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Mecklenburg County health leaders urge patience with COVID-19 shot rollout

County Health Director Gibbie Harris says patience on vaccines and smart decisions with group gatherings are key to curbing COVID-19.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County health leaders are urging patience as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues, while also preaching caution with summertime gatherings.

Health Director Gibbie Harris and public health medical director Dr. Meg Sullivan shared that message and more metrics during a news briefing Friday afternoon, the first update from Mecklenburg County since Gov. Roy Cooper announced he would ease restrictions on businesses, effective 5 p.m. Friday. 

"The more we vaccinate, the more we tamp down the virus," Harris said. "The more we tamp down the less likely it is to mutate."

Even as more people become eligible, it is still tough to get an appointment in Mecklenburg County. And that may not change on April 7.

"That's the million-dollar question, we know from week to week how much vaccine we are going to receive. We don’t get much in the way of forecasting out beyond a week," Harris said.

As they get more vaccine, they'll add more appointments. They're expecting that by May 1, there will be enough for everyone. They are ready to ramp up operations to get them out quickly and equitably.

And ensuring the process remains equitable will be important, especially when the floodgates open.

"Maybe people with resources are able to get those appointments much easier so we are very much continuing to follow that to make sure we have equitable distribution of vaccine in all of our communities," Dr. David Priest with Novant Health said.

Both hospital systems are ready to vaccinate everyone, but can only make more appointments available when the supply is there.

"There's a lot of moving parts and I think we have to continue to be flexible and adapt but health care systems public health are committed to doing that," Dr. Katie Passaretti with Atrium Health said. "I would also encourage people a week or two difference in getting the vaccine is a short time frame."

Harris and Sullivan said there is consistency regarding week-by-week metrics, with most areas seeing slight upticks in positive cases. The current positivity rate in Mecklenburg County is 6.5% with a case rate of 132.8 per 100,000. 

On an optimistic note, they shared the news that daily hospital rates are declining slowly, and that the total number of outbreaks and clusters was reduced down to 14. 

As of Friday, 17% of the Mecklenburg County population was partially vaccinated, with 11% fully vaccinated; Sullivan noted that as of Thursday, about 69,000 vaccine doses were given, with about 43,000 first doses and 26,000 second doses. The pair noted that was still far from achieving herd immunity.

The conversation about patience came into play as Harris and Sullivan discussed the opening of vaccinations to all people age 16 and older. Harris noted there were larger amounts of the vaccine going into the community but warned there would not be enough doses for everyone that first week.

Harris noted there would be more openings of different establishments in the community, and urged citizens to take risks into consideration before rushing out to big gatherings. She acknowledged the anxiety many people may have about getting out again, but still pleaded for caution. Harris specifically said places that were packed full of people without masks were not ideal and shared a reminder about the mask mandate still in effect. 

Harris pointed out she got information about some businesses not requiring masks and highlighted that the lack of requirement is inappropriate under the mandate.

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Harris also took time to remind citizens that while the social distancing guidelines for schools had been reduced to 3 feet, the recommendation for others outside of classroom settings remains six feet. There may not be an increased risk of COVID transmission in classrooms, but Harris said social distancing and masking are still necessary for the community.

Earlier this month, Harris said COVID-19 trends are going the right way for Mecklenburg County but cautioned everyone to remain vigilant as more people get vaccinated and warm weather has folks looking for outdoor activities. 

“Everybody's so glad to be outside, having a good time, and it's an opportunity for people to get together in groups that they (aren't) always involved with," Harris said. “We’re not telling people not to celebrate spring break we know that’s an important part of the spring for many people, especially folks with kids."

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As for vaccinations, North Carolina is on pace to have all adults eligible for the vaccine by May 1. That does not mean there will be enough supply for everyone, though. 

Of the 4.1 million doses given in North Carolina, more than 205,000 have been given by Novant Health.

“One year ago, it was hard to imagine that our progress would be where it is today,” Nikki Nissen, Vice President of Clinical Operations for Novant Health, said.

Despite putting on mass clinics at the Spectrum Center and Park Expo, partnering with CMS to vaccinate school staff and opening its new clinic off of East Independence Boulevard just for COVID-19 vaccinations, Novant Health is short of its original goal to give out 1 million shots by April 1. The lagging supply is the limiting factor.

“We get doses and we give every single one of them and the state has asked us to do that so we just continue on that path,” Dr. David Priest with Novant Health said.

Have a relative or friend in another state and want to know when they can get vaccinated? Visit NBC News' Plan Your Vaccine site to find out about each state's vaccine rollout plan.

RELATED: VERIFY: Have there been any reports in NC of COVID-19 infections after vaccination?