RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTV) - With just over a week until Christmas is celebrated, COVID hospitalizations in North Carolina continue to spike.
The state reported on Tuesday that 2,735 people are in the hospital, and more than 600 people are currently in intensive care.
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said hospitalizations and new coronavirus cases have more than doubled since before Thanksgiving.
While North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Cohen provided an update on the latest COVID-19 metric, they urged North Carolina residents to stay home and keep from gathering in large groups during the holiday.
“As we head into the holidays, we have a hard ask for people in North Carolina,” Cohen said. “The CDC is recommending that people do not travel and stay home this holiday season.”
A vaccine produced by Pfizer was shipped to North Carolina healthcare facilities Monday morning.
The initial limited supply is set to be given to healthcare workers and staff and residents at long-term living facilities.
“Seeing vaccinations distributed gives us hope after a long year,” Cooper said. “This virus continues to be extremely contagious and deadly.”
However, in the meantime, Cooper told North Carolinians not to travel this Christmas season to help slow the spread of the virus.
“With holidays here, I know it is hard to imagine missing out on our beloved holiday traditions with families and loved ones getting together,” Cooper said. “Like Thanksgiving, we need to rethink what it means to celebrate this December.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, North Carolina has reported 446,601 coronavirus cases and 5,881 deaths.
During the Christmas and New Year’s celebrations over the next couple of weeks, Cooper says residents should limit the number of people in a gathering, wear masks and keep the gatherings outdoors.
“We are just seeing the Thanksgiving numbers spike over the last couple of days,” Cooper said. “This Christmas could be even worse. The safest option is to connect online or by phone. Doing that ensures that more of our loved ones will be with us for the next holiday season with an end in sight.
Cooper said there will be 300 free testing sites in seven counties ahead of the holidays.
A full list can be found here.
“The numbers are too high and the vaccine can’t yet have a significant effect,” Cooper said. “We must get these trends turned around.”
North Carolina is currently under a modified stay-at-home order until Jan. 11, which is meant to provide a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., and to stop on-site alcohol sales at 9 p.m.
Cooper and Cohen wrote letters to local governments to ask them to enforce civil penalties, like fines, on those violating the governor’s executive order.
“We think enforcement of the executive orders in important, not just to get people in trouble, but to make sure we slow the spread of this virus,” Cooper said. “Local governments can help us by adopting ordinances that allow them to propose fines or penalties.”