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Gov. Cooper to require booster shots for some state workers

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Governor Roy Cooper Official Twitter

State employees in cabinet agencies will likely soon be required to get a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine to be considered in compliance with an executive order.

On Tuesday, Governor Roy Cooper announced an extension of Executive Order 224, which mandates state employees in cabinet agencies to be fully vaccinated or submit to weekly testing for COVID-19. The extension will include booster shots when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updates its guidelines to include the third dose in its definition of "fully vaccinated."

"There will be a ramp-up time, because we know people need time to get boosters. But already, we are encouraging not only state employees but everybody to get boosters because we know that with this omicron variant, boosters are so much more important," Cooper said during a Tuesday briefing.

In the past few days, North Carolina has recorded the highest counts of new COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, as the more-contagious omicron variant spreads. Nearly 30% of all tests are returning positive, according to newly appointed Health Secretary Kody Kinsley. The Department of Health and Human Services targets a 5% positivity rate.

"Last week, we set a single-day record for COVID-19 cases. The next day we broke it, and the next day, we broke it again," Kinsley said.

While health experts believe the symptoms from the omicron variant to be less severe on average than of previous variants, some of those infected will still experience severe symptoms. Even though a smaller percentage of those infected with omicron will require hospitalization, the sheer volume of infections could still overwhelm hospitals. Across North Carolina, hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have jumped to more than 3,000 — a 73% increase — just since Christmas Day. Kinsley said hospitals are now at 80% capacity, with Intensive Care Units at 85% capacity.

Hospitalizations due to Covid-19 are up sharply across North Carolina
Hospitalizations due to Covid-19 are up sharply across North Carolina. The top bar graph shows total hospitalizations by day, while the bottom bar graph shows new admissions by day.

Worse even, hospitals are running thin on treatment options, he said.

"I want to remind everyone that treatment is extremely limited across the country, because supply is limited per federal guidance, treatments will be used for those at highest risk of severe disease. And the best treatment is prevention, so get your vaccination or booster if you are eligible now."

In contrast to newly approved treatments, vaccinations are free and widely available across the state. Early studies show that boosters greatly increase the immune response and provide greater protection against the omicron variant. The booster is especially important for those over 65 or in other populations at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Testing and masking provide additional layers of protection, and the state is giving away thousands of surgical or procedure masks, as well as KN95 or N95 masks to people in high-risk settings, including long-term care facilities, schools, and in populations like migrant farm workers.

"Testing and wearing a mask are essential tools in slowing the spread of COVID-19," Kinsley said. "But the bottom line is that vaccines and boosters are the number one thing you can do to protect your health."

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