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.