Vehicles were lined up Wednesday in Sanford for a COVID-19 vaccination event at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center.

Citing an increasing number of COVID-19 cases, Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday announced that the Stay At Home Order will be extended for three weeks.

The mandate that was first issued Dec. 8 requires residents to stay home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and leaves intact the mask mandate, the closing of indoor bars and limits on mass gatherings and retail store capacities.

“In North Carolina, we have seen some of our highest case counts,% positives, hospitalizations and ICU bed usage numbers in the past few days,” Cooper said during a televised news conference.

On Wednesday, 6,952 new cases of the coronavirus were reported statewide, bringing the total number since March to 582,348, Cooper said. Hospitalizations totaled 3,893 and 7,076 people have died of COVID-19, he said.

All but four counties in North Carolina are now considered to have critical or substantial spread of the virus, he said.

The emphasis now is on getting the vaccine to hospitals and health departments, according to Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Getting the vaccine out quickly is the most urgent priority right now,” Cooper said, “and we will use everything and everyone needed to get the job done.”

In Sanford on Wednesday, vehicles lined Nash Street at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center where Lee County Health Department workers administered the vaccine to those eligible, which includes healthcare employees working directly with COVID-19 patients and anyone 75 or older.

About 50 members of the N.C. National Guard have been activated and will work with the NCDHHS and the state Emergency Management to distribute the vaccine.

Some National Guard members can administer vaccines and others will support logistics, planning and work with local health departments and providers to enter data in the state tracking system, Cooper said.

There have been reports of people who have refused the vaccine, Cooper said, but he said it’s safe, having been tested multiple times on thousands of people.

“The vaccine will eventually be our best medical weapon against this deadly pandemic,” he said.

The metrics used to track the coronavirus around the state have increased substantially, especially since November, Cohen said.

“The numbers paint a difficult picture,” Cooper said. “COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly. We’re at a critical point in our fight against the virus.”