RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Days after lifting nearly all of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said Monday the ongoing pandemic response should be concentrated on vaccinations, as the state sees fewer people showing up each week for their first dose of the vaccine.
As of Monday, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported nearly 52 percent of adults have received at least one dose, which is below the goal Cooper set several weeks ago of two-thirds of adults getting their first shot before he planned to lift the indoor mask mandate.
Following updated guidance from the CDC last week showing that fully vaccinated people do not need masks in most situations indoors and outdoors, Cooper changed the mask mandate to align with the new recommendations.
“Concerns that people have are valid,” Cooper said. “I think when you look at what the CDC said, then it’s just going to be very difficult to have mandatory laws in place forcing people to wear masks with the research like it is.”
The move came as the pace of vaccinations continues to slow.
Data from state heath officials show during the week of April 5, when all adults became eligible to be vaccinated, nearly 337,000 people got their first dose. That dropped to about 77,000 people the first week of this month.
“And, where we all ought to concentrate our effort is vaccinations, and working in faith communities,” Cooper said. “You know what I’m telling people? ‘If you don’t believe me, ask your doctor. Just go ask your doctor and do whatever your doctor tells you to do.’ Most every doctor is going to ask you to get that vaccination.”
Advance Community Health in Raleigh has been hosting vaccine clinics for weeks, trying to reach underserved communities.
At a clinic in Southeast Raleigh Monday, people working at the site noted the drop-off they’d seen in people showing up compared to several weeks ago.
“I wouldn’t say dwindling numbers, but flat-lining numbers a little bit,” said Scot McCray, CEO of Advance Community Health. “That mad rush of people wanting to get the vaccine is trending down, but people still if the spirit moves them so to speak, they’ll come in and sign up and get the vaccine.”
He said people are going door to door, calling patients who’ve previously come in for services, waving people down on the street outside vaccination sites and taking any other step they can think of to try to encourage more people to get the vaccine.
“The heavy lift right now is getting the people that still have a sense of hesitancy,” McCray said. “We have to be creative with the messaging, pulling people out of their doors, knocking on doors and having people feel a sense of ownership that they owe it to their community to be vaccinated.”
Dr. Pia MacDonald, an epidemiologist at RTI International, told CBS 17 last week there needs to be a focus on understanding the nuances of why people are hesitant to get the vaccine.
“We have not been able to motivate people to get vaccinated or wear masks or reduce their physical contact with people they don’t know. That’s been an uphill climb in a lot of communities,” she said. “We know it’s a sandy mountain uphill. We know we need to keep climbing it. And, we just need to be using different strategies, new strategies.”
Cooper also said state health officials are working with the CDC on developing guidelines for bringing more state employees back to work in person
Cooper described the CDC’s announcement last week as “sudden” and said the state’s experts wanted more time to analyze the data before making recommendations on how best to do that.