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Gov. Cooper: 'We must get these trends turned around,' even with COVID-19 vaccine

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said the state's COVID-19 trends remain high and encouraged people to wear masks until the vaccine is widely available.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Just one day after North Carolina began receiving shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Roy Cooper updated the state's response to the pandemic Tuesday afternoon. 

Vaccines developed by Pfizer began arriving at 11 hospital systems within the state Monday. Healthcare workers are the first in line to receive the vaccines. 

Cooper called Monday's arrival of the vaccine "a remarkable achievement for science and health."

"We all need to keep wearing a mask and acting responsibly while we get as many people vaccinated as fast as we can," Cooper tweeted Monday. 

Tuesday's briefing was the first time Cooper has spoken publicly since the arrival of the vaccine in North Carolina.

He acknowledged the achievement of vaccines arriving in North Carolina but urged people to continue taking the virus seriously. 

"Our numbers are still too high, and the vaccine can’t yet have a significant effect," Cooper said. "We must get these trends turned around. Seeing vaccinations underway gives us hope at the end of a hard year. But this virus continues to be extremely contagious and deadly."

Cooper said the three North Carolina hospitals received shipments of the vaccine Monday, and an additional eight received shipments Tuesday. Another 42 are set to receive shipments on Thursday.

Cooper said if the Moderna vaccine is authorized by an independent committee of the FDA on Thursday, North Carolina can expect 175,000 doses of that vaccine next week.

On Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services reported 5,236 new COVID-19 cases. That number was the largest day-over-day increase (by 182 patients) since the pandemic began.  The state's COVID-19 case numbers are now nearing 6,000 new cases a day on average. 

Hospitalizations are still at their peak, climbing to 2,735 statewide. So far, North Carolina has reported 446,601 total cases with 5,881 deaths.

As Cooper urged continued caution, he asked people to "re-think what it means to celebrate this December," saying the state is now seeing the Thanksgiving COVID-19 spike, and more holiday travel could make things worse. 

Cooper and Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen both said if you must gather in person this holiday season, do it with COVID precautions in place -- and get tested first.

"A negative test doesn’t give you a free pass, it just makes it safer," Cooper said. "You still need to wear a mask, stay outdoors and practice social distancing in case you contracted the virus after you got tested."

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North Carolina health officials have outlined a four-phase plan for vaccinations in the state.  Phase one includes hospital and healthcare workers. 

The second phase of vaccinations will include front-line workers, school staff, and those who are over the age of 65 or are considered high risk. 

Once those populations are vaccinated, phase three will launch, covering all essential workers and students.

And finally phase four, which will include the remaining population, an estimated 3.6 million to 4 million people.

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Experts say the vaccine won't be readily available to the general public until the second quarter of 2021, but Cohen urges everyone to get the vaccine as soon as it is available to them.  

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