Incoming NC college student becomes $1 million vaccine lottery winner as COVID cases rise

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Gov. Roy Cooper announced the third winner of the $1 million lottery drawing Wednesday, part of North Carolina’s effort to convince people to get the COVID-19 vaccine and slow the spread of the pandemic.

Audrey Chavous, an 18-year-old from Winston-Salem, is the state’s latest winner. She is an incoming freshman at Fayetteville State University.

The announcement comes as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to surge — the state reported 3,413 new cases of the virus Wednesday — and officials double down on getting residents vaccinated. The country is grappling with the delta variant, which health experts have warned is more contagious than the chickenpox.

“In the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen a 42% increase in first shots,” Cooper said. “This is positive, but we can’t stop there.”

Cooper repeatedly emphasized Wednesday that vaccines are the best tool the state has available to combat the pandemic. When asked about other measures he would consider — including a statewide mask mandate, nursing home limitations and business shutdowns — he said “all options are on the table,” but reiterated that the state is focusing on increasing vaccinations first.

“Our primary focus is going to be on vaccinations,” he said. “That’s what’s going to get us at the end of the day. We don’t want to do those other things if we don’t have to.”

Tuesday, the state announced a new plan to offer $100 to anyone who gets vaccinated through August at select locations. To help out people with limited transportation options, the state is also paying $25 to anyone who drives someone else to get vaccinated.

As for the $1 million Chavous won, everyone who received a vaccine through Aug. 1 was automatically entered into the $1 million lottery, while those under 18 who got a shot were entered for a chance to win $125,000 scholarship prizes.

There are four drawings for both through the summer, with the fourth winner expected to be drawn Wednesday. The state is still trying to reach the winner of the third scholarship prize, officials said Wednesday.

Chavous said she was stunned when she learned she had won the $1 million and still couldn’t believe it as she spoke at Wednesday’s press conference. She explained why it was important to her to get the vaccine.

“When COVID first became big, it took away my senior year, and I saw how much it affected everyone around me,” Chavous said at the press conference. “Not only did I want to get vaccinated for my own peace of mind, but for everyone around me who could have been affected by COVID.”

She said she will use the money to help pay for her undergraduate and master’s degrees. Chavous plans to study psychology and become a family marriage therapist, she said.

‘Unvaccinated people are driving this resurgence.’

At a press conference last week, Cooper did not reinstate a statewide mask mandate. But he enacted a requirement that some North Carolina state employees in Cabinet agencies show proof of vaccination, or wear masks and be tested regularly for the virus.

He encouraged private employers to enact similar policies, stating the state needed help from the private sector to increase vaccine rates.

“After months of low numbers, our trends have turned sharply in the wrong direction,” Cooper said at the press conference last week. “I want to be clear about why: Unvaccinated people are driving this resurgence and getting themselves and other people sick.”

As of Tuesday, 47% of North Carolina’s total population is fully vaccinated. Children under 12 aren’t eligible for any of the three different vaccines, however, so of the population over 12 years old, around 55% are fully vaccinated.

A News & Observer analysis of vaccine data has showed that wealthier people are more likely to get vaccinated. So the cash offerings are a strategy that state officials hope will convince lower-income people to get their vaccines, too.

Hospitalizations keep climbing in N.C.

As of Wednesday, 1,580 people were hospitalized due to the virus in North Carolina, according to data from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

That’s the highest number of hospitalizations the state has seen since February 22, and the 26th straight day of more hospitalizations than the day before. More than a quarter of adult COVID-19 patients are in intensive care units, the state reported.

The state also saw 12.2% of tests returning positive. The percent positive rate hasn’t been that high since Feb. 1. Health officials have said a rate of 5% or lower is needed to keep the spread of the virus under control.

But despite grim headlines and COVID resurgences across the nation, vaccines have remained effective at preventing serious illness and lowering rates of transmission. Even as hospitalizations have risen dramatically in North Carolina, DHHS said more than 94% of recent cases in the state were among those who are not fully vaccinated against the virus.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that as of July 26 fewer than 0.004% of the more than 163 million people who have been vaccinated in the United States had reported hospitalizations due to breakthrough cases of the virus. And fewer than 0.001% of vaccinated Americans reported deaths from breakthrough cases of the virus.

Still, in some parts of the state, high rates of transmission are coupled with low vaccine numbers.

Earlier Wednesday, roughly 200 people gathered at the state legislature and around the Executive Mansion to rally against mandatory vaccines. They carried signs that read “My body, my choice” and “Forced vax=medical rape,” The News & Observer reported. Some said they are healthcare workers.

Cooper, when asked about the protesters’ message, said “that is so disappointing.”

“If you are a healthcare provider working closely with patients and around patients who are often sick, it’s your responsibility to get a vaccine,” he said.

“I appreciate their ... first amendment right to protest, but I think that these healthcare facilities have made the right call in requiring employees to get vaccinated. And I hope that they will work to get the information and to be convinced that this is the right thing to do not only for themselves and their families but to the patients that they’re supposed to treat and protect.”

Eviction moratorium

The Biden Administration’s new ban on evictions will apply to nearly everyone in North Carolina, Cooper said Wednesday.

The state and federal governments both had an eviction moratorium for much of the pandemic, as a way to prevent people from being made homeless as job losses rose and COVID-19 spread across the country.

Cooper lifted North Carolina’s eviction moratorium at the start of July. But on Tuesday the CDC announced prolonged protections against eviction, which will protect nearly everyone in North Carolina even though the state’s own moratorium is no more.

The federal ban on evictions will last for at least two months, through Oct. 3, in counties with high or substantial spread of Coronavirus. In North Carolina, 96 of the state’s 100 counties fall into those higher risk categories, meaning that landlords will continue facing hurdles if they try to evict their tenants.

The News & Observer reported Tuesday that around 210,000 households are behind on rent statewide. That’s around 5% of the nearly 4 million total households statewide, or around 15% of the total renters statewide, according to Census data.

The federal government has also given states massive amounts of money for rental assistance for those behind on rent, with the goal of easing the financial burdens of the last 18 months on renters and landlords alike. But in North Carolina, despite 210,000 households being behind on rent, millions of dollars for rental assistance are sitting in the bank, untouched.

The N&O reported this week that Wake County alone, for example, got around $33 million to help local residents pay their rent but so far has only handed out around $4.3 million, with the rest unspent. Officials told The N&O that people are simply not asking for the money, and many might not know about it or know whether they qualify.

People in Wake County interested in applying for rental aid can apply at housewake.org, by calling 919-899-9911 or by emailing housing@telamon.org. In Durham County, applications are available at DurhamERAP.dconc.gov.

People in other counties can go to hope.nc.gov or call 888-927-5467 to apply or see if they qualify for the renal assistance money.

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