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COVID-19NC: Restriction Release, Vaccination Acceleration & Budget Conversations

Pardee UNC Health Care
65-year-old Thomas Allen of Hendersonville gives a thumbs-up after receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Pardee UNC Health Care Vaccine Clinic at Blue Ridge Community College.

North Carolina now is now under a new – less restrictive -  pandemic executive order, an updated COVID vaccine schedule. And somewhere in-between in all – Governor Roy Cooper revealed announced his budget plan with a renewed push for Medicaid expansion. It is a good time for our check-in with North Carolina Health News editor, Rose Hoban.

“Today,  I'm signing an executive order that will continue to ease restrictions in several areas,” said Governor Roy Cooperduring a recent coronavirus task force briefing announcing his newest executive order.

HC: I'd like to start by getting your reaction to the governor's new executive order that keeps masks and social distancing in place, but eases capacity restrictions on pretty much everything from museums to bars.

RH: As someone who watches the numbers, I'm starting to see the down tick, slowdown, which is concerning. And so, part of me was like, geez, you know, we could have waited two weeks.  We're seeing surging of cases in Michigan, for example, and those are related to some of the variants. You know, we saw all this stuff with spring break, so who knows what the students are up to. So, I was a little surprised that he went for it when he did -  I'll just say it that way.

HC: Okay. Let's talk about the other big announcement. Vaccines will be offered to everyone 16 and older beginning, April 7th.

RH:  Yes. And I find that to be super interesting because and you know, I asked the question  at the presser and you know,  are they worried about a slowdown and having more supply than demand? And it seems that there are a handful of counties where there is more supply than demand. So, what is that about?  Meredith College did a poll and it kind of confirmed what we saw in other polls is that there's a significant number of people who, for political reasons, it seems are uninterested.  They did the polling by political affiliation.  So they were able to see that there were a certain amount of Republican men in particular, who are uninterested in getting a shot, even though apparently in the past couple of weeks, former President Trump got on Fox news and basically said, I think people should take a shot.  It was not  high profile, big fanfare, but I think the agreement among health officials across the political spectrum is that it's a good idea. But then again, you know, there's a hundred members of Congress who still haven't gotten a shot.

HC: So, one group I'm interested in watching is the response by younger people beginning, April 7th, the vaccine, the COVID vaccine opens up to people 16 and older. Although right now, I guess the Pfizer vaccine is the only one approved for that age group.

RH: We've had a handful of people writing to say, when can my ninth grader get a vaccination? They're doing the research now,  Moderna is testing young children now to see if what they can get their shots. So, there's definitely a lot of interest in getting kids shots, but you know, the conventional wisdom is that young kids won't be able to get shots until the fall at the earliest  So it's going to take some time.

HC: Let's hit the budget. The governor revealed his budget proposal. No big surprises calling for teacher raises and expanding Medicaid issues that have been sticking points with Republican lawmakers. What are you hearing?

RH: The legislature has really been moving slow.  For many years, the real focus of the legislature has been redistricting. But with the delay in the census numbers, we don't have redistricting. So they've been kind of spinning their wheels and folks haven't been in Raleigh. And I went down to the building that this week for the first time, since last April, it was kind of quiet.  All the office doors were closed and I really only saw a handful of people. There were only two or three reporters in the press room. And I did have a long conversation with the house clerk who told me that he's starting to see more lawmakers return and that people are pretty much wearing masks on the floor of the house. We have one very prominent Senate member who has contracted COVID and is at home it's Senator Ralph Hise. So, there's still the virus passing around the building and it’s been slow. I'm wondering if now thatCooper has proposed his budget, is that going to make things pick up?  

About Rose Hoban:

Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992 but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees in public health policy and journalism. She's reported on science, health policy and research in NC since 2005. Contact: editor at northcarolinahealthnews.org

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.
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