NC officials discuss vaccinating children, masks in schools
Gov. Roy Cooper and state health and safety officials provide an Oct. 27, 2021, update on the coronavirus pandemic in North Carolina and the state's response to it.
Today. We have had 1,472,655 cases. 2160 new cases reported since yesterday. 1,406 people in the hospital and sadly 17,935 people have died, although every death is painful and now often avoidable. We felt a renewed sense of hope over the last month as North Carolina's COVID-19 numbers have continued their steady improvement. You, the people of north Carolina who have gotten vaccinated and followed community safety standards deserve the line share of the credit along with our healthcare professionals. Today, Dr Mandy Cohen, our secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services will present a more detailed look at our statewide trends and it's good news. We're relieved to see fewer people requiring hospital care and I see you beds for COVID-19. Our percentage of tests positive continues to decline and the number of people vaccinated increases every day. Even though we wanted to go faster. Our Children are in the classroom and on our university campuses And Children as young as five will soon be eligible for vaccination. People are eating at restaurants and going to concerts and Ballgames. People are traveling again and most people are back at work, although many are doing it in a different way or at a different job. I want to thank businesses and other employers that have instituted strong vaccine requirements for employees and customers. This has helped increase. North Carolina's vaccine rate. But more than anything it saved lives and helped boost our economy. Your leadership is making a difference. There are still challenges. There is significant burnout among health care workers which is causing a strain. The best way to help them is to get vaccinated as vast majority of the sickest covid patients continue to be unvaccinated people. Meanwhile, if you still haven't gotten your shot, the time is now This vaccine is safe, effective and free. More than 400 million doses have been administered across the country. Getting your shots significantly lowers your chance that you get severe symptoms or die from COVID-19 and lowers the chance that you could spread it to family or friends. And if you're already vaccinated, booster shots are now widely available to extend and increase your protection, which is already good. Dr Cohen will share more details on what to know about boosters and if it's right for you and which one to get, We expect the federal government will soon give the green light to vaccines for Children ages five through 11 years old. North Carolina health officials have been preparing for this and working to ensure parents can easily get their Children vaccinated and protected. Once authorized, we want to ensure that vaccines for Children are accessible all across our state in their pediatrician's offices and other places, parents know and trust I now recognize dr Cohen to share an update on the north Carolina data and other work that's being done by our health experts. Dr Cohen. Thank you Governor today I'll share where we are on our trends, explain who can get a booster and give an update on the status of our vaccines for our younger Children. Okay so we'll get started with data. This first graph looks at people come to the emergency department with covid like symptoms. It's our earliest detection mechanism and you can see when looking at that yellow line that this trend has come down significantly from its recent peak in early september. And this is really good news. Next we look at new covid cases. This first graph shows you the trajectory of new cases each day since we had our first case back in March of 2020. You can see that we've had two significant peaks since the pandemic started. The second peak is from this august and september and was a result of the delta variant and had the greatest impact on people who were not vaccinated. Let's zoom in and look at just the last few weeks for our cases on this graph. We're looking at cases from the end of august through today and you can see that our cases have been trending down for the last several weeks. This is great progress. We want to see these numbers come down even more as a rate of cases we have right now still puts our state in the C. D. C. S. Red zone with the highest level of community transmission of this virus. Next we look at the percent of tests that are positive. This graph goes back to the end of august and looking at that yellow line. Our percent of tests that are positive has also come down quite a bit and we're much closer to our 5% goal and our next graph we look a day over day hospitalizations and again this graph also starts at the end of august and we're seeing good news. Looking at the yellow line, you can see that this trend has come down significantly and we're seeing the same downward trend for people needing intensive care. I want to echo the governor's recognition of the tremendous hard work of our front line health care folks. Our next slide looks at what's happening at the local level. This is an important map. It's one from the CDC that shows the level of viral transmission across our state. With two exceptions, all north Carolina counties are either red with the highest levels of virus transmission or orange with substantial levels of transmission. That means everyone in north Carolina should be following the CDC guidance and wearing a mask in indoor public settings until viral transmission can decrease to moderate or low levels. All schools should require mass to keep everyone in school for in person learning. Now let's turn over and look at vaccines today, 64% of North Carolinians age 12 and up are fully vaccinated, 67% of those 18 and older are fully vaccinated and 89% of those 65 and older are fully vaccinated. This good progress This side shows the% 42 of Children ages 12-17 are fully vaccinated and only 46% of our young people ages 18-24 are fully vaccinated. I encourage our teens to visit teen vax vax dot com to get information and resources they need to educate themselves about covid 19 vaccines During the most recent surge of COVID-19 cases in Children rose dramatically. That's why I'm excited that yesterday we came a step closer to having safe and effective vaccines available for younger Children. An independent advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration unanimously recommended the use of Pfizer's vaccine in Children 5 to 11 years now the FDA and CDC will complete a thorough review of this process to make sure that these vaccines are safe and effective for Children. Fortunately, once the CDC does recommend vaccines for 5-11 year olds, there'll be ample supply of these vaccines across the state. We have more than 750 locations statewide gearing up to be ready to go, including doctors offices, pharmacists, pharmacies, local health departments and community vaccine events. We're also setting up family vaccine sites across the state so that every child has a spot to take their shot. My spot dot N C dot gov will be the best place for you to find a vaccine location. Getting school age kids vaccinated will help them to be safe in the classroom. Play sports, participate in school theater, attend events, be with friends and support their mental health. I'm eager to get my daughters vaccinated once the FDA and CDC review the data and complete the process. Now let's talk about boosters after last week's actions by the FDA and CDC, more people can now get a booster to strengthen and extend protections against covid 19. So here's who's eligible. If you got the johnson and johnson vaccine more than two months ago. You should get a booster if you got the Moderna or the Pfizer vaccine and your second shot was more than six months ago. You should get a booster if you are 65 older or you are 18 or older and have a medical condition that puts you at higher risk or you live or work in a setting that puts you at higher risk for exposure to covid to help you sort out are you eligible? We actually have a quiz on our website. So you can go to your spot your shot dot n c dot gov And of course you should ask your health care provider as well. When you do get your booster, you can get any brand you want or you can stick with the one you originally got the good news is all are safe and all boost your immune system. I've shared that. I've gotten that johnson and johnson vaccine originally. And last friday I got my booster and went with Moderna. I made my decision based on some limited preliminary evidence that suggests booster doses of with one of the two M RNA vaccines. That means the Moderna or the fighter may produce a slightly stronger immune response following the J and J vaccine. But I encourage you to speak with a doctor or a nurse practitioner or pharmacist. If you have questions about which booster is right for you Vaccines are saving lives in North Carolina. People who are unvaccinated are 20 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than people who are vaccinated. I'm encouraged to see that every day more people are making the decision to get vaccinated. More than 220 million Americans have been safely vaccinated including more than five million North Carolinians for some people. The decision has been hard. There's a lot of misinformation out there. If you haven't gotten vaccinated yet, please talk with your doctor or a nurse or other medical professional or go to a reliable online health resource like the C. D. C. Or your spot your shot dot N C. Dot gov to be sure you're getting accurate information. Getting vaccinated is a powerful action you can take to protect your health to protect your loved ones and to help end this pandemic at last. Don't wait to vaccinate. Thank you Governor. Thanks Dr Cohen North Carolina's fight is not over. We're making great progress but we need to keep working to continue the downward trend because hospitalizations and deaths are still too high as you heard, Dr Cohen say. And as our progress continues, we still need to help those who are struggling. This month. The Hope program marked its one year anniversary with more than a half a billion dollars in pandemic relief funds awarded to landlords and utilities to prevent evictions and keep the lights on for hard hit families. The hope program ranks number three in the country. For the number of households served with more money going out the door every day. And I encourage those who need help to apply. We're grateful to see this latest surge in COVID-19 taper off. And as we try to drive the numbers down, we know what works vaccines. The more people who get their shots, the less covid will have right now. Every unvaccinated person is another foothold allowing this virus to regain strength. So keep talking with your friends, family employees and co workers about getting vaccinated. So we can put this pandemic in the rear view mirror. Also with me today is north Carolina Director of Emergency Management. Will ray are sign language interpreters are lee Williamson and Monica McGee. Behind the scenes, Jasmine. Batavia and Erica Kugler are are spanish language interpreters. We have some media who are in person here. So we'll let you guys start the questioning right, Governor brian Anderson here at the A. P. It's been a while since the last news conference. So forgive me for for some extra questions that I have. But I'm curious to start off just on the budget and where things stand. What do you feel the prospects are that you will be able to sign a negotiated budget into law? And when do you plan to offer your counter offer to legislative leaders? I am hopeful that we can reach a budget resolution. I believe good faith negotiations are ongoing among both Republican and democratic leaders and me. Uh, we are in the process today of responding to the legislature and presenting them with our latest counter offer and that is probably going on now or should be going on within the next hour or so. So we're gonna keep working. What do you say to members of the public and frankly members of the media who are concerned that there's zero visibility into what the legislature is proposed, what you're proposing. And this is just a bunch of lawmakers behind closed doors making secretive deals and we have no visibility. We have laid out our entire budget that I've proposed to the General Assembly, the General Assembly, both the House and Senate laid out their entire budgets. They've worked to come to some agreements and it's pretty open as to the things that I'm interested in and I've continued to say it every day. I want more people with health care, I want more investment in education. Uh, and republicans have their priorities as well. So we're talking back and forth and look forward to reaching a resolution. So, Uh, is it time for you to let your statewide emergency order expire? 35% drop in cases the last couple of weeks, 37% drop in hospitalizations. If we haven't held a covid formal covid briefing in a month, it doesn't sound like an emergency. What do you say to people who are calling for you to let this expire? We don't have statewide mandates in place. However, we are still using the emergency order to allow healthcare providers to do things they otherwise could not do under the law and helping us draw down funds. So that's still an important part of the process. Last one for you. And then I had one for dr cohen uh, the latest GOP maps for redistricting are around this time of year. Obviously as North Carolina's governor, you don't have an ability to sign or veto it. And back when you were a Democratic state senator, it seemed like you thought this should stay within the legislature. Is that still your view And what do you think of the latest maps that the public has seen the maps I've seen so far, don't look fair and I have supported for a while now, an independent redistricting committee. I think that is the way to do it. We've seen it successful in other states and they ought to pass a law to do that. And I had one for dr Cohen as well. Sorry, could you explain the latest update for mass guidance in K to 12 schools? It's my understanding there's been some change, but I haven't seen that reflected on the website yet. Sure, actually, so no change in mass guidance. So where we are right now for our schools, you know, the vast majority of our students are unvaccinated and what we say when you have the vast majority of folks who are unvaccinated, you've got to do other things to protect each other. And top of the list, there is wearing masks. So right now there is no change to our recommendation that all schools should require masks um, in K through 12. So that has not changed. What we're trying to forecast for folks is things are getting better as I shared in our trends. Um, and we said, we are going to be looking at the C. D. C. Um, guidance that says as you do improve their out on the horizon. There are opportunities for us to think about stepping that back, but we're not, we're not close to that yet and we were reiterating that today in our guidance to say, you know, as, as school boards are reevaluating should they keep mask mandates? The answer is yes, they should. Um, because nearly all of our counties are either red or orange. Um, and while you are still in that place, we really shouldn't be considering taking away the mask mandate. So that that memo that came out a couple of days ago, that's not a formal position of if you're in a a non high level of transmission county, you can sort of switch to mask optional. My understanding is it's only relevant to a couple of 100 counties, but that's right. So if you remember the map that I showed during our presentation, there were two counties that are yellow. Those are the two counties that can start to think about taking away a mask mandate, but that is not where our school districts are overall. And you said you got the J and J vaccine initially but didn't get the booster. Why on earth should anyone get the J and J booster? Oh, so well, I think that the good thing to know is all three of the vaccines as well as the boosters, they provide an immune response. Right? So the J and J vaccine for me worked right. I have not had Covid and I feel very grateful that I have not. So J and J vaccine protected me. Um, the reason I decided to get the Moderna booster was some preliminary evidence that showed that some better immune response from those M RNA vaccines, you know, and that was right for me, Others may have said, you know what J and J worked for me the first time I'd like to stick with that. I think that is a perfectly fine decision. Again, I talk with your doctor and nurse practitioner pharmacist. If that's the decision you would want to make. Thank you. My apologies to my media colleagues cohen sorry, before you made the transition there, you mentioned earlier on that masking guidance for schools that it was really To project a little bit on the horizon for school boards. What does that horizon look like to you when we can start moving in that direction? Well, first I should say that it continues to say for anyone who is unvaccinated. They need to be wearing masks and remember we don't even have vaccines yet for our 5 to 11 year olds and we showed how few of our 12 to 17 year olds are vaccinated. So I think schools need to be keeping their mask mandates right now. That is not something to reconsider. I think that was the guidance we were giving. I know that school boards are looking at this month over month. We want to make sure that they know that they really need to be keeping that mask mandate. Now I'm excited for vaccines on the horizon. I'm excited are trends are moving the right direction, but we don't want them to make any new decisions yet. We want to make sure that it's they're protecting each other. Um, and making sure to keep kids in the classroom thank you a fewer than brian, but similar topics and um, all right, let's start with with the student backs numbers and the latest HHS guidance. So I guess this one is for dr cohen um, is this kind of, is this setting up for pushing for more Children to be a vaccine? Because when you look at the um, the latest, you know, talking points on that, it says that, you know, the mass for those in schools that are vaccinated and then when it's very low tier, um, then that would be lifting it. So is that a future balance that's going to change as Children are vaccinated. And then if it is there a point where the student vaccinations will be required the way kids are required to be vaccinated for other things. So, I mean tease apart a couple of that. So first I would say yes, everyone 12 to 17 is eligible for a vaccine right now and they absolutely should get vaccinated. This is the way to protect yourself, your friends, your family. Um, so we absolutely want to see more of our 12 to 17 year olds be vaccinated as you saw. We're in the forties in terms of the percent of folks that are vaccinated. Um, remember when, when you have an exposure to covid and you are either both parties are vaccinated. Um, or you're both wearing masks, then you don't have to quarantine and be out of school and all our goal is to keep kids in the classroom and learning. And so our guidance reiterates um the things and the safety protocols that can keep kids in the classroom learning the most. And right now that's masking because we have so many folks are unvaccinated. I hope on the horizon that we will get vaccines for 5 to 11 year olds. We're going to see more 12 to 17 year olds get vaccinated and then we will always, as we have throughout this pandemic, reevaluate our guidance based on what we're seeing with trends, What we're seeing with vaccine rates. But right now our guidance is that all schools should remain um requiring mass in schools. And then what about um requiring vaccinations if it's not emergency use anymore for for students? Yeah. So I think it's premature again, I think those are conversations that are premature right now right now we're just focused on the fact we don't even have vaccines for the 5 to 11 year olds. I'm hopeful as soon as next week we may. So we're focused on that. So I think it's premature for to weigh in on that yet. Okay. Thanks Governor cooper. I've got some um everyone's favorite topic, the budget. Um So you said that's going maybe just hard um that's going back to leadership today. Um Is this your because we've gone back and forth on this several times. Um the final round and then the I mean speaker moore told us yesterday that it's either, you know, compromise coming soon or the legislature will pass their own. So do you see this as the um you know, the final turn that that you all are taking until you reach an agreement? Nothing should be final and our goal is to reach an agreement on the budget that will be good for north Carolina. So we're continuing to work toward that goal. And you know, as you've you've seen Republican leadership and I and democratic leadership has, we all have very different views on what's a good budget for our say. And so in order to get a final budget, there's gonna have to be significant give and take all around and that can be difficult, but we want to try and get there. So I'm I hope we will be making progress and we have made some progress and I hope will continue to make progress. I know you all you want more and burger have maintained not wanting to share specifics, you can have the good faith negotiations. But is there something that that you all have already agreed on and with this meeting on friday that you're, you know, a general percent of raises for teachers and state employees or education spending or something that you all have that agreement in place and you're still working out the rest, you know, I think it's fair to say that with the vast majority of the budget, We have agreement like I'm, we need to connect our state with high speed internet access and we need, uh, to expand water and sewer. And so they're, they're in all of these capital projects for our universities and community colleges and I could just go on and on of good things that are in this budget that I think are important and that we all support. But there are areas in taxes and health care and education where there still remain differences that we want to try and hiring out, uh, over a period of time in order to get there. And I hope we will. And I'm, I'm going to continue to work hard to try to get us there. And if if we don't get there is because I believe that it is a bad budget and I won't sign it, but I'm continuing to be positive about it. And as you can see leaders in the legislature are continuing to be positive about it. Okay, thanks. All right. So I think that does it for in person media. So do we have anybody online Jordan's Okay. That question. Our first question. Our first crush on the line from rose Hogan with north Carolina health news. Hi folks. Um, thank you very much for taking my question. Um, I'm curious about, you know, more testing. Right. Um, 11 technique that's been noted as helping to reduce transmissions have more rapid testing and the biden administration is putting money toward, you know, getting rapid tests out there. I'm not seeing much evidence or presence of these in the community. You know, what are you folks doing to help scale up this kind of testing so that people can, you know, maybe tests before they go into a restaurant or tests before they go to a ballgame. I'll let dr cohen addressed this. But let me say, I think testing is an important tool for us and we have uh provided rapid tests, particularly in our schools and in other places. And we're seeing more and more people buy over the counter testing as much testing as we can have as positive, particularly now that we have Monoclonal antibodies that given within the 1st 10 days can really help reduce severe illness and death. So you gotta know you gotta in order to be able to get the monoclonal antibody. So we we want to encourage more testing and I'll let dr Cohen expound on that. Yeah, Rose, thanks for bringing up this important topic. We agree with everything the governor said about the importance of having testing and particularly rapid testing. A number of things that we're doing. I think most importantly is getting rapid tests into our schools. I think that's been really important. Um, we've had many, many schools sign up with us to do testing and what I'm excited about with school testing actually is the fact that there is funding to expand access to school nurses? So not only were getting the benefit of the testing, but we know that this pandemic has had so many impacts on our kids. So we can think about mental health and other ways. School nurses can be resources to our kids. Um uh Rose happy for our team to follow up on all the different ways in which we are getting rapid tests including making sure that we are at the state are giving those to our public health departments. Um Making sure some of our underserved communities are getting rapid tests. Of course folks can go to. I was just in uh Walgreens the other day, saw it on the shelf so folks can buy um rapid tests um off the shelf now. So we want to make sure folks have rapid tests um at at their home. Should they, you know, wake up and uh potentially have a symptom of covid a really good way for them to know. Um if it is something that they should go get a more official or pcr test um they could do that rapid test at home. Thanks next question please. Okay, follow up Rose Hoban north Carolina health news. Um I hope dr cohen hasn't stepped away because you know, during your presentation and dr Cohen you mentioned misinformation around vaccines and I've heard some folks say that once kids are eligible for vaccinations that the misinformation campaign will go into overdrive. Um, do you have a public information campaign ready? Um or do you have um you know what kind of counter messaging are you planning once kids are getting their shots? Thanks rose. Well, I think most importantly we need to make sure the FDA and the CDC can do their do their work to review the evidence for this vaccine as they've done for the prior vaccines. It's going through a rigorous process to look at the safety evidence and to look at the benefits of the vaccine and make decisions going forward. We did see a a step in that process yesterday with the FDA advisory committee unanimously recommending um to move forward to the FDA that they should um authorize these vaccines. So I think it starts with making sure we are all looking at that evidence and recognizing what the safety and effectiveness is. Then we do have a campaign that will be based in that science and in that data using trusted messengers. And of course key to them will be our pediatrician's. It's where our families and our Children have gotten vaccinated for many other types of vaccinations that they get in early childhood. It's again going to be a place where I think there will be trusted messengers. But it's gonna be more than that. We know that there is going to be a coordinated campaign. We are working on that. We've been thinking about specific messages that we um and and partners that we can work for. Uh work through. Excuse me. Uh, for for this effort. Um, and we would certainly be partnering with with many to do that. Thanks. Next question. Our final question that will conclude today's briefing is from celeste gracia with W. U. N. C. Hi, can you hear me? Yes. Okay. Great. I think my question is also for dr cohen. Sorry. Um, I'm curious to know a little bit. I'm curious to know a little bit more about how state health officials are preparing for Covid vaccines for kids. Um, I think you've talked about this a little bit a little bit earlier, but could you go into more detail in terms of where the vaccines will be available or once those vaccines once or if those vaccines are approved. How soon after? Can parents get their kids vaccinated? Well, thank you first. Like I said, the FADA and CDC are still doing their work. We think the earliest vaccine will be available will probably be the end of next week. Um, but in the meantime we have been gearing up. As I mentioned, we have about 750 locations in which we think vaccine for our 5 to 11 year olds will be available. Um, we're going to have about 400,000 doses in the state. We think by, by the end of next week, when all of this starts and again, there'll be in a variety of different kinds of locations. They'll be in pediatrician's offices, public health departments. But also remember our pharmacies across the state. We also made sure to map across our state to make sure that every single county was getting doses of these vaccines. So again, making sure that we are equitably distributing across the state and also looking at our data, seeing where are underserved communities are we actually partnered in 10 places to do these family community vaccine events to make sure that there is a welcoming place for our families to go and get vaccinated. So there are a number of partners. What I can say is there's plenty of supply. Let the FDA and CDC do their work to review the evidence. There's plenty of supply out there um, and that make sure you use my spot dot n c dot gov is where you can look to see where is vaccine gonna be available for you and your family. All right. Thank you. Yeah. Thanks everybody for being with us today. Mhm. You Yeah. Yeah. Mm. Yeah. Mm. Mhm. Yeah. Yeah.