RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper announced a new executive order at a July 29 press conference that directs state government cabinet agencies to verify whether their employees are vaccinated.
Cooper also “strongly urges” other state government agencies and private businesses to do the same and press workers to get vaccinated or mask up. Cooper also said that everyone, including those who are vaccinated in a county with high rates of virus spread — which is 80 percent of North Carolina counties — is encouraged to wear a mask in public indoor settings.
The governor said that the hope is this order encourages more people to get vaccinated and that any type of consequence would be worked out with human resource offices in cabinet agencies in the coming days.
Cooper also said he hopes that community colleges, universities and other Council of State members also start verifying that employees are vaccinated and making sure those who are unvaccinated are tested at least once a week and are required to wear a mask.
The statewide mask mandate ended on July 30, which was announced on July 21.
“As you will see, after months of low numbers, our trends have turned sharply in the wrong direction,” Cooper said at the press conference. “I want to be clear about why: unvaccinated people are driving this resurgence and getting themselves and other people sick.”
State cabinet agencies include the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, military and veterans affairs, and public safety. The order affects about 50,000 state employees, Cooper said.
Cooper said that people who are unvaccinated make up most all of North Carolina cases where people are getting sick and hospitalized.
“We are hearing from doctors about people in the ICU begging for the vaccine right before they are put on a ventilator,” Cooper said. “By then, it’s too late. So here is my message to anyone who has yet to get a shot: Get a vaccine today. Don’t wait until you or a family member is sick and going on a ventilator. Don’t wait until we run out of hospital beds. Don’t wait until skyrocketing numbers threaten to shut down businesses or cancel sports. Don’t wait until you infect someone you love. Get a vaccine today.”
From July 28 to July 29, North Carolina had seen more than 3,000 COVID-19 cases, which NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said was the most cases in 24 hours since February 2021.
Part of this increase, Cohen said, is because of the Delta variant.
“Your original COVID-19 spread from one person to an average of two to three people,” Cohen said. “Now, the Delta variant spreads from one person to an average of six people, and nearly all of that spread is happening amongst people who are not vaccinated. Since early May, North Carolina cases are in 92 percent of people who are not fully vaccinated.”
Cohen said the highest rates of viral spread are happening with low vaccination rates. About two-thirds of counties in the state have less than half of their 12 and older population — those able to get the vaccine — fully vaccinated.
“If you haven’t gotten vaccinated yet, I urge you to do so now to protect yourself and your community,” Cohen said. “Getting vaccinated prevents serious illness hospitalization and death and it slows community spread of this virus. Rigorous clinical trials among thousands of people ages 12 and older have proven that vaccines are safe and effective.”
Cohen said that NCDHHS guidance is updated to reflect that if a person is not vaccinated, they should continue to practice the three Ws in all indoor public settings. Unvaccinated people, Cohen said, should also not gather with other unvaccinated people who they do not live with. She also said that unvaccinated people should not travel.
“The takeaway from all of this is there’s only one way out of this pandemic and that is vaccination,” Cohen said. “This virus doesn’t care about county lines, but it does care about low vaccination rates.”
According to NCDHHS data, 9.3 percent of COVID-19 tests across the state are coming back positive — an increase of 7.3 percent from a month ago on June 29. The state also reports that 1,141 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state. A month ago, 393 people were hospitalized with COVID-19. Of the patients hospitalized, 274 — or 24 percent — are in the intensive care unit.
As of July 29, the state reported that 13,618 people had died in North Carolina due to COVID-19. AppHealthCare reported that 32 people had died in Watauga County and 47 had died in Ashe County due to COVID-19 as of July 29.
AppHealthCare reported that as of July 29, there were 20 active COVID-19 cases in Watauga County and 21 in Ashe County. Watauga County had 4,827 total COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic and 150 people total had been hospitalized in AppHealthCare’s three-county district at that time.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently lists Watauga County as having “moderate” COVID-19 community transmission between July 21 and July 27. The full CDC transmission map can be found at covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#county-view.
As of July 29, Watauga County has had 28,993 people — or 52 percent — who have received at least one COVID-19 shot and 27,195 people — or 48 percent — have been fully vaccinated, according to NCDHHS.
“I know hearing these messages is alarming,” Cooper said. “Everyone hoped we’d be past this by now, including me. But until more people get vaccinated, this is the reality we must confront. We’ll continue to battle this pandemic by increasing vaccination rates. This is our only way out of this.”