DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen gives update on coronavirus in North Carolina
The state Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen is holding a media briefing on the state's response to COVID-19. The state reported 7,187 positive tests on Thursday and 134 deaths, but hospitalizations are at their lowest since Jan. 3, with 3,666 hospitalized.
Yeah. Mm hmm. Okay. Yeah. Mm hmm. Mhm. Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Yeah. You don't? Mm. Yeah. You don't think Mhm. Okay. I don't know. Wonderful. Okay. Mhm. Mm hmm. Yeah. This is the one minute warning for our reporters on the line. Please press one to ask a question. Mm. Yeah, right. Good afternoon. I'm Mandy Cohen. I'm the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. And today I'm joined by Secretary Eric Boyette of the North Carolina Department of Transportation. David Payne and Brian Tipton are American Sign language interpreters Jackie and Jasmine Batavia are Spanish interpreters. Let's dive into this briefing. As of this morning, there were 7187 new co vid cases reported today 3666 people are currently hospitalized with co vid right now across North Carolina. And sadly, there have been 8339 deaths since the beginning of this pandemic. As of today, North Carolina has administered 569,334 total doses of co vid 19 vaccines. It's over a half a million vaccines, which is the 10th most in the United States. Hospitals, local health departments and other vaccine providers have rapidly accelerated their rate of getting people vaccinated over the past two weeks, nearly three times the number of vaccines were given than in the prior two weeks. Our goal for vaccine providers is to use every first dose they have before the next shipment arrives. Each and every week. We will always have supply of second doses on hand to ensure everyone gets both shots. But those first doses need to get off the shelf and given to people each and every week. We are up for the task across the state government agencies, businesses and health care providers, air coming together and partnering in new ways to make it happen. Everyone is working for team vaccine with a shared goal. Getting North Carolinians vaccinated as quickly as possible. The state is aiding these local efforts by offering support with data entry or event planning coordination Across community players pairing volunteer work force such as vaccinators and registration assistants help answering phones and materials to inform people about vaccines. I want to thank our partners in the North Carolina Emergency Management and North Carolina National Guard who are helping us respond to staffing needs with rapid response teams. We also continue to scale up large scale vaccination sites across the state. Governor Cooper and I had the opportunity to visit one in Orange County earlier this week. You could see the joy and relief on people's faces when they received the vaccine. Our sister agencies are also joining team vaccine. Governor Cooper is committed to deploying every resource to make sure people have access and are not held back by barriers like lack of transportation. That's why the North Carolina Department of Transportation is launching a program to pay for rides for people receiving a cove in 19 vaccine. Local transit agencies across the state are receiving $2.5 million in Corona relief funding to make this happen. Lack of transportation shouldn't be the reason someone doesn't get their shot. Secretary Boy, it is here with me today to answer questions about this important partnership. From the beginning, our plan has focused on delivering vaccine to all 100 counties. Now all other states have adopted strategies to focus on high population areas and places with the largest number of health care providers. We sought to build capacity everywhere to ensure mawr equitable access to the vaccine throughout the state. Geography is only one part of the equation, though all vaccine providers are responsible for ensuring that historically marginalized communities have equitable access to vaccines. That starts with meeting people where they are with event locations and partnering with health care providers who serve those historically marginalized communities. We're starting to direct shipments of vaccine to safety net providers such as our federally qualified health centers and rural health centers. But again, we're always constrained by the limited supply of vaccine coming into the state. Because the supply of vaccine is limited, we have to prioritize who can receive the vaccine first. We're starting by vaccinating people who are at the highest risk of being hospitalized or dying from co vid and those at highest risk of exposure. Health care workers and anyone 65 older can now get vaccinated. The limited supply of vaccine means that many folks will have to wait before vaccine is available for them. While vaccines will be the best way to stop this pandemic, it'll still be several months until most people will have a chance to get vaccinated so we cannot take our eye off the ball when it comes to prevention and slowing the spread of covert 19. Today's Cove in 19 County Alert system shows that 99% of North Carolina counties are now red or orange. As of today, 86 counties are red, with critical community spread. 13 are orange with substantial community spread. My secretarial directive remains in place. Please stay home and Onley. Leave your home for essential activities like work school or to meet your health care needs. If you must leave home or be with people who you don't know where a masks all the time, Stay at least 6 ft apart and wash your hands. Often these things are making an impact. While our county report paints a continued dangerous picture, we are seeing some progress in our key metrics. Now. They remain much higher than we want to see, but they're stabilizing at the at the moment. Your hard work is paying off. The cases reported each day is done is down a bit from January 9th at over 1000 11,000 cases. The percent of tests that are positive is still too high at over 11% percent, but it's down from its peak earlier this month at over 17%. Keep doing those three W's and staying home so we can slow this virus down while we get everyone a spot to get their shot. Okay, with that, I will open for your questions. Thank you. Our first question today is from Vanessa Ruta with WCNC TV in Charlotte. Hi. Thank you for taking my question. Um, I actually have a two parter here. Um, I wanted to see if you have any thoughts here with a new presidential administration, and we've kind of gotten an idea of what some of President Biden plans will be. Thio make sure that vaccines rolled out quicker and and some other things as well. But I just wanted to see what your thoughts are on some of these new plans. And, um, my second question would be if you could just reflect on it being one year since Kobe was confirmed here in the US And just you know how far we've come. But how far we still have to go, Vanessa. Thanks for those questions. First, I'll, um, reflect on yesterday's administer executive actions taken by the bidet administration One. I want to commend the mask mandate. Um, I know that that is limited to federal property, but it very much fits hand in hand to what we've been doing here in North Carolina for more than half a year. Um, I think masks are the number one thing we need to continue to do to slow the spread of this virus. We know how this virus spreads. We know that masks work. Um, and I I applaud the federal leadership. Um, I think that consistent message about mask is gonna be really, really critical. I also appreciate the broad strokes of where the vaccine planning is going. I think the governor and I have had an opportunity already to share our feedback and concerns along with other governors in the Southeast about how the federal government can help us as we continue this vaccine roll out. Some of the things include just better communication and coordination. So we know what allocations air coming to us. I've already shared feedback. The fact that the C. D. C. Data for North Carolina does not reflect the data we're seeing here in the state. You see our own vaccine dashboard shows over half a million vaccinations? Uh, CDC does not reflect that. So we just need better coordination and communication of the same information so that we can plan going forward. So I think all positive steps in the right direction. We look forward to additional federal leadership, A Z we go forward and I know were very much looking forward to an additional package to assist our state in response and recovery from from Cove it as I work that through. And as I reflect on one year of being involved in responding to this crisis, it's been it's been a hard year on every single person and family and community here in North Carolina. It's been particularly challenging, of course, for our team that's been in a state of emergency for nearly a year at this point, um, and so you know, we recognize the hard work that has gone on over this year. Um, but it's not letting up now, and so we want to make sure that we're getting vaccines to folks as quickly as possible, will continue to work through, uh, that effort until everyone who wants a vaccine can have it. But I caution everyone that those vaccine supplies are very limited. So it's going to take a number of months before before vaccines are widely available to everyone. Thanks for that, Vanessa. The next question is from Taylor Young with wlos TV Asheville Hi. Yeah, this is Taylor from WLOS. I'm not gonna piggyback off of the president. Biden his role. Now I know that he's signing executive orders to expand testing and just speaking with local health departments today, staffing seems to be a major issue. Um, paying for firefighters and law enforcement to kind of work these clinics. Are you hoping that is addressed by the federal government? Um, through the Biden administration, or is that something that would be handled through the state? Thanks for that question. I think our people re sources have always been our most precious commodity through this entire response. Whether that was to be able to surge our staffing in our hospitals and respond to cove it. Or now, as we're trying to make sure we have the staff and capacity to get vaccines out eso that continues to be a challenge. I heard a couple of very good positive movements forward from the federal government. One. They're committing MAWR dollars and personnel to helping states, and we certainly welcome coordinating with them. They are moving forward with allowing for, ah, higher reimbursement rate for the work that we are doing. The people resource is that we are using whether that's using additional FEMA. Resource is we applaud that in terms of, uh, making sure they're supporting the staffing work that we are doing. But I think it has to be a partnership because we need people on the and the dollars. But then we have to pair it to what's happening on the ground and making sure that it's coordinated with our operations on the ground and that it is in particularly placed in communities that are underserved to make sure that we're getting access points toe everyone as we go forward here. Um, so staffing is continued to be an issue, but I want to thank emergency management for helping us make sure that we can deploy staffing Resource is to our county's. We've had quite a number of requests and we've been able to, um, act on all of those requests and we're getting more and more folks ive out too. Our our local health departments and other partners. Um, and we I was just on with our local health department directors all this morning and encourage them yet again to raise their hand if they need anything from the state will coordinate with emergency management to continue to support folks as we go forward. Thank you. Good. Our next question is from Matt Mercer with the North State Journal. Hey. Good afternoon. Uh, Dr Cohen, two questions. One on testing and one on the vaccine. The World Health Organization recently, um, release the bulletin indicating that the PCR tests, uh, can produce, um, the higher number of false positives. I know other You had mentioned that the departments and places that test do use, um, those according to the manufacturer, Just wondering if that will change. And then Secondly, um, the per capita vaccine rate for North Carolina remains around the bottom fifth of states nationwide. I'm just wondering if the department has a tally of how many doses of vaccine they have been thrown out. Um, yes. I started arriving in the state, You know, that's something we've seen, um, in other states. I just wondered if that's something where the department has a tally of how many have had to be thrown away for any particular reason. Thank you. Great. Thanks, Matt. First, let me address the testing question and w h o they what my understanding is they released additional guidance, uh, to say, follow the manufacturer's guidance on your PCR tests. And frankly, that's what are folks have been doing all along. So I don't think that guidance changes any of the practice. Um, that we're doing, we're already following are manufactured guidance to to understand what is a positive and what is not. So I don't think the additional w h o clarification change anything for the testing parameters that we're doing here when our when our lab lab say something is positive there, following those manufacturer specifications that it truly is a positive now on the vaccine per capita. This is where I was sharing that. You know, our data in our state does on our state dashboard and what we're collecting currently does not match what is on the CDC website. There was actually about 150,000 dose administered difference between the two of them. So I'd caution everyone from looking at the various websites and where they're pulling data and when they're pulling it from. And when was it updated? We're moving so quickly, which I am so grateful to for our vaccine providers. But we're moving so quickly that many of those, uh, rankings and charts are are out of date. We've actually already flagged for the CDC to understand what the data leg and, uh, data discrepancy is between what we're seeing here in North Carolina and the data we do submit to them every night to make sure that we can line that up. Um, a bit better again. We've seen more than half a million vaccines given more than 133% increase. Um, in the speed of giving those vaccinations, we want Thio continue to improve as we go. Obviously, but our goal is to make sure we're using up all the vaccine that is coming to our state before the next shipment comes s so that we can be demonstrating to the federal government that we we are using our vaccine effectively and efficiently here in North Carolina. Thanks E. Have a follow up from that. Mercer? Yes. Um, I understand about the rate, um, and I'll ask again real quick. Do we know how many doses of vaccine in the state have been thrown out? That is something, you know, other states kind of report, um, different times. And then also, um, we had an interview with Senator Phil Berger and you participated in oversight here and got the General Assembly. Uh, just wondering what kind of legislative asked, um, you may be making of the department will be making with the long session starting this month. Sure Apologies, Matt, for not getting to the how many doses air wasted I want to start with with our guidance to our vaccine providers is don't waste any doses. Um, we're saying that at the if you are at the end of the day and you have to three doses left over, but you're you're out of folks who are fit that priority category. Our recommendation is keep a waitlist, keep a wait list where you can call someone last minute to come in. Um, that that does fit those priority categories. You don't ever have to waste it, but our guidance is also if you even can't find someone on that priority list. Find the closest arm of who wants to get vaccinated and get that in. Because we as a state don't wanna waste any vaccine. We are seeing very small numbers of vaccine waste recorded in our C VMS system. Um, but but it's very few, like in the tens of of doses. But even that for me is too much. We don't wanna be wasting here. Um, you know, there are always issues. As you know, these vaccines are are challenging. They need to be diluted and then put into syringes. So none of this is perfect. Um, but we are really encouraging folks on best practices related to getting as many doses they can out of each and every vile and then not wasting any. At the end of the end of the day, if it's out of the freezer, use it. Use it all, um, and make sure you're you're you're setting up your operations to be able to do that with wait lists on brothers who can come and quickly if that is needed. Um, on your other question about our legislative agenda. Certainly we're gonna wanna work together to make sure we have the funding available that was allocated by the federal government. It does need to run through the General Assembly before it can get to us and out into the community. So that's our first step is to make sure that that the money that the federal government has allocated to vaccines that is on its way Thio, Thio us can can get to us quickly and then we can allocate it out to the work that is frankly already underway. We are already expending resource is as if that's already here in our state and so we need to make sure we get those Resource is out for vaccine. And But remember, we also have ongoing testing needs, um, and and other needs related to our co vid response. So that will be our first priority. Azzawi work with the General Assembly. Thank you. Our next question is from Will Michael's with W U N C. Radio. Hi, Dr Cohen Will Michaels at W u N C Um, my, I wanna go back to the executive orders the president Biden put out if I can. I'm specifically looking at the order Thio sort of mobilized FEMA to set up their own vaccination centers as well as setting up Health Health Equity Task force. Teoh Mawr evenly distributes the vaccinations to people of color and underserved communities. Um, do you anticipate that DHHS would change its distribution plan based on those orders in particular? Well, thanks for that, Will. I think we need to understand additional details of what that means from the incoming Biden administration. Um, I will say we welcome the assistance from FEMA on setting up additional vaccine sites. Assuming that that also comes with vaccine, I think we're all running into the place where we have limited vaccine. We have now really ramped up our capability here to distribute on, get folks vaccinated. So when I hear we'll help you set up more vaccine sites, well, welcome that. I hope it also comes with offer of more vaccine with that. So I think those are the kind of details that we need to understand as we go forward, Um, and as faras equity that is clearly a priority for us as how we are are thinking about it. I mentioned it in my opening remarks. I think there are some best practices both in allocation but in operations as well. Um, you know, for us as a state, we prioritize having access points in all 100 counties to make sure all communities had an access point across North Carolina. That was ah, choice we made early on. I think that was the right choice as we worked to mature and improve our operations in every part of our state. Um, as we think about equity going forward, I'd love to work with the Biden administration on the kinds of strategies that they're thinking about. I think we're learning a lot about best practices from our partners on the ground. I look forward to working with them to understand how how they're thinking about helping elevate some of those best practices into vaccine allocations. Follow up from Bill Michaels. Thank you, Dr Colin. And just for Secretary Boy, if I could, I wanted to ask about details of this program to pay for rides. Thio, get a vaccine. Can you just explain what the $2.5 million will pay for? In particular? Is it e I mean, how many rides in particular? For instance, does that cover? Sure. Thank you. will. So if you look, we did an average of our cost per transit trip, and it's about $22 per trip for with this. And if you look, it will be four trips, obviously there and back twice for a shot. So it looks about 30 individuals that will be able Thio cover with this money. 30. Excuse me, 30,000. Thank you. My next question is from Travis Payne. W R L T v Yeah. Thanks for taking my question. I'm trying to understand Thea allocation of seeing the hospitals versus county Health Department. It's still a lawful lot going to the hospital more than it might understand that if you were in a county with a pretty robust hospital system, you do not necessarily have to reach out to your local health department for your hospital system may be offering shots to people beyond their own staff. Travis, thanks for that question on allocations. And what I should say is that while vaccine may get allocated to one provider, there is a lot of partnership going on at the local level, and so we've actually seen it. A lot of transfers of vaccine, um, between partners who are able to vaccinate. So if ah hospital has gotten mawr vaccine than they think they're able to get out by this Monday, then we are very much working with them to say, Let's transfer that vaccine, whether it's to the local health department, to your federally qualified health center or another vaccine ready partner in your community. Just yesterday, that's one day only. We had 40,000 transfers, a vaccine alone from one provider to another. So the allocation is one mechanism for us to get the vaccine out. But then it's really, um, becoming a very nice partnership in our the local areas where we see the hospitals and local health departments and other providers work together to get that vaccine out right. We all share that same sense of urgency to get vaccine out to our communities as quickly as possible. Um, and so I'm really appreciative of those who are willing to transfer and partner, um, to make sure that this vaccine is getting out for a person in the community who saying where doe I go, how doe I think about where I can get vaccine? I would say Start with your local health department and your local hospitals to understand. Are they taking appointments? Are they creating wait lists? Um, how can you access, uh, access those, um, And again, you don't have to be confined to your county. Um, counties there can and should and must be serving all jurisdictions by the fact that we take in this federal asset these vaccines are paid for by the federal government. They're not supposed to be limited to that one location or one county. Um, they they they do sign in agreement with us to make sure that they're serving, um, folks beyond their their their county borders as well. Thanks. Do you have a follow up from Travis Payne? Just to be sure, if I'm reading the spreadsheet, right, and I'll admit, that's an if hospitals are continuing to get the vaccine and significantly greater numbers than Health Department. And that is not because they're continuing toe have that much staff they need to vaccinate. Is it because of the mass, uh, facilities that they're going to be standing up? So I think it depends on the situation. Um, let me speak to the one, for example, this week that the governor and I visited it was run by U N C. Health. But it wasn't at the hospital. It was at the Friday center. It what? It is open to the community s. So there are a number of those events. No. Von health atrium, health cone vibe. Didn't I'm missing people, and they're gonna be sad that I left them out. But all of them are doing large throughput. Um, events like that where they're partnering with their communities. I got a text this morning of just one mobile, uh, site that is at, um, a parking lot in an African American church in the Charlotte area. So those are the kinds of things that are happening now? Yes, it is the allocated to the hospital, but again, they partner then with some of their local entities for us. We wanted to make sure we were getting vaccines to those who could commit tow us that they could get vaccine out quickly. Um, sometimes that was a local health department. Sometimes that was the hospital. We're just working with the partners who are raising their hand and saying I could go fast. I know how to do this with equity and those are the partners who we are are working with. The next question is from Daniel Pierce with Fox eight News in high school. We're hearing that hospitals and health departments are running low on vaccine supplies are lower than they had anticipated right now. And we're having some counties tell us that they are expected to not get any vaccines next week. So my question is, is the state running low on vaccines? Is it behind schedule? And what should people that have signed up for vaccines in the next couple of weeks expect? Yeah, great question. Uh, that is our goal to run out of vaccines every week before the next shipment comes. And that's what we have directed our local health departments and hospitals. And so, yes, we are running out of vaccines in all places. Now, I'm not surprised that they don't know what they're getting next week. It's because they haven't gotten their allocation yet. We are on a week over week schedule. Now we're trying to forecast out for our local health departments and hospitals so they know how to plan. We've said you should assume about what you're getting now is what you're gonna get in the future. Assuming that you are able to continue Thio Thio, get out that vaccine in a timely manner. So we are asking our partners to quote unquote run out of first dose vaccines, and I want to clarify that run out of first dose vaccines before their next shipment comes. Shipments come generally on Wednesdays and it is the Friday before, So tomorrow is the first time. Well, they will know what their allocation is, but that shipment won't come until next Wednesday. So I think when you as we sit here on a Thursday, it is right that a local health department doesn't know exactly what they're shipping that they're going to receive next Wednesday is But we have been trying to forecast out for folks toe have have some understanding so that they can plan They could take appointments. But yes, the goal is to run out of vaccine by Monday or Tuesday. So by the time shipping comes on Wednesday, they're starting with that new allocation of first doses that comes to them. I think you're gonna hear this more and more. We've worked through getting out the vaccines that we have on the shelf, and I think you're going to hear more and more. We need more. Um, and I think that has been our consistent messages. We have limited supply, and it's going to take some time for us to get vaccine to everyone who wants. It s so we're gonna keep working as hard as we can to get the vaccines out that we get from the federal government. But ultimately, the overall supply still is limited. Remember, we get about 120,000 new first doses week over week. So that is the number that we are aiming for as a state every week to do those 120,000 vaccines as first doses week over week. Thanks, Daniel. Okay, follow up from Daniel Pierce. Oxy. So I know that even here in the tribe, we've had a couple of clinics for vaccines have had to be canceled because they've they've run out. And I know it's probably getting frustrating for some people that continue Thio sign up to get these appointments. Just Oh, here. Oh, it's been canceled. So I guess what is your message to them about? Kind of their anticipation. They're anxious nous and even their frustration about trying to get a vaccine and trying to get through this. Yeah, Daniel, look, I understand with a limited supply of vaccine that that that this is going to be a challenge for all of us when we don't have as much as we would like. First, I would say when folks report to us that they are running out and they have something that is scheduled already and have appointments, we work very hard to see if we can figure out ah transfer, meaning that there's vaccine somewhere else in the state that we might be able to get them. That happened two or three times just yesterday that I happened to hear anecdotal stories of So we're trying very hard to make sure that we're moving the vaccine to places where folks have appointments. But it's not gonna be perfect. We are just figuring out what is our operational tempo. How much vaccine can we get out each and every week s so that we know how to best schedule appointments. That's why we're asking folks to move Teoh a cycle where they're keeping wait lists as opposed to having to cancel appointments. That way they can always add. And that's great news. If someone comes off that waitlist, they're always super happy. Um, but But as opposed to having to cancel appointments, so I think that's the mechanism we're trying to dio to manage this slight bit of off uncertainty as we move week to week. I'm hoping as we get more information from the new Biden team and more certainty about what is coming. Hopefully, we can forecast out even further, Um, for everyone as we go into this and will become a bit more smooth, we'll take our final question today from Kristy Murphy. This Morganton News Herald. Hey, Dr Cohen, thank you for taking my question. I am really curious. One of the things that we're seeing here is that people are just frustrated with trying to get through to get even, talk to someone about a vaccine on. We're seeing so many different practices on how counties, local health departments and vaccine administrators like hospitals, are signing people up to get the vaccine. Is there some kind of best practice that the state has given to local health departments, hospitals, other vaccine administrators on how Thio have people calling in or going online that signed up for the vaccine. Christie, Thanks for that. That the short answer is yes. We have given folks. And best practices were also offering help and support for our local entities. Could we help them with reinforcing their phone lines? Just answering the phone? Um, whatever support we can can help with, You know, we did make a decision as a state to not centralized appointments. Um, we did not want to add another layer of bureaucracy between the state, the vaccine provider, and they ultimately the person getting the vaccine. Um, but we do know that means different systems and different locations have different ways of getting someone into an appointment or onto a wait list. We do have our website that has all of our vaccine sites. Um, you can find it at your spot. Your shot dot n c dot gov. Um, that is where we try to keep an updated list of our vaccine providers there. Either main phone number or the way that you can contact them online. Um, and again, I think as we're learning here, folks are getting better at knowing how to schedule creating wait lists on DSO. We hope to be able to continue to improve, um, as we go. But I think as Daniel's question really pointed out, we are in a point where the supplies are truly limited. Um, and everyone's going to have to have some patients here as we work to get Mawr vaccine into the state, um, over a period of time so we'll continue Thio keep you updated on the latest numbers As we go, I don't hear a follow up, so I'll assume we we closed out for today. I want to remind everyone I know we focus exclusively almost exclusively on vaccine for the questions. But remember, there is still a lot of viral spread in North Carolina, and there's not enough vaccine to go around. So we really have to focus. Still on doing those tried and true things that we know work wearing a mask all the time, waiting 6 ft apart and washing your hands. Remember that the secretarial directive is still in place. Please, if you can stay home, um, and protect yourself, your family and your communities on Lee go out for essential, uh, for reasons. Please don't have people over your home. Indoors. Please don't go to their home indoors. Take care of yourself and stay. Well, Thank you so much, right? Mm hmm. Mhm.