News: Quick Takes

Cooper pushes aside presidential rumors as Cohen, in likely final news conference, pushes masks, vaccines

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen at a May 2020 COVID-19 briefing. (Pool photo)
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen at a May 2020 COVID-19 briefing. (Pool photo)

Dr. Mandy Cohen, alongside Gov. Roy Cooper, on Tuesday, Dec. 14, gave what will likely be her last briefing on the coronavirus.

Cohen’s message carried similar themes expressed since the vaccines became available, first to health care workers, exactly one year ago.

“Vaccines and boosters protect you,” she said.

North Carolina has since administered 12 million doses and 2 million boosters, Cooper said. Some 73% of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, as well as some 62% of residents 5 and older. Cases are rising, but that’s mostly attributable to colder weather, which keeps people indoors, and Thanksgiving gatherings. As of Tuesday, 9.2% of COVID tests in the state were positive, consistently above the 5% goal since November, Cohen said. All but four of the state’s 100 counties are in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s so-called red zone, indicating high rates of transmission.

But, Cohen said, “Almost all hospitalizations and deaths are among people who aren’t vaccinated.”

Omicron, the latest variant, was detected in Charlotte, though, Cohen says, there are almost certainly more cases now. “I’m concerned about our younger population. They’re the least vaccinated, and it’s where we see our highest number of cases.”

Cohen said the booster appears to provide added protection against omicron, and, as usual, she called on people to get vaccinated, tested, and to wear masks, even as more and more people are getting weary of COVID and the state’s perpetual state of emergency.

“Everyone should be wearing a mask when in public, indoor places,” Cohen said,

She and Cooper did, however, stop short of calling for mask mandates and the like, even as media members peppered them with questions, seemingly trying to prod officials toward more restrictions and suppressions.

“We are in a different place this year,” Cohen said, referring to a better understanding of the virus and vaccines. As of Tuesday, 1,575 people were hospitalized with COVID, according to the health department, with 439 patients in intensive care.

“I am still worried about our hospital capacity,” Cohen said. “There’s a lot of strain on our hospitals, and we need to remain vigilant. But we have tools.”

Cohen announced last month her resignation as secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Cooper quickly appointed Kody Kinsley, chief deputy secretary for health and leader of COVID operations, to succeed Cohen starting Jan. 1.

Cohen, 43, has led North Carolina’s operational response to COVID-19, including hospital, testing, and tracing capacities. She has been Cooper’s top policy adviser on the pandemic.

Kinsley doesn’t have a background in medicine but has significant experience in mental and behavioral health, which, Cooper said, should continue to be a focus for care as the pandemic continues. 

Cohen on Tuesday again said she has no plans to seek public office or, further, work in the Biden administration

Cooper encouraged people to sign up for the national health care plan, as the deadline is approaching, and asked people to consider reaching out and donating to the victims of the recent deadly tornadoes in Kentucky and other states in the South and Midwest.

He brushed aside questions about a possible run for president in 2024, however. Cooper made news recently when national media intimated that, though he supports President Biden, he may consider a run as well. Cooper said his plans include remaining governor for the remainder of his term and focusing on issues important to the state.

In responding to a question from a reporter Tuesday, Cooper took another shot at Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who is in the media crosshairs for comments during a church address about gay people.

“He does not speak for North Carolinians,” Cooper said of Robinson. “That hateful language does not speak to who we are as North Carolinians.”