Ashish Jha

NC Coronavirus update July 28: Gov. Roy Cooper reviewing new CDC mask guidance as Delta variant drives increase in COVID 19 cases

10:50 a.m.
Anyone working for NCDHHS at state-operated facilities will have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by September 30.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released a statement about its decision Wednesday saying the vaccine is the most effective weapon in the fight against the pandemic.

The agency’s decision falls in line with recommendations from the North Carolina Healthcare Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nursing Association.

The full statement is below:

“NCDHHS will require that that all employees, volunteers, students, trainees, as well as contracted and temporary workers working at state-operated facilities be fully vaccinated or receive an approved medical or religious exemption by September 30, 2021.
Vaccination for COVID-19 is the most effective prevention against the disease. Over 75% of DSOHF facility staff are vaccinated, with three facilities over 90%. As a health care system, we have a responsibility to protect the patients and residents that we serve – many of whom are at high risk for COVID-19 complications, are without other options for care, and in our care for long periods of time. It is well documented that health care personnel often unintentionally introduce the virus into institutional settings prompting an outbreak. That’s why numerous professional organizations recommend that vaccines be required for all healthcare and long-term care staff, including the North Carolina Healthcare Association and over 50 national groups such the American Medical Association and the American Nursing Association.
Rigorous clinical trials among thousands of people ages 12 and older, have proven that vaccines are safe and effective at preventing COVID-19 and virus-related hospitalization and death. More than 160 million Americans have been safely vaccinated.”

 

9:20 a.m.
A third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine can “strongly” boost protection against the delta variant — beyond the protection afforded by the standard two doses, suggests new data released by Pfizer on Wednesday.

The data posted online, which are expected to be discussed in a company earnings call on Wednesday morning, suggest that antibody levels against the delta variant in people ages 18 to 55 who receive a third dose of vaccine are greater than five-fold than following a second dose.

9:15 a.m.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky says new mask-wearing guidance, coupled with higher rates of vaccination against COVID-19, could halt the current escalation of infections in “a couple of weeks.”

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told “CBS This Morning” she hopes more stringent mask-wearing guidelines and other measures won’t be necessary as the country heads into the fall.

“We can halt the chain of transmission,” she said. “We can do something if we unify together, if we get people vaccinated who are not yet vaccinated, if we mask in the interim, we can halt this in just a matter of a couple of weeks.”

With the delta variant fueling a surge of infections across the country, the CDC on Tuesday recommended even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in areas where the variant is prevalent.

Walensky says the new guidance was prompted by data that vaccinated people can pass on the virus. However, the vast number of infections are occurring in unvaccinated people, she noted. Walensky said 80% of the counties with the highest number of infections have less than 40% of people vaccinated.

The nation is averaging more than 57,000 cases a day and 24,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations. The guidance on masks in indoor public places applies in parts of the U.S. with at least 50 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week.

9 a.m.
WakeMed Health & Hospitals has told workers it will require them to get a COVID-19 vaccine if they wish to remain employed. The Raleigh-area hospital system is the leading provider in the state’s second largest county. It has three acute care hospitals and one physical rehabilitation hospital.

The timeline for when the vaccine requirement will take effect has not yet been determined. The move comes amid growing concern of the more contagious delta variant. Several other North Carolina hospital systems have announced plans to compel workers to come in get vaccinated. WakeMed’s vaccine requirement will apply to all employees, providers and volunteers in the “near future.”

8:45 a.m.
Duke University announced all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear face masks in all Duke-owned and leased buildings effective Friday, July 30, until further notice.

The university cited the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in North Carolina related to a combination of the Delta variant and the number of people who remain unvaccinated, as its reasoning.

Masks will not be required in on-campus residence halls.

WEDNESDAY MORNING HEADLINES

Gov. Roy Cooper and the state’s coronavirus task force will not be issuing an update today as previously planned.

The governor’s office said Tuesday afternoon that the previously planned Wednesday update would be pushed to Thursday.

Meanwhile, Cooper said he is reviewing mask guidance issued Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC changed its mask recommendations in light of new evidence about the Delta variant of COVID-19.

That variant has become the most dominant form of the virus in the US. The CDC’s new evidence suggests that vaccinated people remain well protected against all forms of COVID-19, including the Delta variant. However, unlike other variants, vaccinated people can still spread the Delta variant.

That’s why the CDC said all people should wear masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the coronavirus is surging.

Since the COVID-19 vaccines still provide strong protection against the Delta variant, health officials continue to urge people to get vaccinated.

Many healthcare facilities have begun mandating vaccines for their employees.

President Joe Biden is expected to announce federal employees will be required to be vaccinated or else face “stringent COVID-19 protocols.”

TUESDAY
7:02 p.m.
ABC News has confirmed, via sources familiar with the discussion, that President Joe Biden will likely announce Thursday that federal employees will be required to be vaccinated or else they must abide by “stringent COVID-19 protocols like mandatory mask wearing — even in communities not with high or substantial spread — and regular testing.”

The sources caution that at this point no decision has been finalized.

The federal government is the nation’s largest employer – 2.1 million workers and this would therefore be the largest vaccine mandate by a single employer of this pandemic.

This also represents a major policy shift from the White House. Since day one — this administration has publicly said it was opposed to vaccine mandates like this – preferring to leave it up to individual employers and local governments.

6:39 p.m.
House Speaker Tim Moore reacted to news that the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced that the Division of State Operated Healthcare Facilities (DSOHF) will now require employees at all state healthcare facilities to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 30.

“I have personally been vaccinated against COVID-19, and I have done my best to help educate the public and urge others to get vaccinated if they choose to do so,” Moore said. “But at the end of the day, the decision whether or not to vaccinate is a personal one and should be made between a doctor and patient. North Carolinians will not be bullied into being vaccinated against their will, particularly with a vaccine that has yet to be approved by the FDA.”

All DSOHF employees who are not fully vaccinated by the deadline will “be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal, for unacceptable personal conduct.”

“Our healthcare workers are certainly capable of weighing the risks and benefits and can make their own decision about the vaccine,” Moore said. “This mandate could force healthcare workers to choose between their employment and their conscience. Now is not the time to risk losing any of our healthcare workers who have been at the front lines of this pandemic.”

6:07 p.m.
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC, criticized the updated mask guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for Americans who have already been vaccinated, saying the flip=flop could increase vaccine hesitancy.

“Since last year, I’ve been telling North Carolinians that vaccines are the most effective tool we have to return to life as normal and the scientific data has shown that to be true, with 94% of North Carolina cases and 97% of all U.S. hospitalizations occurring among the unvaccinated population,” Tillis said. “I am deeply concerned that the Biden administration’s contradictory decision will cause even more vaccine hesitancy, giving many Americans the false impression that the vaccines are not as effective as they were originally told. The data shows that fully vaccinated Americans are at a very low risk of a breakthrough infection and are at an incredibly low risk of serious complications. The promise of the vaccine was to protect Americans from the worst outcomes and allow them to return to life as normal. Now many local and state governments across the nation are bound to reimplement restrictions and mask mandates, even for Americans who are fully vaccinated.”

The CCD reversed course Tuesday on some masking guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the coronavirus is surging.

Citing new information about the ability of the delta variant to spread among vaccinated people, the CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.

“The Biden administration apparently doesn’t trust the science, and they clearly don’t trust the American people to take personal responsibility for their own choices,” Tillis said.

5:45 p.m.
The CDC late Tuesday issued a health alert to doctors on the need to increase vaccinations “to prevent surges in new infections” that could “overwhelm healthcare capacity” and increase death toll.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is issuing this Health Alert Network Health Advisory to notify public health practitioners and clinicians about the urgent need to increase COVID-19 vaccination coverage (i.e., the percentage of the population fully vaccinated) across the United States to prevent surges in new infections that could increase COVID-19 related morbidity and mortality, overwhelm healthcare capacity, and widen existing COVID-19-related health disparities,” it said.

4 p.m.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed course Tuesday on some masking guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the coronavirus is surging.

Citing new information about the ability of the delta variant to spread among vaccinated people, the CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.

Many counties in North Carolina have high levels of community transmission, according to the CDC.

Q&A: What the CDC mask guidance change means for you

3:30 p.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper’s office issued a reaction after the CDC reversed course on mask quidance.

“The more contagious Delta variant that is spreading almost entirely among unvaccinated people is concerning. The COVID-19 vaccines remain safe and effective in combatting this virus, and they are the best weapon we have to fight the Delta variant or other strains. Most all of the people getting sick and dying now are unvaccinated and that is why the Governor is pulling out all the stops to get as many people as possible to get their shots. The Governor and state health officials will review changes to CDC guidance and he strongly encourages schools and businesses to enact important safety precautions and unvaccinated people to wear masks until they get their shots,” said Mary Scott Winstead, Deputy Communications Director for Cooper’s office.

Senator Thom Tillis issued the following statement:
“Since last year, I’ve been telling North Carolinians that vaccines are the most effective tool we have to return to life as normal and the scientific data has shown that to be true, with 94% of North Carolina cases and 97% of all U.S. hospitalizations occurring among the unvaccinated population.
I am deeply concerned that the Biden administration’s contradictory decision will cause even more vaccine hesitancy, giving many Americans the false impression that the vaccines are not as effective as they were originally told. The data shows that fully vaccinated Americans are at a very low risk of a breakthrough infection and are at an incredibly low risk of serious complications. The promise of the vaccine was to protect Americans from the worst outcomes and allow them to return to life as normal. Now many local and state governments across the nation are bound to reimplement restrictions and mask mandates, even for Americans who are fully vaccinated.
The Biden administration apparently doesn’t trust the science, and they clearly don’t trust the American people to take personal responsibility for their own choices.”

12:15 p.m.
1,603 new COVID-19 cases were reported in North Carolina on Tuesday.

The percent of positive tests jumped to 10.4%, the highest the state has seen since early April.

1,031 are currently hospitalized in the state with COVID-19. That’s the first time hospitalizations have surpassed 1,000 since May 7.

13,590 people have died since the start of the pandemic.

60% of the adult population has at least one dose of the vaccine.

“This virus is still here and, if you’re unvaccinated, still deadly,” Gov. Cooper tweeted on Tuesday. “Talking to our friends and family about getting a shot is the best way to stop the spread.”

“This moment now is different than the last time we experienced rising trends,” Dr. Mandy Cohen said Tuesday in a statement. “Now vaccines are widely available across the state and 60 percent of North Carolina adults have received at least one dose of vaccine. 94% of the cases and hospitalizations we have now are in people who are not vaccinated. The Delta variant is not formidable. Vaccines are the best way to protest your health.”

10:25 a.m.
The nation’s top health agency is expected to backpedal Tuesday on its masking guidelines and recommend that even vaccinated people wear masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the coronavirus is surging, according to a federal official.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to release the data.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is expected to announce the decision at a 3 p.m. Tuesday.

TUESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
People with lingering COVID-19 symptoms could get help from the Americans with Disabilities Act.

President Joe Biden marked the 31st anniversary of the law by saying some long haul COVID symptoms, such as breathing problems, chronic pain and fatigue, could rise to the level of a disability.

“We’re bringing agencies together to make sure Americans with long COVID, who have a disability, have access to the rights and resources that are due under the disability law,” Biden said.

In North Carolina, the state health department released new guidance that includes accommodations in the workplace, school and heath care facilities for Americans with long COVID.

Biden’s announcement could help people like Monica McGhee. She’s a healthcare worker from Person County who continues to live with the lingering effects of COVID-19.

“Your taste is never the same; feeling tired all the time. It’s been a challenge. I believe I have developed anxiety because of COVID, because I was so scared,” McGhee said.

In order to qualify for special accommodations, long haulers would have to be assessed by a doctor.

This all comes as COVID cases continue to rise. Nationally, cases are up more than 300 percent since mid-June.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now categorizing the country as having “high” community transmission.

The number of people in the hospital is also rising, up nearly 37 percent in the past week–with the vast majority of those people being unvaccinated.

“I’m worried it will get much worse. Right now we’re generating 50,000 Americans getting infected. That could easily double or triple,” Dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health Dr. Ashish Jha said.

Q&A: With the Delta variant spreading, can vaccinated people feel safe without a mask?

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