NORTH CAROLINA — North Carolina's coronavirus metrics remain stable as the state passed a vaccine milestone on Thursday.
The state reported that more than 50% of adult residents have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
"This is as significant milestone toward our goal of stopping the spread of COVID-19 and bringing summer back to North Carolina," said NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy K. Cohen. "I hope you will join the more than 4 million people who have taken their shot and help put this pandemic behind us."
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 1,798 new cases Thursday.
The daily percent positive fell to 4.4%, but hospitalizations increased by 31 to 1,031 on Thursday.
The death toll rose by 17 to 12,738.
Overall, more than 978,000 North Carolinians have tested positive for the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.
However, it is estimated that 43.1% of the adult population in North Carolina is now fully vaccinated, while 50.1% are at least partially vaccinated.
North Carolina's governor said he plans to end mandatory social distancing, capacity and gathering limits by June 1.
Gov. Roy Cooper said if at least two-thirds of adults in the state can get vaccinated, the state can loosen more of the capacity and gathering restrictions that have been in place for more than a year.
North Carolina's Vaccine Distribution Plan
The state is getting about 225,000 first doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines each week, DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said. Additionally, the state has only gotten about 80,000 doses of the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine so far and doesn't expect to get many more until April.
Here's the updated plan from DHHS:
Group 1: Health care workers fighting COVID-19 & Long-Term Care staff and residents
- Health care workers with in-person patient contact
- Long-term care staff and residents—people in skilled nursing facilities, adult care homes and continuing care retirement communities
Group 2: Older adults
- Anyone 65 years or older, regardless of health status or living situation
Group 3: Frontline essential workers
- The CDC defines frontline essential workers as workers who are in sectors essential to the functioning of society and who are at substantially higher risk for exposure to COVID-19
Group 4: Adults at high risk for exposure and increased risk of severe illness
- Anyone 16-64 years old with high-risk medical conditions that increase risk of severe disease from COVID-19 such as cancer, COPD, serious heart conditions, sickle cell disease, Type 2 diabetes, among others, regardless of living situation
- Anyone who is incarcerated or living in other close group living settings who is not already vaccinated due to age, medical condition or job function
- Essential workers not yet vaccinated. The CDC defines these as workers in transportation and logistics, water and wastewater, food service, shelter and housing (e.g., construction), finance (e.g., bank tellers), information technology and communications, energy, legal, media, public safety (e.g., engineers) and public health workers
Group 5: Everyone who wants a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination
The State Board of Education voted that public schools will be required to offer in-person instruction to all students by the end of March.
New guidelines from the NCDHHS say public schools should require face coverings for all students, and six feet of social distancing for grades six and up.
Kindergarten to 5th Grade: “Schools should return to in-person instruction to the fullest extent possible up to five days per week while following all public health protocols in the StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit.” Schools can opt to either follow a plan for 6-feet social distancing or a minimal social distancing plan.
6th to 12th Grade Students: Schools should return these students to in-person classes up to five days a week. These older students will need to follow six-feet social distancing requirements, including while sitting in classrooms. “The requirements for Six Feet Social Distancing provide an additional layer of protection in middle and high school settings, recognizing that studies indicate that younger children appear to be less likely to spread COVID-19 to others than older teens and adults.”
Remote Learning Option: Schools will still have to have a remote learning option for students. School systems will have to create a process for students and/or their families, teachers, and staff to self-identify as high-risk from COVID-19 and have a plan in place to address requests for alternative learning arrangements or work re-assignments.”
On Friday, March 26, Executive Order 204 is set to go into effect at 5 p.m. The new order will relax some COVID-19 restrictions, up maximum occupancy for some establishments and businesses, roll back some check-in procedures for schools, increase the amount of people allowed at mass-gatherings, and lift the 11 p.m. on-site-alcohol comsumption curfew.
The governor announced these changes as COVID-19 virus case numbers continued to stabilize and trend downward after a spike in patients after the holidays. These new restrictions mean the following:
- Some places like, mueseums, aquariums, retail businesses, shops, salons, and personal care shops, will be allowed to operate at 100% indoors and outdoors.
- Businesses such as restaurants, breweries, wineries, amusement parks, gyms and pools, and other recreation establishments will be allowed to run at 75% indoors and 100% outdoors.
- Place that will be allowed to run at 50% inside and outside include: bars, movie theaters, gaming facilities, conference spaces, lounges, nightclubs, auditoriums, arenas, and fields, with movie theaters and gaming businesses operating at 75% outdoors.
- Mass-gatherings will be allowed to happen with a maxium of 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.
Gov. Roy Cooper says the changes are a result of encouraging trends in the state's recent COVID-19 metrics.
The governor does stress, however, that the current mandatory mask mandate is still in place and remote work is still strongly encourage wherever possible.
North Carolinians should also continue practicing the three W's, social distancing, and any other local, state, and federal health guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Rules on Face Masks
A statewide mask requirement is also in effect, which requires masks to be worn when people are out in public in the state of North Carolina whenever social and physical distancing is not possible.
Face coverings are not required in these situations:
- For those who cannot wear a covering due to a medical or behavioral condition
- For children under 12 years old
- For restaurant patrons, while they are dining
- In private, individual offices
- When complying with directions of law enforcement officers
- In settings where it is not practical or feasible to wear a face covering, including when obtaining or rendering goods or services, such as the receipt of dental services or while swimming
- While with members of a family or the same household
- For people whose religious beliefs prevent them from wearing a face covering
- For those exercising outdoors or exercising with other people from the same household, as long as social distance is maintained
Read the full executive order here.
How to Protect Yourself and Others
According to the CDC, there are several simple steps you can take to help protect yourself and others during the coronavirus outbreak.
- Clean your hands thoroughly and often
- Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick
- Stay at home if you are sick, except to get medical care
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
- If you are sick, wear a facemask
- Clean and disinfect any frequently touched surfaces daily
If you or someone you know becomes ill, the CDC recommends taking the following steps:
- Stay home, except to get medical treatment
- Separate yourself from others, including animals, in your home
- Call ahead before visiting your doctor
- Wear a facemask if you are sick
- Cover coughs and sneezes
- Clean your hands thoroughly and often
- Avoid sharing any personal household items
- Clean any "high-touch" surfaces on a daily basis
- Monitor your symptoms
- Remain on home isolation until instructed to leave
N.C. DHHS has also released the following recommendations to keep yourself protected:
If you need medical care and have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or suspect you might have COVID-19, call ahead and tell your health care provider you have or may have COVID-19. This will allow them to take steps to keep other people from getting exposed. NC DHHS recommends that persons experiencing fever and cough should stay at home and not go out until their symptoms have completely resolved.
HIGH RISK PERSONS WITHOUT SYMPTOMS
NC DHHS recommends that people at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should stay at home to the extent possible to decrease the chance of infection.
People at high risk include people:
- Over 65 years of age, or
- with underlying health conditions including heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes, or
- with weakened immune systems.
CONGREGATE LIVING FACILITIES
NC DHHS recommends that all facilities that serve as residential establishments for high risk persons described above should restrict visitors. Exceptions should include end of life care or other emergent
situations determined by the facility to necessitate a visit. If visitation is allowed, the visitor should be screened and restricted if they have a respiratory illness or potential exposure to COVID-19. Facilities are encouraged to implement social distancing measures and perform temperature and respiratory symptom screening of residents and staff. These establishments include settings such as nursing homes, independent and assisted living facilities, correction facilities, and facilities that care for medically vulnerable children.
NC DHHS recommends that employers and employees use teleworking technologies to the greatest extent possible, stagger work schedules, and consider canceling non-essential travel. Workplaces should hold larger meetings virtually, to the extent possible. Additionally, employers should arrange the workspace to optimize distance between employees, ideally at least six feet apart. Employers should urge high risk employees to stay home and urge employees to stay home when they are sick and maximize flexibility in sick leave benefits.
Mass transit operators should maximize opportunities for cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces. People should avoid using use mass transit (e.g. buses, trains) while sick.
Any North Carolinian seeking additional information on COVID-19 can call NC 2-1-1, which is an information and referral service that families and individuals can call to obtain free and confidential information on health and human services resources within their community, or text COVIDNC to 898211 to receive general information and updates about COVID-19.