Two weeks into administering the COVID-19 vaccine, AppHealthCare wants people to not give up on prevention measures as it will take time to get the population vaccinated.

So far, AppHealthCare has administered 206 vaccines in Watauga County as of Jan. 4. AppHealthCare has received 1,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine for Watauga County.

In Ashe County, AppHealthCare had administered 66 vaccines as of Jan. 4. AppHealthCare received 300 doses of the Moderna vaccine and is expecting 100 more doses for Ashe County this week.

AppHealthCare had also received 500 doses of the Moderna vaccine for Alleghany County and has administered 70 vaccines as of Jan. 4. AppHealthCare expects 100 more doses of the Moderna vaccine for Alleghany County this week.

“This week we are prioritizing those who qualify in Phase 1a and will administer vaccines to healthcare providers on Wednesday and then will go to long term care facilities and group homes on Thursday and Friday to offer the vaccine to staff and residents in those facilities,” said Melissa Bracey, a director of communications and compliance for AppHealthCare.

Bracey said AppHealthCare hopes to have administered 623 doses of the vaccine by the end of the week for Alleghany, Ashe and Watauga counties.

Appalachian Regional Healthcare System has vaccinated approximately 800 employees as of Jan. 4. ARHS received 400 new doses of the Moderna vaccine on Jan. 4 and has received 1,600 total doses.

To help with vaccination, Gov. Roy Cooper announced on Twitter that he has authorized the National Guard to help local health providers.

“Ensuring COVID-19 vaccines are administered quickly is our top priority right now,” Cooper tweeted. “We will use all resources and personnel needed. I’ve mobilized the NC National Guard to provide support to local health providers as we continue to increase the pace of vaccinations.”

On Dec. 30, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services updated its vaccination plan to align with federal recommendations.

“While there is still much to do, we head into 2021 with a powerful tool to stop this pandemic– vaccines,” NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen, M.D., said in a press release. “However, because supplies are very limited, it’s going to be several months before vaccines are widely available to everyone. Until most people are vaccinated, everyone needs to continue to wear a mask, wait six feet apart, and wash their hands.”

North Carolina has seen a record increase in cases to start 2021. On Jan 1, NCDHHS reported the highest one-day number of COVID-19 cases with 9,427 reported. As of Jan. 3, over 3630 people are hospitalized due to COVID-19.

During the week leading up to New Year’s Day, AppHealthCare Health Director Jennifer Greene said hospital numbers related to COVID-19 had gone up.

“We are also bracing a little bit. We know that we had an uptick in cases after the last holiday, so we’re sort of hoping that that doesn’t happen again with Christmas and New Year’s,” Greene said.

According to AppHealthCare, 105 people have been hospitalized in the district due to COVID-19 as of Jan. 1.

Greene said AppHealthCare has been in close communication with local hospitals who she said have been preparing for a potential surge in cases.

“(The hospitals) are certainly prepared, they’ve been working very hard on it,” Greene said.

Because of the strain on the health care system, regional hospitals where patients could potentially be sent are not able to handle any new cases.

“The hard part about COVID-19 care is that people don’t come in for short stays,” Greene said. “Most of the time, they’re in there for longer stays. So, what can happen is you have more people coming in and being admitted that outpaces the number of people who get discharged.”

Greene said she hopes once long-term care facilities are able to get vaccines, they will have to manage less outbreaks.

Healthcare workers and long-term care residents are prioritized in phase 1a of the North Carolina vaccine distribution plan.

To help manage the pandemic in long-term care facilities, Greene said AppHealthCare has hired a team to work on infection prevention at those facilities.

“We’re in this exciting place of having vaccines to deploy,” Greene said. “We’re still responding to cases. We’re doing case investigations. We’re still doing contact tracing. We’re still doing testing. And now we have a new goal of vaccinating the community. It’s a challenging place, but it’s exciting.”

North Carolina’s updated plan is outlined below.

Current Phase– Phase 1a: Health care workers fighting COVID-19 and long-term care staff and residents.

Hospitals and local health departments are vaccinating health care workers caring for and working directly with patients with COVID-19 and those giving vaccines. In addition, the federal government is vaccinating long-term care residents and staff.

Phase 1b: Adults 75 years or older and frontline essential workers.

The next phase of vaccinations will open in groups.

Group 1: Anyone 75 or older regardless of medical condition or living situation. People do not have to have a chronic health condition.

Group 2: Health care and frontline essential workers who are 50 years of age or older.

Group 3: Frontline workers of any age and health care workers of any age, regardless of whether they work directly with COVID-19 patients. This phase is anticipated to begin in early January.

The CDC defines frontline essential workers as first responders (firefighters, police), education (child care, teachers, support staff), manufacturing, corrections officers, public transit, grocery store, food and agriculture and U.S. postal workers.

Phase 2: Adults at high risk for exposure and at increased risk of severe illness.

In this phase, vaccinations will also open in groups.

Group 1: Anyone ages 65-74, regardless of medical condition or living situation.

Group 2: Anyone 16-64 with a medical condition that increases risk of severe disease from COVID-19.

Group 3: Anyone who is incarcerated or living in other close group living settings who has not already vaccinated due to age, medical condition or job function.

Group 4: Essential workers, as defined by the CDC, who have not yet been vaccinated.

Phase 3: Students.

College, university and high school students 16 or older.

Younger children will only be vaccinated when the vaccine is approved for them.

Phase 4: Finally, anyone who wants a COVID-19 vaccine will be able to get one.

All vaccine providers are expected to ensure that vaccine is administered equitably within each group.

NCDHHS has a specific focus on building trust with historically marginalized populations. Longstanding and continuing racial and ethnic injustices in our health care system contribute to lack of trust in vaccines. The department is partnering with trusted leaders and organizations to provide accurate information about COVID-19 vaccines to all North Carolinians and ensure equitable access to vaccines.

For more information about COVID-19 vaccines, go to covid19.ncdhhs.gov/vaccines.

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