People without the COVID vaccine are the most vulnerable to the new COVID variant, Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday. But they're also making life more dangerous for others. (Image via NC DPS) Gov. Roy Cooper
People without the COVID vaccine are the most vulnerable to the new COVID variant, Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday. But they're also making life more dangerous for others. (Image via NC DPS)

Before, COVID-infected people would pass the virus to two people on average. With Delta, it’s six people. 

Unvaccinated people are the biggest targets of the Delta variant, Gov. Roy Cooper said on Thursday. But they also are passing it to others. 

In stark terms, Cooper said the Delta variant, the most contagious strain of COVID-19 yet, is a direct threat to the lives of the unvaccinated, and that unvaccinated North Carolinians pose a threat to everyone else and to the economy.  

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“After months of low numbers, our trends have turned sharply in the wrong direction,” Cooper said in a news conference Thursday. “I want to be clear about why: Unvaccinated people are driving this resurgence and getting themselves and other people sick.”

Some 92% of the new cases and hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people.

“If you are not vaccinated, the virus will find you,” Cooper said. 

To refuse a vaccine now, he said, was irresponsible. 

“Here’s my message to anyone who’s yet to get a shot. Get a vaccine today. Don’t wait until you or a family member is sick or going on a ventilator. Don’t wait until we run out of hospital beds. Don’t wait until sky-rocketing numbers threaten to shut businesses or cancel sports. Don’t wait until you infect someone you love.”

The number of new COVID cases and hospitalizations are not only at their highest point since February, they are climbing faster than at any other time during the pandemic, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, NC’s DHHS secretary.

With the old strain, Cohen said, someone infected passed the virus to two people on average. With Delta, they’ll pass it to six. 

But the danger does not stop with the unvaccinated, health officials said. The more people get the virus, the more chances it has to evolve into a strain that is both highly contagious and resistant to vaccines.

“Until more people get the vaccine we’ll continue living with the very real threat of a serious disease, we will continue to see more dangerous and contagious variants,” Cooper said. 

The resurgence brings another round of worry, fear, and threat of shutdown for an already weary population. And those who are already vaccinated are beginning to be frustrated.

Cooper said he understood.

“You’ve been doing your part, first with masks and distancing and then with getting your shots. Thank you for stepping up and doing the right thing for yourself and your community.”

Now was the time, however, to urge loved ones to get the shot, not to berate them.

“I’d ask you to step up once more and channel that frustration to pushing your unvaccinated family and friends to do the right thing and get the shot. You may be the most important messengers we have.”

No Mask Requirement

For now the state’s efforts would be all on vaccines, and there would be no new mask requirements, Cooper said. 

The CDC and countless doctors groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics have said that masks should be required in schools, and the North Carolina Association of Educators has encouraged Cooper to make masks mandatory. But, he has said he will let school boards decide their mask policies. 

NC health officials said today that they would tweak their guidance to schools, recommending that masks be worn in all grades regardless of vaccination statuses, but will issue no new mandates. 

According to some counts so far, nearly 20 school boards have already decided to make masks optional.

Cooper said he would, however, issue an executive order requiring state employees in Cabinet-level agencies either prove they’ve been vaccinated or undergo weekly testing and wear a mask.

Vaccines remained the only way out of the pandemic, Cooper and Cohen said, and the state would increase its efforts to improve on the 61% of the adult population who have gotten at least one dose so far.

There were some signs of improvement in NC, however. From July 12 to July 19, the number of first doses administered climbed by nearly 20,000.

But sometimes, Cooper said, the lesson is a hard one. 

Cooper said that, as in much of the rest of the country, doctors had told him that their new patients were asking for the vaccine as they were being hooked up to ventilators. 

By then, of course, it’s too late.