RALEIGH — Governor Roy Cooper announced May 14 that all mandatory capacity and gathering limits, social distancing requirements and most mandatory mask requirements will be lifted effective immediately.

Cooper said most indoor or outdoor settings in the state will no longer require people to wear a mask or be socially distant.

“Because of our strong safety protocols, vaccines and the hard work of North Carolinians, we have been able to slow the spread of this virus and reduce deaths when other states saw surges in their cases,” Cooper said. “It’s good that our metrics are stable or declining.”

Previous limits included indoor mass gathering limits of 100 people and outdoor mass gathering limited at 200 people.

According to new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines guidelines, fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.

Cooper said CDC guidance affirms that getting vaccinated is the way through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need to reach all of them to turn the corner on this pandemic once and for all, Cooper said. “North Carolinians have shown that we have resolve and the compassion to do what’s needed, even when times get hard. If we keep doing that, we’ll get through this.”

More information on the CDC guidelines can be found by clicking to www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated-guidance.html.

“I have a message for people who have not been vaccinated, and especially those who will choose not to wear a mask: get vaccinated now,” Cooper said. “If you don’t listen to me, ask your doctor and do what your doctor tells you.”

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said masks are strongly recommended for everyone regardless of vaccination status in large crowded indoor events like sporting events and live performances.

“Now, businesses may choose to continue to require that their customers wear masks,” Cohen said. “For example, we’re hearing that places like Starbucks and Home Depot will keep their policies mandating shoppers and employees wearing masks.”

Cooper also said that local governments and businesses can still require masks, but he said most local governments have been aligned with the state for most of this pandemic.

Cohen added that the best protection is to get vaccinated.

“Just under half of North Carolinian adults are not vaccinated,” Cohen said. “We still want to reach our goal of two-thirds of North Carolinians 18 and older with at least one vaccine, that’s when we believe we will have enough protection across our community to be able to live more safely with this virus.”

Cooper said that the lifting of restrictions is placing more personal responsibility in the hands of North Carolinians.

The Avery County Health Department and the Baker Clinic at Cannon Memorial Hospital have announced that first dose COVID-19 vaccines are now available for anyone ages 16 and up.

Appointments can be made by calling the health department at (828) 733-8273 or the Baker Center at (828) 737-7711. The health department is located at 545 Schultz Circle in Newland and will be offering vaccines Monday to Friday. The Baker Center is located at 436 Hospital Drive, Suite 230 in Linville and will offer vaccines from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. on Saturdays.

The next mass vaccination clinic is scheduled for Thursday, May 20. The mobile clinics will be set up at Linville Land Harbor from 9 a.m. to noon at 22 Land Harbor Plaza in Newland before moving on to the Elk River Club from 1 to 4 p.m. at 15 Clubhouse Drive in Banner Elk. To schedule an appointment, call (828) 733-8273.

The county reminds patients to bring their insurance cards and wear appropriate clothing for ease of access to the upper arm. Masks are required. Free transportation to the clinic is available through Avery County Transportation for Avery County residents. Call (828) 733-0005 to arrange transportation.

COVID-19 testing is now available at the Avery County Health Department on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. No appointments are needed for a test.

Area and state vaccine statistics

Approximately 51.2 percent of all adults age 18 and older have received both rounds of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to statistics from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services as of Monday, May 17.

The organization reports that more than 7.77 million total doses of vaccine have been administered in the state as of May 17, noting that of individuals 65 years of age and older, 78.9 percent of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 75.4 percent have received their full allotment. Of individuals 18 and older, 51.2 percent of residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine administration, with 45.9 percent completely vaccinated.

Locally, NCDHHS data indicates that Avery County has administered a total of 6,406 first doses of vaccine, or 36.5 percent of Avery County residents who have received their first-dose vaccine as of May 17, with 33.5 percent of the overall county population, or 5,887 individuals, having received a second-dose vaccination.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services on May 13 updated the COVID-19 County Alert System. According to the report, none of North Carolina’s counties are currently red. There are 19 orange counties, 56 yellow counties, 24 light yellow counties, and one green counties. In comparison, the previous report posted April 29 showed no red counties, 30 orange counties, 56 yellow counties, 14 light yellow counties, and no green counties.

To slow the spread of the virus, people should get vaccinated and continue adherence to the 3Ws until most people have a chance to get vaccinated. Regardless of what tier your county is currently in, individuals, businesses, community organizations and public officials all have a responsibility to take these recommended actions and others outline in the County Alert System.

The COVID-19 County Alert System gives individuals, businesses and community organizations, and public officials a tool to understand how their county is faring and to make decisions about actions to take slow the spread of the virus. The level of risk and its color classification is determined by multiple factors, including new cases in the county per 100,000 residents over the previous 14-day period, the percent of COVID-19 tests coming back positive, and the hospital impact within each county.

Click to https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/vaccines for more information on vaccines and vaccine distribution statewide, and to learn more about North Carolina’s vaccine rollout, click to YourSpotYourShot.nc.gov.

Local, state and national statistics

As of Monday, May 17, according to available dashboard data from the NCDHHS, the total number of coronavirus cases rose statewide to 989,338 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

NCDHHS reports that 12,862 people have passed away in connection with COVID-19, including 72 North Carolinians who have died related to the virus over the previous seven-day period.

NCDHHS reported on May 17 that Avery County has 2,128 total positive community cases. The department reports Avery with 20 deaths associated with the virus.

According to NCDHHS Dashboard data on May 17, Avery reports 19 cases per 10,000 residents over the previous 14-day period, In comparison, Mitchell County reports 34 cases per 10,000 residents, while Yancey County reports 19 cases per 10,000 residents. Watauga County reports 20 cases per 10,000 residents, while Ashe County reports 17 cases per 10,000 residents during the same 14-day period.

“Public health staff is working to complete the investigations and they are contacting close contacts to contain the spread of disease,” TRHD reported. “The Yancey, Mitchell and Avery County health departments will keep the public informed by announcing any additional cases that may arise through our local media partners.”

According to latest NCDHHS Dashboard data on May 17, Mitchell County reported a total of 1,456 positive cases and 16 deaths. NCDHHS reports Yancey County with 1,623 total cases as of May 17 with 28 deaths.

Nationwide, Johns Hopkins University & Medicine reports more than 163.1 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with the U.S. totaling 32.94 million cases in the nation as of May 17. Johns Hopkins reports that the United States has experienced 585,986 deaths related to COVID-19 as of May 17.

The N.C. State Laboratory of Public Health, reporting hospitals and commercial labs report more than 12.84 million completed tests as of Monday, May 17, according to NCDHHS.

The estimate of people presumed to have recovered from the virus as of May 17 is more than 963,539 statewide, with the estimate provided each Monday afternoon by NCDHHS. NCDHHS estimates a median time to recovery of 14 days from the date of specimen collection for non-fatal COVID-19 cases who were not hospitalized, or if hospitalization status is unknown. The estimated median recovery time is 28 days from the date of specimen collection for hospitalized non-fatal COVID-19 cases.

In neighboring counties, Watauga County reports 4,698 positive tests, with eight active cases and 31 deaths among residents, while Ashe County reports 2,240 positive cases, with 13 active cases and 44 deaths as of May 17, according to AppHealthCare data.

Caldwell County reports 9,364 positive tests as of May 17 with 104 deaths, while Wilkes County has 6,678 reported cases and 113 deaths, according to NCDHHS Dashboard data.

NCDHHS reports McDowell County with 5,230 cases and 63 deaths. Burke County reports 9,990 cases and 153 deaths attributed to the virus, according to NCDHHS.

In Tennessee, Johnson County reports 2,419 cases with 39 deaths, while Carter County reports 6,662 cases and 158 deaths as of May 17 according to statistics from the Tennessee Department of Health.

Statewide, the top four counties reporting total positive cases are Mecklenburg County (112,120), Wake County (87,676), Guilford County (47,588) and Forsyth County (35,861), the sum of which comprises 28.6 percent of all confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in North Carolina, according to May 17 NCDHHS statistics. NCDHHS data reveals that only seven of North Carolina’s 100 counties report less than 1,000 total positive COVID-19 cases.

The reported testing numbers could be incomplete due to differences in reporting from health departments and other agencies. Sources include Toe River Health District, AppHealthCare, NCDHHS, Caldwell County Health Department and Tennessee Department of Health.

Updated news and information on the coronavirus pandemic and the state’s response can be found by clicking to covid19.ncdhhs.gov/dashboard.

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