BY ROY COOPER
RALEIGH — When I announced North Carolina had its first known COVID case on March 3, most of us didn’t expect to be living like this in December. Instead of preparing for beloved holiday traditions, we’re making virtual gathering plans and mourning the loss of more than 290,000 Americans from COVID-19.
As tough as this is, especially at the holidays, the sacrifices we’re making now will ensure that our loved ones can gather again at next year’s Thanksgiving and Christmas tables.
Our COVID-19 numbers are dire, and we need North Carolinians to take this virus seriously. A month ago, daily case counts above 3,000 were troubling. Recently, we’ve had several days with more than 6,000 new daily cases. Hospitals and health care workers are feeling the strain. More than 80 percent of North Carolina counties have been designated as red or orange, meaning their community spread is way too high.
Until vaccines are widely available, we have a few tools that we know can keep people safe while also boosting our economy — wearing our masks, staying socially distant and keeping any gatherings small and outdoors, or better yet, online.
We have put in place a new, modified Stay-at-Home Order that requires people to be home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. This builds on strong safety protocols like the mask requirement and capacity limits we already have in place, and we will continue watching our trends to see if more is needed.
We don’t want to implement tighter restrictions. Too many small businesses and families are struggling to make ends meet as it is. They need significantly more financial support from the federal government, and I’ve repeatedly urged Congress and the president to pass a stimulus package that helps families and businesses before 2020 ends.
But our top priority will always be saving lives. We’ll do what’s necessary to protect North Carolinians and make sure anyone who needs a hospital or ICU bed gets one, whether it’s to treat COVID-19 or a heart attack.
Advances in vaccine technology and concentrated efforts by our scientists have given us hope that new vaccines will get us to the other side of this pandemic.
North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services has been working hard for months to develop a vaccine distribution plan so we can hit the ground running once vaccines arrive. Quantities will be limited at first, but trusted hospitals and health care providers will be ready to vaccinate priority populations — those who are at-risk of exposure like health care workers and North Carolinians at risk of severe illness.
I have confidence in this process and plan to roll up my sleeve when it’s my turn to get the vaccine.
But for now, we have to work together and tap into the resiliency that defines our state. Whether it’s helping our neighbors rebuild after a hurricane or coming together to support our loved ones who are most vulnerable to this virus, North Carolinians are best at looking out for each other when times are tough.
That spirit is still in us, no matter how tired or frustrated we are. Dig deep and don’t let weariness win. Together we will beat this thing.
Roy Cooper is the governor of North Carolina.