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Cooper visits Pine Hall Brick vax clinic, not ready to cut $300 unemployment supplement
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Cooper visits Pine Hall Brick vax clinic, not ready to cut $300 unemployment supplement

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MADISON — Rockingham County residents who get a shot in the arm will feel it in their hip pocket, thanks to a gift card incentive program Gov. Roy Cooper touted during a visit Thursday to tour Pine Hall Brick’s onsite vaccine clinic here.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s public health director, joined Cooper to tour the manufacturing company’s annex where 66 of 170 workers have already received at least one dose of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine.

“Thank you guys for doing this,’’ Cooper said to Ronald Boyles and Fernando Arriaga, brick company workers who drove in from Greensboro Thursday to get their shots at the plant. “And thank you for your service,’’ Cooper said to nurses staffing the clinic.

Among the state’s oldest manufacturers, PHB has long provided a free onsite clinic to its employees and is one of several area industries to partner with the Rockingham County Division of Public Health to make workplace vaccine clinics convenient options in the county of roughly 91,000, county health officials said.

Thus far, about one-third of the county’s population has been fully vaccinated, said Trey Wright, county public health director, who said he plans to launch more jobsite clinics with area industries in the coming weeks.

While the state will provide $25 Visa “Summer Cash Cards” as incentives to get first shots in Rockingham, Pine Hall Brick designed an incentive program of its own — monthly prize drawings for inoculated workers and a grand prize of a week’s paid vacation.

“We are so grateful that you care enough about your employees and your community,’’ Cooper said during a news conference at PHB, where local officials joined.

“Because you know that makes for a safer workplace, safer family life (and) makes for a safer community. Sometimes people are on the fence about whether to get a vaccine and a little incentive can get people to step over the line,’’ Cooper said.

“We want you to know that we believe we are emerging from this pandemic even stronger than before, and the key to it all is vaccinations,’’ said Cooper, noting nearly 80% of North Carolinians age 65 and older have been fully vaccinated.

“I think people are feeling better about themselves and their communities,’’ Cooper said. “What we do know, however, is that people who are not vaccinated are still at risk. We are still in a pandemic.’’

On Thursday, more than 600 people across the state were hospitalized with COVID-19, while about 13,000 in N.C. had died from the novel coronavirus since the first state cases were reported in March 2020.

Rockingham County, where the infection rate on Thursday stood at 4.3%, is among four counties chosen for the pilot gift card initiative by NCDHHS. Neighboring Guilford County is participating, along with Rowan and Mecklenburg counties.

The program is funded by federal dollars and the State Employees’ Credit Union is providing the cards for the effort.

The Rockingham County giveaway of about 300 cards will start June 3 during the health department’s regular clinic hours in Wentworth and continues with two June 5 clinics. The program provides a gift card to anyone 18 and older who gets a first shot. Realizing that transportation is often a hardship for people, Cohen detailed how drivers who bring someone to get a shot will also receive gift cards.

In High Point, where the program has already launched, a vaccination site saw an increase of about 50 people the day it began offering the cards.

During the visit, Cooper also addressed the call by North Carolina’s two Republican U.S. senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, for the state to stop increasing weekly unemployment checks with $300 federal supplements.

Cooper, a Democrat, said he’s not ready to halt the program.

“This pandemic has hit a lot of people hard,’’ said Cooper, who recently reinstated all work search requirements for N.C.’s unemployed.

“I’ve asked the General Assembly and we’re working on these things to help,’’ he said, acknowledging that the state’s tourism and hospitality industries have been hard hit with some workers leaving for other fields. The state’s unemployment rate in March was 5.2%, compared to a pandemic high of 13.5% in spring 2020.

For many unemployed, finding affordable child care is a major obstacle to going back to work, Cooper said.

“Let’s invest in child care and let’s increase the number of slots. I’m willing to work with legislators, with federal, local, state. We’re talking about potential employment bonuses … we’re talking about potentially helping our hospitality industry, but you’re going to leave a lot of people hurting if you simply just cut it ($300 supplement) off right now.’’

North Carolinians should take advantage of Monday’s Memorial Day holiday to get a vaccine, Cooper said.

“On Memorial Day, when we’re thinking about other people and other families, I would ask them not just for themselves, but to think about other people,” he said. “Because when you get that vaccination, you’re not only protecting yourself.’’

Here’s how to make an appointment for gift card-eligible clinics on June 3 and June 5 in Rockingham County: Call the health department at 336-342-8140 or visit their website at: https://www.rockinghamcountync.gov/pview.aspx?id=21020&catid=26. Register for appointments at:

McMichael High School, 6845 N.C. 135, Mayodan. Go to http://bit.ly/McMichaelHS.

Mill Avenue Draper Recreation Center, 1722 Mill Ave., Eden. Go to http://bit.ly/DraperRec1.

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