GREENSBORO, N.C. — North Carolina has seen some progress recently in its battle against COVID-19. Hospitalizations have decreased and vaccination rates have increased according to officials with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
However, they have said that progress is coming slower than they would have liked.
That's why the state has taken steps to ramp up plans to move the vaccination process forward at a faster pace.
NCDHHS Secretary, Dr. Mandy Cohen said even though the state has vaccinated more than half a million people, it could still take months for a majority of the population to get vaccinated.
"We will always have a supply of second doses on hand to ensure everyone gets their shots but those first doses need to get off the shelf and giving to people each and every week," Dr. Cohen said.
State health officials said while COVID-19 vaccination rates improved slightly, there are still challenges.
To help boost vaccination rates and access for marginalized communities, the NC Department of Transportation would give $2.5 million in relief funds to local transit authorities to help get people to vaccination sites.
"The state is aiding these local efforts by offering support with data entry or event planning coordination across communities, with players pairing volunteers and workforce such as vaccinators, registration assistance, help to answer phones and to inform people about vaccines," Dr. Cohen said.
Cohen also reported 99% of counties are in red or orange zones on the county alert map, but cases and percent positive are stabilizing. They said 86 counties are in the critical viral spread/red zone, which is up from 84 two weeks ago. There are 13 counties in the substantial spread/orange zone, which is up from 12, she said.
Though not yet in the state, health experts have started raising awareness about a more transmissible mutation of COVID-19.
"B117 will likely take over as a predominant virus here in the United States by the end of March, the CDC thinks and it just means it's going to be the color of the virus going around at that time," said Dr. Christopher Ohl, Wake Forest Baptist Health.
Medical experts and researchers are monitoring its impact on the vaccine.
"All the companies that are making the vaccine are doing the early experiments and are getting ready to change that messenger RNA in the vaccine if they need to. They're already jumping ahead of that," Dr. Ohl said.
The health experts have warned that there is still a lot of viral spread in North Carolina and not enough vaccines to go around.
They have urged folks to keep following the health guidelines and COVID-19 safety protocols like wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing, and avoiding gatherings.