Gov. Cooper not ruling out additional restrictions as state grapples with rising COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – With people receiving the first COVID-19 vaccine doses this week, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said Wednesday it could be spring until “things can begin to get significantly better” as the state grapples with rising case numbers.

He recently instituted a statewide curfew but did not rule out additional restrictions similar to the initial stay-at-home order earlier this year.

“We’re keeping all of our options on the table. We have leveled off in the last three days. However, it’s leveling off at numbers that are high,” Cooper said in an interview with CBS 17. “What we want to try to do is to push for as good an economy as we can have during this period of time but make sure we put the health and safety of North Carolinians as the first priority.”

On Wednesday, the state reported 2,811 people in hospitals across North Carolina due to COVID-19, a number which has doubled since mid-November.

New daily cases have dropped from the high reached last Friday of 7,540, ranging since then between 4,770 and 6,819 new cases each day.

“We’re seeing right now the effects from Thanksgiving. It’s one of the reasons that our numbers have gone up. It’s one of the reasons health officials are pleading with people to use common sense this Christmas,” Cooper said.

The governor is urging more local government leaders to adopt civil penalties for violating his executive orders. He sent a letter to them last week along with an advisory letter from the state Attorney General’s Office outlining why it would be legal for them to take that action.

Greensboro city leaders adopted new penalties last month. Other communities have focused on educating the public while some leaders have refused to enforce the executive orders at all.

The Town of Youngsville, in Franklin County, recently hosted a Christmas parade despite the limits on mass gatherings and as state and county health officials urged the town’s leaders to cancel it.

“We need as many leaders who are setting good examples and also providing us as many tools as we can to make sure we’re slowing the spread of this virus,” said Cooper. “This pandemic really cannot be political.”

The governor said he understands why law enforcement officers would be reluctant to go as far as to charge someone with a crime for violating the executive orders, which is why he and other state officials are encouraging the use of civil penalties instead.

Cooper’s statewide curfew went into effect last Friday, requiring various businesses to close by 10 p.m. and for alcohol sales to stop by 9 p.m. The governor said it could take two weeks to see what impact the move has on the state’s COVID-19 metrics.

With the rising cases, some school districts, such as the Wake County Public School System, have decided to return to all students learning remotely. The WCPSS Board of Education voted Tuesday to pause in-person learning between Jan. 4 and Jan. 15.

When asked if more schools will need to return to remote learning, Cooper said, “We are leaving that option on the table to be able to have younger students in person, in school and to be able to use revolving classrooms, some in person, some not in person.”

This week, hospital workers across the state began receiving the first doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, with state officials anticipating approval of Moderna’s vaccine in the next few days.

A recent poll by Elon University found about 40 percent of people in the state said they planned to get a vaccine if approved by the FDA. About 39 percent were still unsure while 20 percent said no.

“We’ve got to work to get that number higher. A lot of people come at this from different perspectives. Some people are operating on misinformation,” Cooper said.

He also talked about the “troubled history of experimentation on the African-American population” and that those “deep-seated feelings may be there.”

“We do know that these vaccines will be safe and effective for people. And so, what we’re doing is engaging community, health and faith leaders throughout the state, to take these vaccines publicly, to talk to people about how important it is to protect yourself and your family,” Cooper said. “I believe that we can turn around a lot of the misinformation and the misunderstanding and get enough people vaccinated in order to put this pandemic behind us.”

State health officials say initial supplies of the vaccines will be low. It likely will not be until the spring that they are widely available.

When asked when he anticipates lifting all COVID-19 restrictions and people returning to normal life, he said, “It’s hard to say what normal life will be. But, I do believe in the next few months as we get more and more people vaccinated… I’m hoping that in the spring things can begin to get significantly better and we can drive our numbers down. We’ll have to wait and see how much this vaccine affects being able to transmit the disease.”

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