By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • More than 50 people in Hoke County have now died of coronavirus-related causes, according to state health numbers.
As of Tuesday at least 52 people in Hoke had died after testing positive for the contagious illness, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) reported.
Most of the recent local deaths from COVID-19 occurred among residents of Open Arms retirement center in Raeford, which is dealing with an outbreak of the virus.
The deaths contributed to the state’s COVID-19 death toll, which has now surpassed 10,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Gov. Roy Cooper noted the milestone Tuesday during a live-streamed press conference.
“We’ve passed the grim milestone of 10,000 deaths in North Carolina and it’s a stark reminder of how dangerous this virus can be,” Cooper said.
There is good news, though, the governor said: overall, the state’s metrics are stable or improving.
“Our numbers though remain stable, and we’re encouraged to see a decline in our hospitalizations and the percentage of positive tests,” Cooper said.
Fewer North Carolina counties are listed as critical on the state’s COVID-19 County Alert System. However, Hoke and its surrounding counties remain in the red. The county is seeing a 14.9 percent 14-day percent positive rate on COVID-19 tests, slightly down from its high of over 16 percent in January.
Hoke continues to have one of the highest 14-day percent positive rates in the state, with only a handful of other counties with similar or higher rates.
Additionally, for the first time since the state starting using the alert system, Hoke’s local hospitals are seeing moderate impact from the pandemic. Previously the alert system reported low impact.
Vaccination efforts continue, with the Health Department, Cape Fear Valley Health Hoke hospital and FirstHealth of the Carolinas Moore Regional Hoke hospital offering the vaccine to people in Group 1 and Group 2. Anyone 65 or older, and healthcare workers are eligible to get the vaccine, but supplies are limited and providers are offering the shot by appointment only. More vaccine is arriving by shipment each week.
In addition to the state’s allocation of vaccine, the federal government is allocating vaccine doses directly to Walgreens pharmacies to expand the vaccine distribution. About 300 Walgreens pharmacies in North Carolina will begin offering the vaccine by appointment only starting this weekend, but the vaccine is very limited at each store, Cohen said.
Cooper said people in North Carolina can expect to hear soon when the state will expand to offering the vaccine to essential workers.
“This team is working on some precise dates that we’ll be able to give the providers as to when we can move to essential frontline workers, and this week we’ll be giving you that information…we’ll be trying to give that information out as soon as possible,” the governor said.
Hoke County’s Health Department asked the state’s permission a few weeks ago to move on to vaccinating people in Group 3.
The state is still urging vaccine providers to continue to use up all of their weekly supply of vaccine, to make sure the state will continue to get more vaccine supplies from the federal government. Providers are doing a good job of distributing what limited vaccine they’ve been able to receive, NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said this week.
“As of today, more than 1.4 million dose of COVID-19 vaccines have been given in our state,” she said.
The state is also working on more equitable distribution of the vaccine, reaching out to African-American and Latino communities through community health centers and mobile vaccination clinics to inoculate more people, Cohen said.
Where to get the vaccine
Hoke County Health Department: The Health Department is offering a waiting list for people interested in getting the vaccine, with appointments scheduled for people on the waiting list as more vaccine becomes available. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the Health Department at 910-753-4429 or 910-753-4430 to get added to the waiting list. For more local info on COVID-19 and resources, visit https://www.readyhoke.org.
Cape Fear Valley Hoke Hospital: Cape Fear Valley is offering the vaccine by appointment only for people getting the first dose. For an up-to-date listing of information regarding appointments, visit www.capefearvalley.com/COVID19 or the Cape Fear Valley Facebook page at www.facebook/capefearvalley. For more information, call the automated message line at (910) 615-9000.
FirstHealth of the Carolinas Moore Regional – Hoke Hospital: FirstHealth is working directly with primary care providers to schedule vaccine appointments. Go to www.firsthealth.org/shot for the latest availability information, or check with your primary care provider.
State Resources: The state also has information about where to get the vaccine online at http://yourspotyourshot.nc.gov, or call the COVID-19 line at 1-877-490-6642.