North Carolina remains paused in Phase 3 of the governor’s coronavirus reopening plan as the state’s case numbers continue to climb. BPR’s Helen Chickering checks in with NC Health News Editor Rose Hoban about the trends and the state’s plan to distribute coronavirus vaccines. Check out NC Health News Voter Guide on Health here.
HC: New confirmed coronavirus cases in North Carolina once again crossed the 2000 mark today, Friday. Can we unpack some of this? What, what are you watching?
RH: Well, you know, things are quote unquote - going in the wrong direction. It's really interesting. Our cases are up. Our hospitalizations are up. They've come up about almost by 300 since the beginning of the month. And we did have a peak day for deaths this past week. I think it was 50-some deaths in one day, which is B-A-D. We are still not out of control, and I think that's what they're looking to do is not have the state get out of control. So, I think Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen is worried about that because the number of ICU cases is rising along with the number of people who are hospitalized. These are serious cases. These are more than 300 people who are in the ICU. Now the good news is that suspected patients admitted in the past 24 hours - that number is starting to dip down.
HC: Getting back to the increase, it seems like hardest hit right now. Are the rural counties across North Carolina,
RH: Like right now Avery County has got a 27% positivity rate. In other words of all the people who go and test 27% of them are positive. The bigger counties like Buncombe County - let me see, 3.6% and Mecklenburg is 4% something . It's a bunch of these tiny little counties rural where I think a lot of folks have thought, “Oh yeah, it's not a problem for us because we're so small and we're so spread out,” but it's beginning to be a problem for them. And if you look at the places where people are hospitalized, you can also see that there are a lot of cases in rural parts of the state. I think coronavirus is starting to really rear its head in rural North Carolina,
HC: Also making news, North Carolina, finalized its vaccine distribution plan. Every state has to have one. It pretty much lays out who will get the first wave of vaccines when one becomes FDA approved. And it doesn't seem like there were any surprises here.
RH: You know, it's folks who are in nursing homes will get it first, healthcare workers will get it first. The plan was not devised by DHHS. It was devised in, in conjunction with the North Carolina Institute of medicine. Along with the distribution plan, and I think you and I have talked about other things like the vaccine “cold chain”, for example, what if you're going out to a rural county and you're going to do a bunch of vaccinations, but you need to keep the vaccine at negative 40 degrees, which is not an uncommon temperature to keep biologics. So that's going to be really hard to do. So that might be an issue depending on which one gets crossed the finish line. And then how quickly can the manufacturers scale up? So there's a lot of questions that are still outstanding, partly a function of which one gets across the line first.
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