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In COVID briefing, Gov. Cooper hopeful for end to pandemic with 1.1 million citizens fully vaccinated

Tuesday's COVID-19 briefing had an upbeat tone as Gov. Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen praised vaccination efforts while stressing prevention.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper and members of the state's COVID-19 task force say the outlook amidst the pandemic in North Carolina is promising, saying the vaccine rollout has resulted in more than 1.1 million residents becoming fully vaccinated thus far.

Cooper's update came one day before the state's mass vaccination clinic, in partnership with the federal government, opens in Greensboro. Atrium Health's mass vaccination clinic at Bank of America Stadium opened Tuesday, with 14,000 people expected to get their shot by Thursday. 

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North Carolina's COVID-19 metrics continue to be stable with a downward trend. On Tuesday, Cooper and state health director Dr. Mandy Cohen announced 997 new COVID-19 cases since Monday, a caseload decrease from around 1,400 reported that day. 

Another important metric to the governor involved the equitable distribution of vaccines to communities of color; Cooper noted 20% of first-dose vaccines distributed in the last four weeks went to Black residents. Additionally, Cohen noted 7% of shots were given to Hispanic residents, an increase from 3% in the last week.

Cooper did address the more bleak numbers that lead up to Tuesday's briefing: since the start of the pandemic, North Carolina has seen just shy of 876,000 virus cases. Meanwhile, there have been more than 11,500 deaths reported statewide, and currently more than 1,100 virus patients in hospitals. The governor offered prayers to the families who lost loved ones to COVID-19 and to citizens still fighting the virus.

Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris said the county is currently focusing on Groups 1-3 for vaccinations, as Group 3 appointments begin Wednesday. Group 4 isn't expected to be eligible for two more weeks, but Cooper hinted that the timeline could be accelerated if vaccination numbers improve and new virus cases decrease.

"Group 4 will open on March 24, if not before," Harris said. "The governor has been known to change his mind on those things before."

This is good news for business owners, as Cooper loosened some of the state's restrictions with his latest executive order. Restaurants can serve more customers indoors and bars are now allowed to serve alcohol until 11 p.m. The nightly curfew was also eliminated with Cooper's order, and the governor said more vaccinations and fewer virus cases means a further reduction in restrictions.

Matt Wohlfarth, the owner of Dilworth Neighborhood Grille, adjusted the restaurant's business model to roll with the punches of the pandemic by filling takeout orders and spacing out the seating arrangements for COVID-19 safety protocol in the dining rooms. 

RELATED: Mecklenburg County citizens in Groups 1-3 have more chances to get a first dose of the COVID shot. Here's how to sign up

Wohlfarth said the restaurant is still going, thanks to two rounds of the Paycheck Protection Program and loyal customers. He said the goal is just to stay open and not lose money. 

"There's only so much creativity that you can do, you know, closing at 9 o'clock, so this gonna, this is gonna be a big thing," Wohlfarth said. 

A question that came up during the briefing centered on the full return of students and teachers to classrooms. Cooper acknowledged he was meeting with both Republican and Democratic leaders in the state legislature to work on a plan to get all schools opened back up. However, he emphasized he had not yet seen any proposed bills on his desk at the time.

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: Rock Hill city council votes to stop enforcing mask mandate

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