‘We’re worried.’ Gov. Cooper, US HHS Secretary share COVID Delta variant concerns in NC

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Vaccination rates and the need to get more people in Charlotte and the state vaccinated was front of mind on Wednesday for U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, who was in town to meet with U.S. Rep Alma Adams, Gov. Roy Cooper and community health leaders.

North Carolina is ready to do whatever it takes to get residents vaccinated against the coronavirus, Cooper said.

In their visit to a vaccination site at the Charlotte Transit Center in uptown, Cooper said the state has seen a slight uptick in COVID-19 cases recently — likely due to the Delta variant, which is more contagious than the original strain of the coronavirus.

“We’re worried,” Cooper said. “We’re in a race against this Delta variant. The more people we can get vaccinated, the more people we can protect from it.”

Right now, the available COVID-19 vaccines appear to provide protection from variants like Delta, Cooper said. But people need to get vaccinated quickly — before the virus mutates past the protection of the vaccine, Becerra said.

“This virus is constantly mutating,” Becerra said. “The more it mutates, the greater the chance that a mutated version will outwit and out-strengthen our vaccine. As the governor said, we have got to stay ahead of this.”

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra visited Charlotte Wednesday to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra visited Charlotte Wednesday to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations.

Incentives to get vaccinated

Like some other states, North Carolina has launched several incentive programs, including a $25 cash card program and the statewide million-dollar vaccine lottery. The state held its second drawing for that lottery Wednesday morning, and will announce the next winner in the coming days, Cooper said.

Before announcing the lottery program, the state had seen “a steep decline” in vaccinations, Cooper said, a decline that has leveled off since then.

Around 46% of North Carolina residents are now at least partially vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to state numbers.

It’s hard to tell exactly what is affecting vaccination rates, but the state is studying rates and considering additional incentive programs, he said. “I’d say everything is on the table at this point for consideration of trying to convince people to get vaccinated,” Cooper said.

But he added that individual conversations between friends, families and family doctors is especially significant in boosting vaccinations.

Gov. Roy Cooper pushed for higher vaccination rates throughout North Carolina at the Charlotte Transit Center in Charlotte on Wednesday.
Gov. Roy Cooper pushed for higher vaccination rates throughout North Carolina at the Charlotte Transit Center in Charlotte on Wednesday.

Preventing COVID deaths

What’s more, Cooper said, vaccines have been proven to work.

“People who are getting sick now, people who are dying now largely, are people unvaccinated,” the governor said. “So almost every sickness, almost every hospital admission, almost every person in the ICU with COVID, almost every death can be prevented with a vaccination.”

At the vaccine site, Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners Chairman George Dunlap voiced a special appeal to African American North Carolinians.

“Too few of us are getting the vaccination,” he said. “…Many people in our community will die as a result.”

He urged African Americans to go get the vaccine to “help curb” the virus.

Black maternal health concerns

Becerra and Adams also stopped at the Charlotte Community Health Clinic at the Goodwill Opportunity Campus for a discussion with Charlotte health professionals and stakeholders about maternal health in the Black community.

In 2018, Adams introduced the first congressional resolution recognizing Black Maternal Health Week with then-Senator Kamala Harris. Since then, she has led the Black Maternal Health Caucus and introduced the resolution each year, with over 150 co-sponsors in Congress.

Adams stressed the importance of postpartum Medicaid expansion to more low-income people.

The lack of access to maternal care disproportionately hurt the minority community.

Last year, the (Raleigh) News & Observer reported that North Carolina continues to have the worst record in infant death before 1 year old in the country. Beyond that, the disparity between the death rate of Black and white babies in the state continues to widen.

In 2018, Black babies were 2.4 times more likely to die than white babies, the News & Observer reported.

Becerra echoed Adam’s concerns, and called for more programs that address the maternal mortality and morbidity rates.

“We are challenging you to do that. We at the (Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services) under the Department of Human Services want to see you do that,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Becerra and Adams visited the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy Wednesday morning, where they hosted a health care roundtable with representatives from the NC Navigator Consortium and other community health partners.

Adams and Becerra urged vaccinations at that event too, along with encouraging North Carolinians to use sign up for health care plans through HealthCare.gov open enrollment, extended to Aug. 15.

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