Cooper plans to lift gathering, distancing limits by June 1

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said on Wednesday that he plans to lift all mandates on social distancing and gathering limits by June 1 if coronavirus metrics remain stable and residents continue to get vaccinated.

“North Carolina’s strong safety protocols and actions to slow the spread are why we’ve been able to avoid a surge in cases overwhelming our hospitals,” Cooper said. “Our careful, reasoned approach has worked, striking the right balance.”

Further restrictions, including the statewide mask mandate, could be halted once two-thirds of North Carolina have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine.

The Democratic governor said he thinks it will be hard to reach the two-thirds threshold by the end of May and anticipates the target being reached shortly thereafter.

More than 47% of adults have gotten at least one shot, and nearly 36% are fully vaccinated, according to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services. Those who are 16 or 17 years old are able to get the two-dose Pfizer vaccine and are not classified as adults.

“With at least two-thirds of adults vaccinated, our public health experts believe we’ll have enough protection across our communities to live more safely with this virus and to begin to put the pandemic behind us,” Cooper said.

Currently, restaurants, breweries, wineries, amusement parks, gyms and pools are open at 75%. Bars, conference centers, reception venues, sports arenas and live performance venues are operating at 50%.

Cooper also hinted at further easing of restrictions to come next week when he updates an executive order.

Mandy Cohen, the state’s top public health official, said the state has continued to halt Johnson & Johnson vaccines until the federal government says it’s safe to proceed. In the meantime, North Carolina expects to receive more than 263,000 first doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Supply has started to outpace demand in certain parts of the state, and Cohen hopes to boost participation through an information campaign and a message of a swifter return to summer activities.

“We are at an exciting moment. We now have enough vaccine for everyone,” Cohen said. “Supply is strong and stable, it’s widely available and, in most places, you don’t need to wait or have an appointment.”

Both Cooper and Cohen said the state is focusing on distributing vaccines as quickly and as equitably as possible.

“Each shot in an arm is a step closer to putting this pandemic in the rearview mirror,” said Cooper. “North Carolinians have shown up for each other throughout this entire pandemic and we need to keep up that commitment by getting our vaccines.”

Many are wondering about a timeline for when the mask mandate will be lifted, and Cooper said he anticipates being able to lift that mandate once two-thirds of adults have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

He said he will release more information about a modified mask mandate for May next week. On June 1, he expects it to only apply for people indoors in public places.

When the state reaches two-thirds of people vaccinated with at least one dose goal, it will be lifted completely.

“If you are 16 and older, it is your turn to join the more than 3.6 million North Carolinians who have already taken their first shot,” Cohen said. “It’s up to you to get us to the two-thirds goal as quickly as possible so we can live with this virus and begin to put this pandemic behind us.”

In order to help reach the vaccine goal, the state is planning to launch a summer campaign called “Bring Summer Back.”

Organizations across the state will rally together to promote vaccinations.

WHAT ABOUT CLOSER TO HOME?

Mecklenburg County health leaders talked about the recent increase in COVID-19 trends Wednesday morning.

Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris said she believes there are three reasons for the recent increase: easing restrictions, the Easter and spring break holidays and COVID variants.

“When you put all those things together, it’s not surprising that we’re seeing increases in our metrics,” Harris said. “We just have to watch those closely to make sure that they are not creating significant issues for us as we move forward.”

Harris said they county as plenty of vaccine supply, and they are trying to make it as convenient as possible for people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

As of Wednesday, there were 107,698 cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) with 927 deaths due to COVID-19 reported among Mecklenburg County residents.

Data as of April 14 are presented in more detail below. MCPH provides these routine updates about reported cases of COVID-19 to help our community better understand how this pandemic is developing in our county. These results only reflect laboratory confirmed cases of COVID-19 among county residents. Many individuals infected by COVID-19 have not been tested because they are asymptomatic. As such, these results are very fluid and only represent a fraction of the true burden of COVID-19 in our community.

Daily case counts provided by MCPH may differ from state and federal counts due to delays in reporting to the various entities. MCPH updates case counts after an initial case review and, where possible, a patient interview is conducted, which includes confirming county residency. Cases reported after 5 p.m. are counted in the following days case count.

Highlights about the 105,702 COVID-19 cases reported in Mecklenburg County as of April 14, 2021 include:

  • During the past week, an average of 269 laboratory confirmed infections per day were reported compared to the 14-day average of 239 confirmed infections. This represents an increase over the last 14 days. These data are based on Mecklenburg resident cases reported to MCPH.
  • During the past week, an average of 142 individuals with laboratory confirmed COVID-19 infections were hospitalized at acute care facilities in Mecklenburg County. This represents an increase over the last 14 days. These data are based on daily census counts from acute care facilities in Mecklenburg County reporting to MCPH.
  • During the past week, an average of 7.7 percent of individuals who were tested in Mecklenburg County were positive for COVID-19. This represents an increase trend over the last 14 days. These data only include ELRs for molecular (PCR) tests submitted to NC DHHS for laboratories electronically submitting negative and positive COVID-19 results.
  • Nine hundred-twenty-eight deaths due to COVID-19 occurred among reported cases.
  • Almost all deaths were among older adults (≥ 60 years), 14 deaths occurred in adults ages 20 to 39 and 114 deaths were adults ages 40 to 59.
  • All deaths, except twenty-five, occurred among adults with underlying chronic illnesses.
  • Almost half were non-Hispanic Whites. The disparity in COVID-19 deaths among non-Hispanic Whites is related to differences in race/ethnicity of residents of long-term care (LTC) facilities actively experiencing an outbreak.
  • Nearly 40 percent of deaths were connected to active outbreaks at long-term care (LTC) facilities.
  • Among deaths not connected to outbreaks at long-term care facilities, nearly 3 in 4 were non-White, with 40 percent being non-Hispanic Black. As previously noted, these disparities are largely driven by higher rates of underlying chronic conditions that increase risk of severe complications due to COVID-19 infection among these communities.
  • Based on publicly available mobility tracking data, social distancing represents a fairly stable trend in Mecklenburg County over the last 14 days.