By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Newly released vaccination numbers from the United States Department of Defense (DOD), when added to state totals, show that 41 percent of Hoke County residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. About 46 percent have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
With concerns over the Delta variant and the number of new confirmed cases on the rise, health officials are pushing toward the next goal of getting even more Hoke residents vaccinated.
For months North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) data showed Hoke lagging behind other North Carolina counties in COVID-19 vaccinations. However, local health officials believed the actual numbers were higher. The newly included data from the DOD increased the county’s vaccination rate by about 20 percentage points.
So far 25,324 people in Hoke County have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, or about 46 percent of the population, according to the NCDHHS updated data. A total of 22,606 people in the county, or about 41 percent, are considered fully vaccinated.
NCDHHS representatives confirmed that previous vaccine numbers didn’t include active-duty service members, veterans or their families who may have been vaccinated through the DOD’s program. The DOD uses its own vaccine management system and until recently, didn’t share those numbers with the state.
When the DOD initially released its vaccination data, it caused some counties with a large military-connected population – like Cumberland and Onslow – to show much higher vaccination rates. Although Hoke County didn’t see a jump at that time, the new round of data brought the county on par with most of its neighbors and even higher than some. With the most recent update, Hoke is no longer shown at the bottom of the vaccination rankings for North Carolina counties.
The county is still seeing a high level of community transmission, according to health officials. Hoke saw an increase in the percent of positive COVID-19 tests from June through the end of July, according to figures from the Health Department.
In the week of June 20, 12 out of 277 COVID-19 tests, or 4.3 percent came back positive. In the week of July 18, 92 out of 560 tests came back positive – about 16.4 percent. The state’s goal is to keep the amount of positive tests to five percent or less.
The county has seen 309 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the last two weeks, including 183 new cases in the past seven days. Hoke has seen a total of 5,427 cases since the start of the pandemic, and 56 deaths.
Hoke County Health Department Director Helene Edwards said the department is working toward an immediate goal this week of getting 50 percent of county residents vaccinated.
The Hoke County Health Department is holding free testing and vaccination sites this month.
Optum Serve, an NCDHHS vendor, holds free drive-thru COVID-19 testing outside the Hoke County Health Department from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays. People receive their results within 48 to 72 hours after sample collection.
The health department can also provide people with a home COVID-19 test. The Pixel test is a PCR at-home test. The person registers the test kit online, collects the sample for testing and sends the specimen in a pre-paid mailer to LabCorp. The results are available within 48 to 72 hours. For more information on COVID-19 testing, contact the Health Department at (910) 875-3717.
Multiple providers are offering the COVID-19 vaccine for people age 12 and up. The Health Department is holding several mobile testing and vaccination clinics this week, including at Upchurch Elementary School, 730 Turnpike Road, on August 12 from 9 a.m.-noon; and at the 211 sports complex at 3195 Red Springs Road on August 14 from 9 a.m.-noon.
The county is participating in the Bring Back Summer Incentives Program for people 18 years old and older. Adult COVID-19 vaccine recipients will receive $100 for first doses and non-commercial transporters will receive $25 (one per vaccine trip). The incentives program ends August 31.
People can also walk in to the health department from Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. for vaccination against COVID-19.
Other local providers include Dr. Karen Smith’s office, the Walmart pharmacy and Cape Fear Valley Health. FirstHealth of the Carolinas primary care providers can also assist patients in getting vaccinated.
For more information, contact the health department or visit www.readyhoke.org.
Additionally, both local hospitals, FirstHealth of the Carolinas and Cape Fear Valley Hoke campus, have put visitor restriction policies in place after lifting them earlier in the pandemic. Visitors or those accompanying patients should check with the hospital for the latest updates.