comparison, there were around 2,000 new cases each day in early November, according to NC DHHS data.

And though the new variance of COVID-19 thought to be more contagious hasn’t yet been detected in North Carolina, chances are it will be soon, Cohen said.

“This virus was contagious before and now is even more contagious,” Cohen said. It’s “why we have to be particularly vigilant, as we move through the next number of months.”

In addition to the general recommendations to stay home, Cohen said people 65 or older should look into getting groceries and essentials delivered instead of venturing into a store.

Nurses Plead for More Restrictions

The surge has many worried, with hospital beds also filling up around the state. The NC Nurses Association sent a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper Friday, asking him to impose more restrictions to stop the spread of the disease so that health care resources aren’t overwhelmed.

“Nurses need help. Other healthcare workers need help. The patients flooding our facilities need help,” wrote the association’s Dennis Taylor, a registered nurse and president of the state group, and Tina Gordon, the group’s CEO.

Read More: ‘Spend More Time With the Grandkids’: North Carolinians Line Up in Charlotte for COVID Vaccine

NC DHHS data show that 3,960 people with COVID-19 were in hospital beds, the most since the start of the pandemic. Capacity is limited, with only 328 staffed intensive care unit beds available in the state.

Taylor and Gordon asked the governor to enact more executive orders that would impact the behavior of North Carolina and encourage them to keep distant from others.  

“The state must take additional measures to prevent the state’s healthcare system from being swamped,” they wrote. “Coronavirus numbers are already breaking gruesome records, and the trends point toward worse news in the coming weeks.”

North Carolina already has a state-wide mask safeguard in place, and Cooper extended a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew through Jan. 29.

Vaccine Successes and Snags

Meanwhile, the state is trying to solidify the pipelines to get COVID-19 vaccines into the arms of healthcare and emergency responders, as well as residents over the age of 75. As of Friday, just under 140,000 North Carolinians had received their first of a two-dose vaccine, according to data kept by the CDC. 

Counties are beginning to offer vaccinations to older North Carolinians. And some counties are prepping for the next phases, with at least with eastern NC county already inoculating some educators, a crucial component for reopening schools for in-person instruction. 

Read More: A Meaningful Milestone: Teachers In At Least One NC County Get Vaccinated

And the general public may be able to get vaccines by this spring or late spring, Cohen said.

But available slots and appointments for the early vaccination phases are filling up quickly. Another challenge has been hesitancy among long-term care workers to take the vaccine, Cohen said, emphasizing that the vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective.

The NC National Guard will send units to Forsyth County and to Albemarle Regional Health Services, which serves eight counties in the northeastern corner of the state, to help with vaccine distribution, said Mike Sprayberry, the head of NC’s Emergency Management Director.