Nearly 190 coronavirus-related deaths have been linked to Moore County since the start of the pandemic, according to an updated tally released Wednesday by the local health department.
For months, the department’s official count of COVID-19 deaths lagged behind the number of fatal infections recorded on death certificates, making it difficult for residents to know the true toll of the pandemic. The Moore County Board of Health, the entity that oversees the department, voted last month to address the delay by changing the agency’s process for counting deaths.
“Hereafter, new deaths will be reported as death certificates listing COVID-19 as the primary cause of death are filed,” the health department said of the new process.
Before the change took effect, a deputy registrar for the health department was tasked with reviewing every death certificate filed in the county since April 5, when the area’s first COVID-19 death was reported. The review found 16 deaths that had not previously been counted by the health department, causing the agency’s tally to climb from 172 to 188 deaths over the course of a day.
More than 8,330 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Moore County since last March, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
Any resident age 18 or older can now receive a coronavirus vaccine.
In a news release announcing the change on Tuesday, the health department said teenagers aged 16 to 17 are also eligible for vaccination if accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. By opening up eligibility to all adults, Moore joins several other counties that have skipped to the final stage of the state’s rollout plan.
Most counties are still administering shots to residents in Groups 1 through 4A, which are the only groups currently eligible under the statewide guidelines set by DHHS. Some people in these groups include older adults, health care and frontline essential workers and individuals with medical conditions that put them at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
But the extended eligibility for local residents means that Moore County is jumping ahead to Group 5, a population that basically includes any person who wants to get vaccinated. Under the state’s plan, all North Carolinians in Group 4B will be eligible beginning Thursday, followed by Group 5 on April 7.
Writing in the news release, the Moore County Health Department said it will schedule appointments based on the “number of vaccine doses on hand.” Slots will be filled on a “first-come, first-served basis,” the department said.
In order to receive an appointment, residents must call (910) 947-7468 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays or from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The vaccine hotline is not staffed on Mondays or weekends.
FirstHealth of the Carolinas, which is holding twice-a-week vaccination clinics at the Fair Barn in Pinehurst, is also administering shots to all adults in Moore County, a spokeswoman said. Appointments can be scheduled online at schedule.firsthealth.org
Over 20,540 residents, or about 20.4 percent of the county’s population, had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Thursday, according to DHHS. An additional 8,636 residents have been partially vaccinated with one of the two-dose vaccines currently authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration. A third, newer vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson requires only one dose.
Only 4,145 of the county’s fully vaccinated residents received their shots through the local health department. The vast majority of doses in the county have been administered by FirstHealth.
Restaurants, stores and other businesses across Moore County can operate at larger capacities under Gov. Roy Cooper’s latest executive order.
The new mandate, which took effect on Friday, allows eateries, breweries, gyms and public swimming pools to operate at 75-percent capacity indoors and 100-percent capacity outdoors. Retail businesses, barbershops and salons can operate at up to 100 percent of their normal occupancy with “safety protocols in place,” according to Cooper.
Capacity limits at bars, sports arenas and movie theaters increased to 50 percent under the order, which also lifted the 11 p.m. cutoff for on-site alcohol consumption. North Carolinians must continue to wear face coverings in public.
During a news conference on Tuesday, Cooper said restrictions were being loosened in response to the state’s improving coronavirus trends.
“Our fast and fair vaccine distribution and our sustained progress with COVID-19 metrics tell us we can move forward with easing restrictions if we do it safely,” he said.
Cooper added that social distancing and other safety measures will be as “important as ever” in the weeks ahead.
“This virus and its more contagious variants are still spreading,” he said. “We may need to be even more careful as we ease restrictions in that we will likely come into contact with more people when we leave our homes and go into public places.”