UNC, Duke doctors share guidance for Cooper's June 1 reopening target date

Governor Cooper's announcement Wednesday to remove most COVID restrictions by June 1 was welcome news to businesses, which have been impacted by the pandemic. However, doctors expressed caution before taking the next step.

"We're still in the midst of a pandemic, and so it does concern me if we go back to normal before we are really back to normal. And just because we will it, doesn't mean it's going to happen. So it's concerning to me that we are maybe going too fast. And I understand the pressure on (Governor Cooper) to do that, and (on) other governors. But yes, I think we need an even more incremental approach before we can really lift all the restrictions," said Dr. David Wohl, a professor of infectious diseases at UNC's School of Medicine.

During the week of April 5, North Carolina providers administered more than 500,000 vaccines for the first time. However, a week later, the number dipped sharply to 390,893 vaccines which is its lowest number since early March.

"While we are vaccinating a lot of people, a lot of those people are getting their second doses," said Wohl of vaccinations at The Friday Center in Chapel Hill.

The week of April 12, North Carolina providers administered 147,295 first-doses, the first time it did not crack 200,000 first shots in a week since mid-February.

"What's been interesting for me to perceive is the change in the patients who I see in the hospital have actually increasingly become people who have not yet had a chance to get a vaccine or chose not to," said Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University School of Medicine.

Gov. Cooper said the state's mask mandate will remain in effect until 2/3 of adults are vaccinated; through Wednesday, 47.5% of adults are at least partially vaccinated.

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"This is our way out of this. This is our way, vaccinations, to move into better economic recovery, to move back into social gatherings in a safe place. And that should get us into the mid-60's percent. By the time you then add that to the number of people who've (been infected and recovered) already, then you really are getting to a place where we would consider herd-immunity," said Dr. Wolfe.
While Dr. Wolfe notes there's plenty of time between now and the June 1 target date, work needs to be done to increase vaccination rates.

"That still requires a lot of people to make a commitment that they are prepared to go out and get vaccinated for their safety and the safety of everyone else in your community. This is not just about you. This is about every one of us doing what is right for our whole community. And that is a selfless act when that happens. But that is the way that we move forward," said Dr. Wolfe.

Both Dr. Wohl and Dr. Wolfe pointed to the COVID situation in Michigan, which has seen a resurgence in cases, as a warning.

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"Look what happened in Michigan. It seems it doesn't take lots and lots of super-spreader events. It could be just a few hockey games or a few gatherings in people's houses where people were not distancing, where people were not wearing masks, and spread occurred. And that really ignited another surge there that filled their hospitals. Remember, we're dealing with a different variant than what we've been dealing with up until recently. The variant we have now circulating is much more catchy, is more infectious. So just because you got away with something before doesn't mean you're going to get away with something now. The variant we have now circulating is much more catchy, is more infectious. So just because you got away with something before doesn't mean you're going to get away with something now," said Dr. Wohl.

The state's metrics have been fairly stable over the past couple of months, though there has been a slight uptick in new cases and positivity rate recently. NCDHHS reports the state has plenty of ventilators available, and 4,820 empty staffed hospital beds, as well as 478 staffed ICU beds.
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