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County, state officials work to increase vaccinations as concern over Delta variant grows

SALISBURY — As COVID-19 cases continue a downward trajectory in Rowan County, vaccination rates are still lagging behind.

Over the previous two weeks, Rowan County reported 99 new COVID-19 cases, according North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services data. The county reported just six new positives on Tuesday. The number of local deaths attributed to COVID-19 remains at 311 after the passing of Salisbury Police Sgt. Shane Karriker last week.

The state of North Carolina added just 362 new cases Thursday, which is a significant decline from the 12,079 cases reported in one day on February 3 — the highest number reported in a 24-hour span during the pandemic.

Even with COVID-19 case numbers declining, state and local health leaders are ramping up efforts to encourage North Carolinians to get their shots.

About 40,653 people are fully vaccinated in Rowan County, which is just 29% of the county’s population. About 43,966 people in the county who have received at least one dose. The numbers don’t include people who have been vaccinated at the Salisbury VA, which would increase the number of vaccinated people by 5,536 to 46,189.

About 4.32 million North Carolina residents have been fully vaccinated.

“While our COVID-19 trends are good, we are still seeing unvaccinated people hospitalized and dying from this virus, and many struggling with long-term effects like having difficulty breathing when doing simple activities. This is preventable if you get a vaccine to protect yourself and your community,” NCDHHS Services Secretary Mandy K. Cohen said in a news release.

The state is making a push to increase vaccination rates as worry grows about the Delta variant of COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week classified Delta as a “variant of concern” because it spreads faster than other current COVID-19 variants. The variant has been particularly prevalent in the United Kingdom. The COVID-19 vaccine, Rowan Health Director Alyssa Harris said, could keep that number from growing.

“We are seeing protection from the Delta variant holding with our current vaccines,” Harris said. “We know that deaths due to COVID continue in our community. More than ever, these are now in the realm of preventable illness and deaths because we have these vaccines to help boost immunity. More variants, and possibly worse variants, can emerge when there are people available to contract COVID and give it a chance to mutate and spread to others.”

As an extra incentive to improve vaccination rates, North Carolina has implemented a $1 million cash drawing to reward four randomly selected people who get the shot from now until August 4. People between the ages of 12-17 who get the vaccine will be entered into a drawing to win one of four $125,000 prizes that can be used at any post-secondary institution. 

The first drawing for the cash prizes will be held on June 23, with additional drawings held every other Wednesday until August 4. Anyone who gets their first shot before then will have their names entered in the drawing twice.

The state is also offering $25 summer cash cards to those who are vaccinated and the person who provides them transportation to and from the vaccine clinic. Rowan County is one of several piloting the cash card program.

“We have seen a small bump due to the $25 cards,” Harris said. “We are continuing to assess, but I can share that due to the success of the program NCDHHS is considering expanding the program to other counties. Locally, we saw a jump of seven to 60 appointments in one day during the first week at one location.”

In addition to ramping up vaccination efforts, the state of North Carolina has also made it easier for people to get tested for the virus.

The DHHS recently expanded the availability of its at-home COVID-19 test collection program. Any North Carolina resident can now have a Pixel COVID-19 PCR test kit provided by Labcorp shipped overnight directly to their homes at no cost. 

The test kits can be requested by people 18 and older online or through community partner organizations. Parents or guardians of residents under 18 can request a kit for those aged 2-17.

The Pixel kit includes test supplies, instructions and prepaid shipping materials to make the specimen return process easy and convenient. Results are typically provided within 24 to 48 hours after the lab receives the specimen. Test results can be accessed by the individual via the Pixel by Labcorp website.

The at-home testing program was piloted by the state earlier this year and initially provided kits to North Carolinians who receive Food and Nutrition Services and those with disabilities. Having had a successful pilot run, the program is now open to anyone who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and those who are symptomatic.

More information can be found online at www.pixel.labcorp.com/nc. Supplies may be limited.



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