As the numbers of COVID-19 cases continue to climb statewide, Gov. Roy Cooper stressed the importance of the vaccine and urged local officials to set a good example when it comes to wearing masks and fighting the pandemic.
“Words matter,” Cooper said. “People listen to leaders and often follow their calls and imitate their actions. As the death toll from this pandemic continues to increase, our leaders must listen to science, focus on the facts, and tell the truth with their words and the examples that they set. More people could be alive today but for dangerous falsehoods that have been spread about the critical importance of masks, social distancing, and other common sense safety rules.”
Nationwide, the number of COVID-19 deaths reported daily peaked Thursday when 4,085 deaths were reported in 24 hours. In North Carolina, there are 635,975 cases, 3,940 people in the hospital and 7,638 people who have died from COVID-19, Cooper said. Since yesterday, 6,851 new cases have been reported.
“The virus is everywhere,” Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said Tuesday, citing the 14.7% positivity rate. “We cannot let down our guard. North Carolinians should stay home.”
Cohen said that NCDHHS staff are working hard to distribute COVID-19 vaccines as quickly as possible but that supplies are “severely limited.” The state’s first priority was to ensure that all 100 counties had a supply of the virus, even if it was only 100 shots per week. Now, the state is looking at if local health departments can effectively distribute the vaccine.
“If they can’t, we want to find out how we can support them to be successful,” Cohen said. “I think everyone shares a sense of urgency to vaccinate as quickly as possible.”
One of the issues with getting the vaccine out is shifting guidance from the federal government, according to Cooper. He said that on a phone call with Vice President Mike Pence and the White House Coronavirus Task Force, staff introduced the idea of next giving the vaccine to people age 65-74. Cooper said the state will examine that recommendation.
“We are particularly concerned about people who are turning down the vaccine who are staffing our long-term healthcare facilities,” Cooper said. “It’s one of the reasons our department is getting out the public service announcements you just saw and working at the grassroots level to raise trust.”
The state is also seeing a higher rate of people declining to take the vaccine in African American and Hispanic communities, Cohen said. She emphasized that people should be aware that the vaccine has been tested and is safe and effective.
“We know it is the way we are going to beat back this pandemic,” she said.
A line of cars equal to the length of 22 football fields stretched out from the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center on Tuesday as people waited in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
From the civic center on Nash Street to Shallow Well Church on Broadway Road, vehicles were bumper to bumper. Traffic came to a standstill in some places as hundreds of eager Lee County residents waited to receive their inoculation against the coronavirus. The virus has proved deadly to 45 people in Lee County and 7,638 statewide, most over the age of 75.
The city issued a notice early Tuesday warning people of traffic jams on Main Street between Horner Boulevard and the U.S. 421 bypass. Heavy traffic will likely reappear on Main Street as the county distributes vaccines on other days.
Nanci Donald, 78, said it was “absolutely” worth the wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine. As she approached the front of the line, she said getting the vaccine means “just being able to get some normalcy back.”
“I don’t have a fear of it,” Donald said. “I don’t consider it any different than when we had to take the flu shot.”
Donald’s friend, 78-year-old Bud Hunter, said he also was looking forward to getting the vaccination.
“I think it takes away some of the fear of going out in public,” Hunter said. “I’ve got a grandkid playing basketball now, and I kind of backed off going to the ball games due to COVID. Now, if I had the shots, I would go.”
That sentiment was repeated by several others waiting in the line. They said getting the vaccine would be a relief, that they were glad to be eligible for the shot and that the potentially life-saving medicine was worth the wait.
“If they’re willing to do this for us, the least we can do is wait for it,” Pat Mansfield said as she waited in the line.
The Lee County Health Department began registering eligible people for COVID-19 vaccines earlier this month. The department is distributing the vaccine via a drive-thru clinic — people drive through the civic center parking lot to verify registration, get the shot and then wait 10 minutes to see if there are any adverse reactions.
“We can get more people through (the line) with this setup,” said Jamie Brown, county spokeswoman. “This is the most efficient way. Right now our priority is, with the vaccine we have, vaccinating as many people who want it as quickly as possible.”
The task of vaccinating thousands of people in Lee County falls on the health department staff, with many employees pulling triple duty as they give vaccinations, test people for COVID-19 and work on contact tracing, Brown said. The department expected to vaccinate about 800 people Tuesday, she said.
“This is a massive operation. We understand that folks are frustrated or they want it to go faster, but we are working as quickly as we can,” Brown said.
“A lot of folks are starting to ask, ‘Well, when is my group gonna to get to go?’ And the reality is we can’t give a good time frame, because a lot of it depends on, one, of those who are eligible, how many choose to get vaccinated? The other piece is that there’s still a limited supply of vaccine. We can only work with what is provided to us.”
Some people believe reading the Bible from cover to cover is an achievement. If so, then Jimmie Coggin is an over-achiever.
Coggin, 86, a Sanford resident, has read the Bible through each year since 1975. On Jan. 1, he embarked on his 47th reading of the Word of God.
“I wanted to read from Genesis 1 to the last word of Revelation,” Coggin said Tuesday.
Coggin grew up in Grace Chapel Church, where his parents were members. Throughout the years, he served the church as a Sunday school teacher, Sunday school superintendent and a deacon, he said. He began reading the Bible in 1975, but was having difficulty making his way through the Old Testament.
“I attempted to read it several times and I would get bogged down in Deuteronomy and some of the Old Testament, I and II Chronicles,” Coggin said.
But in March of that year, he was hospitalized with double pneumonia for 33 days. That gave him time to get through the Old Testament books and Coggin said he finished it. Each year since, on Jan. 1, he begins with the first verse of the Book of Genesis and on Dec. 31 ends with the last word of Revelation, he said.
“I think it’s a good habit,” Coggin said. “I had it on cassette tape and CDs and now I have an app.”
Coggin tries to read the New Testament twice a year, but tackles the Old Testament just once.
“I like Psalms and Proverbs, and Hebrews is my favorite in the New Testament, especially Chapter 13,” he said.
That chapter includes lessons on Christian behavior.
In 1983, Coggin joined Gideons International, a faith-based organization of business and professional men and women who spread the God’s Word throughout the world. The Gideons are best known for handing out pocket-size New Testament Bibles.
Coggin traveled across the country and went to Puerto Rico, standing on sidewalks and street corners and handing out the readings in what is known as a Bible blitz. He recalled one incident in New York City, when he handed a Bible to a man.
“He turned around and said, ‘My life’s a mess and I need God,’ ” Coggin said. “I asked him what his name was and he said Peter.”
Coggin said he then signed the Bible, also writing a variation of John 3:16, “God so loved Peter, that he gave his only begotten son for him.”
Coggin said doesn’t get bored reading the Bible each year. Each time, he finds something he missed in his earlier readings, he said.
“There’s always something that jumps out at you,” he said.
Coggin’s Bible is his most precious treasure, behind only his wife, Peggy, according to Ramona Willett, one of the couple’s three children.
“When he would share a Bible with people, he told them it was a GPS. It tells you where you’re at, where you’re going and how to get there,” Willett said.
GPS, in this case, is God’s Plan of Salvation, she added. When Coggin is buried, Willett said, it will be with his Bible.
“I’m ready,” Coggin said with a smile on his face.
“He’s set a good example and good footprints for us to follow,” Willett said.
Two of the four economic development projects officials were trying to lure to Sanford and Lee County have chosen other locations.
“The other two are still active,” Jimmy Randolph, chief executive officer for the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, said Tuesday.
He announced the developments Monday at a joint meeting of Sanford, Lee County and Broadway officials.
The largest of the four projects, Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies, has chosen the Research Triangle Park area where its home office is located, Randolph said.
Fujifilm announced its decision last week, he said.
Fujifilm would have brought a $1.8 billion taxable investment and about 700 news jobs with an average wage of $110,000.
The second company, Taysha Gene Therapies, based in Dallas, has decided to locate its expanded operation in Durham, Randolph said.
SAGA officials said Taysha would provide at least $75 million in taxable investment and 200 jobs with an average wage of $100,000.
“We were very disappointed we’re not still in the game here,” Randolph said, although he noted the county is still being considered for two other development projects.
One is a building products manufacturer, which is projected to create 300 new jobs with an annual wage of $46,500 over five years, according to SAGA. It would provide at least $7.5 million in investment.
The other is a life-science manufacturer that would provide at least $75 million in taxable investment and 200 jobs.
Randolph also updated Sanford and Lee County representatives on the search to replace Michael Smith, SAGA’s economic developer director. Smith said they plan to begin advertising for the position Friday and hope to hire someone by mid-March.
Smith has been chosen as president of Chatham County Economic Development Corp. He will be moving into that position later this month.