N.C. kids are going back to school. How many 12- to 17-year-olds are vaccinated? - North Carolina Health News
By Molly Osborne, EdNC.org
With the start of school just days away for most districts, many 12- to 17-year-olds are not vaccinated in North Carolina. Students ages 12 and up can get the Pfizer vaccine, but as of July 21, only 24% of North Carolinians aged 12-17 were fully vaccinated, according to state Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen. By Aug. 16, that number has edged up to 29.3%.
EducationNC analyzed data from North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to see vaccinations by county for children 12-17. DHHS tracks the number and percentage of North Carolinians who have received at least one vaccine shot and the number and percentage who are fully vaccinated. It also tracks vaccinations administered by federal providers and by North Carolina providers. DHHS publishes the data in a dashboard on its website.
This data was downloaded from DHHS’ dashboard on Aug. 17. Several counties had missing data from Aug. 16 for the percentage fully vaccinated, so the spreadsheet also displays Aug. 9 data that is more complete.
Below is a map that illustrates the distribution of vaccinations around the state. Hover over the county to see the percent of children ages 12 to 17 who have received at least one shot (as of Aug. 16) and the percent who are fully vaccinated (as of Aug. 9). The darker-shaded counties represent those with a higher percentage with at least one shot while the lighter-shaded counties are those with a lower percentage.
As in July, larger counties like Durham, Wake, and Orange have the highest percentage of 12- to 17-year-olds with at least one shot. Orange has 68.3% of 12- to 17-year-olds with one shot in their arm, Wake has 58.7%, and Durham 52.9%.
Six counties have less than 10% of 12- to 17-year-olds with at least one shot: Clay, Jones, Graham, Cherokee, Montgomery, and Currituck.
Vaccination data for Hyde and Tyrell counties is not available. According to DHHS, data for any county demographic subgroup (like age group) that has a population of less than 500 will be suppressed for privacy.
When it comes to fully vaccinated children ages 12 to 17, as of Aug. 9, Orange has 49.8%, Wake has 31.9%, and Durham has 33.3%. Watauga, notably, has 33.6% of 12- to 17-year-olds fully vaccinated.
Latest guidance from DHHS says schools should promote vaccination for students older than 12, teachers, staff members, and families. This guide provides several examples of how schools can promote vaccinations among students and staff, including hosting on-site vaccine events and sharing information with parents.
Several school districts are hosting vaccine clinics in the next two weeks. However, not all are following state guidance. The local board of education in Dare County voted not to actively promote vaccines, meaning they are not hosting clinics, sending information home to parents, or putting information on their website.
When asked for comment on Dare County Board of Education’s decision, Gov. Roy Cooper said, “Keeping students in the classroom in person is so critical for their education, and vaccines, masks, and other protections are the best way to do that. Already there are schools having to send children home because of COVID infections and quarantine protocols. Local education officials should do all they can to promote vaccines, require masks, and keep children safely in the classroom.”
These Black farmers provide more than healthy food - North Carolina Health News
By Chiung-Wei Huang
Dawn Henderson just had a fruitful shopping trip to the Black Farmers’ Market in Durham.
Her bag was packed with meat and vegetables. Often on her trips to the Durham site, which is open once a month, she picks up one of the many types of honey and desserts available there.
Visiting farmers markets is part of Henderson’s routine, and she really likes the concept of the Black Farmers’ Market. That’s why she has become a regular at the one in Durham.
“I like the space, in terms of the way it spreads,” she said. “I like the diversity of offers. Go there and you can pick up dinner and a dessert.”
Fresh produce and the diverse array of merchandise are not the only things on Henderson’s mind when she goes out to support and encourage local Black farmers. There are more than 46,000 farms in North Carolina, only three percent of which are owned by Black farmers, about 1,500 farms, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Black Farmers’ Market has been set up to address some of those inequalities in North Carolina.
The focus on supporting Black farmers intensified after George Floyd’s death on a Minneapolis street sparked a global movement to stamp out racial inequalities and injustices there and elsewhere.
The Black Farmers’ Market in the Triangle area of North Carolina holds events twice a month in Raleigh and Durham. It grew out of Black August in the Park, an annual event organized by a sister organization in 2015.
Entrepreneurs at the different tables and tents in Durham are as enthusiastic about the Sunday afternoons as the shoppers.
Learn more: Black Farmers’ Market
Durham – every second Sunday of the month, from 1-4 p.m.
Where: Golden Belt Campus • 930 Franklin St.
Raleigh – every fourth Sunday of the month, from 1-4 p.m.
Where: Southeast Raleigh YMCA • 1436 Rock Quarry Road
Go local, grow local
For her part, Henderson makes it a point to visit the market because of the history of farming in her family. Her great-grandfather was a sharecropper on an Arkansas farm owned by white people.
Difficult circumstances forced him to leave that farm.
Several generations later, Henderson, who received her doctorate in psychology from N.C. State University, knows how challenging it can be for a Black farmer through her family’s stories.
After many years of working at universities throughout North Carolina, Henderson is based in Durham now and has the ability to work from home. She also has tried her hand at growing things, but on a much smaller scale than a farm.
“We have tried growing cucumbers, tomatoes, basil and watermelon,” she said.
She thinks it’s important to give Black farmers her business. Growing produce could, for the farmers and their customers, mean more than being self-sustaining.
Family of four on four acres
Immanuel Jarvis, the co-founder of Jireh Family Farm, has pastures filled with chickens, pigs and cattle. He says his farming mission is to help diversify food sources locally and underscore the costs for small farmers to produce pasture-fed meats compared with mass farming.
“Even if you only have a backyard, and you only have grass to grow tomatoes,” he said, “you can do things with the overall supply of food in our country.”
When Jarvis lost his brother-in-law to colon cancer, he and his family changed their diet and focused more on where their food came from. They wanted to “take what’s good for their body,” said Jarvis.
The average size of North Carolina farms is about 180 acres, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Jireh Family Farm, which started six years ago when Jarvis and his family purchased a 60-year-old farm on four acres of land, started out modestly, raising chickens. Over time, they’ve added other animals.
In addition to the meat and free-range eggs they sell at market, they also educate others through summer camps and classes about the importance of nutrition and understanding the connection between the food on their plates, nutrition and farming.
Attending the Black Farmers’ Market is one way that Jarvis and his family try to be a beacon for that message.
“By sitting as a real life demonstration in my house, a small family with only four people, little by little we can grow and support our loved ones,” Jarvis said.
Nasira Abdur-Razzaq, owner of Bull City Confectionaries based in Durham, also wants to share a similar message at the market.
She discovered her baking talent when she made cakes for her school-aged children to take to class with them. What started as a mother simply baking for her children’s classmates, turned into something much larger.
Now she creates a variety of cakes for catering services around Durham and Chapel Hill.
“It was interesting to me that something like that happens and from that one small thing,” she said.
Standing in her colorful booth, brightly decorated with pink and green, Abdur-Razzaq enthusiastically greets visitors walking by in the market. She has samples to lure shoppers to her table. Many times, they stop, take a taste and buy one of her sweets to take home.
“A lot of people have been turned off by cake because there’s an overwhelming amount of processing,” she said. “I learned the perfect balance between just enough to feel pleasant when people take that bite.”
Baking the treats is a side passion for Abdur-Razzaq. She also works a full-time job as an event planner for a local health corporation.
As a business owner, the Black Farmers’ Market creates an opportunity for her to connect to different people than she would encounter in her full-time job.
This is also true for Henderson, the shopper who enjoys the opportunity to meet farmer vendors through weekend markets.
“It’s great to see people doing the work and just being entrepreneurs,” said Henderson. “I believe that Black people can be whoever they want to be, because we can do whatever we want to do,” she added.
Catching a buzz
Henderson recalled meeting with a female beekeeper whose son came along to the market with her.
“The little seven-year-old boy brought me in talking about the elderberry-infused honey custard,” she said. “I was in awe when hearing these stories!”
North Carolina beekeepers make up about 12 percent of the total population of beekeepers across the country, according to Buncombe County Beekeepers Club in western N.C.
Samantha Foxx, owner of Mother’s Finest Family Farm, two and a half acres of growing space in Winston-Salem, enjoys being a Black female beekeeper.
“I saw a lack of representation inside of the world,” she said. “I’m happy to be part of it. It’s a driving force for me.”
Operating a local business in Winston-Salem, one and half hours away from Durham, has not stopped Foxx from making the drive.
Providing access to healthy food drives her, too.
“When I see people needing food, my color is eliminated from the situation,” she said. “This should be something that everybody has.”
“We really have to love this because that’s pretty much our whole weekend dedicated to serving other people,” she added.
Appreciating the many benefits
Through farming and agriculture, these Black entrepreneurs aim to teach North Carolinians that no matter the professions, life can be self-sustained and self-contained.
“The quality of my life has completely changed. I feel full of purpose,” Foxx said. “I dance around with the beautiful things that I see every day and I think this is such a rewarding life.”
“It’s all what you put into it,” added the Bull City baker Abdur-Razzaq. “Bad days do not determine you. Just one good day, maybe something exciting happens, and it can completely change your life.”
“Everything takes a lot of work and patience, in order to be able to see the rewards,” Jarvis said.
Henderson described her moment of joy at the dinner table, when she pulled the knife through the chicken she bought from farmers, amazed by how lean they were compared to what the grocery stores offer.
“Oh, look!” she exhaled.
Could MAT be the key to reducing recidivism in NC’s jails? - North Carolina Health News
By Elizabeth Thompson
Rain or shine, whether it is a holiday, the weekend or a regular workday, patients at Johnston Recovery Services come in every morning for the medication that helps them manage and overcome their opioid addiction.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, some patients were allowed to take home medications such as methadone or buprenorphine to reduce the number of people in the clinic, which offers medication-assisted treatment, otherwise known as MAT, to help treat people with opioid use disorder in and around Clayton, but otherwise they are expected to come in daily.
But sometimes patients disappear for days, going off of their medication because they were in jail, said Mary Anne Hughes, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Johnston Recovery Services.
“We have a patient that was jailed on Saturday,” Hughes said. “And he was on methadone, you know, standard dosage. But once he’s incarcerated, he can’t get access to that medication.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MAT is best practice to care for people with opioid use disorder. But despite federal data showing that as much as 85 percent of the prison population either has a substance use disorder or was arrested for crimes related to drug use, MAT is often unavailable for the country’s incarcerated population.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of one of three drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — methadone, buprenorphine (also known as Suboxone, the brand name for the drug) and naltrexone — along with counseling to provide a holistic approach to treating Opioid Use Disorder.
The medication allows patients to begin recovery without going through the symptoms of withdrawal while remaining clear-headed, able to go to work and otherwise rebuild their lives, Hughes said.
At least 13 of the state’s more than 100 jails have started programs to implement MAT in their facilities, according to North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, but MAT providers urge more widespread use of the treatment in order to combat the opioid epidemic and reduce recidivism.
MAT in Jails
The National Sheriffs’ Association has come out in support of implementing MAT programs in jails, saying “jails are on the front lines of this epidemic, and they are also in a unique position to initiate treatment in a controlled, safe environment.”
Buncombe County identified the need for a MAT program, as the county is one of North Carolina’s most disproportionately affected by the opioid epidemic, said Sarah Gayton, division director of community integration and MAT services at the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, in an email. Buncombe County started its MAT program in 2019.
Data is limited, but Gayton said Buncombe County has seen a 17 percent reduced recidivism rate for program participants compared to those who remain untreated over the course of a 9 month period in a sample of Buncombe County’s MAT and opioid using population. The program both continues medication for inmates who were already on MAT before incarceration and inducts inmates to begin treatment.
“All facilities (detainment, residential and treatment alike) in NC and the USA would do well to begin the process of evaluation, development, and implementation of MAT programs,” Gayton wrote “ 1) MAT is considered the gold-standard to address opioid addiction, 2) increasing momentum on the national stage frames MAT treatment with the [Americans with Disabilities Act], and 3) untreated addiction and involvement in the criminal justice system have undeniable overlaps.”
Some other jails in North Carolina have implemented MAT programs, but as opioid overdoses soared throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, safety protocols generated by the pandemic also forced many programs that combat opioid use disorder among incarcerated people to delay their plans.
Durham’s jail-based MAT program, which started in 2019, continues to offer MAT to incarcerated people who were already on this medication. But the pandemic delayed the second phase of its MAT program – identifying and treating new patients – which had been set to start in March 2020.
This second phase is key to fighting the opioid use before reentry, said Dr. Eric Morse, an addiction psychiatrist who serves on the board of Morse Clinics — which includes Johnston Recovery.
“It would be great if the folks in the jail would identify new [opioid use] patients,” Morse said, since jails are already identifying patients to put them on a detox protocol.
The new start up date for the second phase of Durham’s MAT program is now October 2021, said David Bowser, spokesperson for the Durham County Sheriff’s Office.
The pandemic also delayed the North Carolina Departments of Public Safety and Health and Human Services plan to pilot a MAT program in three prisons. DPS spokesperson John Bull said the state plans to operate the programs by fall 2021 at the N.C. Correctional Institution for Women (where pregnant women with opioid use disorder are prescribed MAT before they give birth), Wake Correctional Center and Orange Correctional Center.
For up-and-coming programs in jails, staffing and funding are key issues, said Margaret Bordeaux, justice-involved overdose prevention specialist at the NCDHHS.
Resistance to MAT
One study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, found that MAT significantly reduced overdoses by 60 percent for people receiving methadone and 38 percent for people receiving buprenorphine, but there is still resistance to the medication among some members of the medical community, said Dr. Jana Burson, an opioid treatment specialist in western North Carolina.
Some providers may be opposed to MAT because of the stigma tied to the drugs, which were illegal until 2000, Burson said.
“Doctors didn’t get educated about addiction in general, and Opioid Use Disorder, it’s specific,” Burson said. “So it takes a lot of time to turn that ship around. It just takes time and education. And that’s I think the biggest problem.”
Some jails that do not allow MAT prohibit those drugs because they are afraid they could be diverted to other prisoners, Burson said. Morse said this fear is based on negative stigma around people in jail who use drugs.
“If you select the right patients, the folks who legitimately have Opioid Use Disorder, they’re going to function better on the medicine than off the medicine,” Morse said. “ … if they’re not in withdrawal, then they’re not suffering.”
Instead of keeping a person with opioid use disorder on their medication if they are participating in a MAT program or putting that person onto MAT, many jails instead put people on a detox protocol, forcing them into withdrawal.
“People really suffer, it’s not just like having the flu,” Burson said. “If someone’s medically fragile they can actually die of opioid withdrawals if they are ignored and not taken for medical care, like if they had coronary artery disease, or if they’re a brittle diabetic.”
“Things can really go off the rails.”
Not only is withdrawal dangerous in and of itself, it also makes returning citizens more likely to relapse. People leaving a prison or jail were 40 times more likely to die of an opioid overdose two weeks after their release, according to a study conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That’s because returning citizens who have detoxed are likely to reenter society and relapse, taking the same dosage they took before they were incarcerated which is now way above their body’s tolerance level.
MAT providers sometimes try to work with jails to get patients their medication, but the process means jumping through bureaucratic hoops, Morse said.
Burson recently worked with Ashe County Detention Center to bring a patient to the clinic once a week to get their buprenorphine dosage, so jail personnel could give them their medicine for the rest of the week. Hughes recalls Johnston County Jail bringing in a patient to get their dosage in shackles.
A chance for a better life
When a patient comes back to Johnston Recovery after they’ve been absent, the first question they’re asked is: “Where have you been?”
“We don’t scold them,” Hughes said, “We’re just happy to have them back. Because we know they’re safer with us.”
It’s up to Hughes to determine the dosage a patient needs based on their history, their medical condition and the days they’ve been absent. It’s also about knowing the patients, Hughes said. She’s known a lot of her patients for eight years.
MAT therapy at Johnston Recovery is a holistic process, and patients also have access to counseling services in addition to their medication.
“What you learn in here, you take it out there,” said Claire Hayes, a counselor at Johnston Recovery. “…Think about when you have used substances and you are now in recovery, now you’re reflecting on all the things you’ve done. You can feel pretty low about yourself.”
Hayes said she works with patients to accept the things that they have done and to focus on their rise and recovery. But that can be difficult when patients with felonies have a hard time finding a job because of their record. Financial stability is crucial for people trying to get off of opioids to start a new part of their lives.
MAT therapy is a first step in what Hughes calls a “transformation.”
“I’ll admit somebody today, and I’ll see them four weeks from now,” Hughes said, “And they say, ‘I didn’t realize life could be like that.’”
Making the standard of care the standard
“It’s a civil rights issue,” Morse said. “I just believe that people who are on methadone or buprenorphine going into jail should be allowed to stay on their dose. And the opioid treatment programs in the state would be happy to partner with all the jails and prisons and continue them on their medicine.”
Morse has recently received grants to work with Vance County and Wake County jails to provide MAT for people reentering society, and other organizations like North Carolina Formerly Incarcerated Transition Program (NC FIT) work with Orange and Durham County jails to help keep people on their MAT medication.
Addiction is a “brain disease” like any other, Hughes said, and while people do bad things at the height of their addiction, “they change also, which people have to realize.”
“And that’s part of their brain disease, that’s part of the addiction process,” Hughes said.
“A lot of the crimes are related to the addiction. And by the time we see them, they’re not trying to get high anymore.”
“They’re just trying not to be sick.”
COVID-19 creates additional challenges for those leaving incarceration in NC - North Carolina Health News
By Elizabeth Thompson
When Jeff Walker came out of incarceration, all he had were the clothes on his back. He was directionless, stigmatized. He didn’t have support. He didn’t have anything.
That was five years ago.
People leaving jails and prisons and reentering society during the COVID-19 pandemic faced the same stigma, the same lack of direction — all while attempting to navigate a global pandemic.
For those leaving prison, vital in-person connection is hard to come by, even in regular times. Finding a job has proven more difficult due to the pandemic-generated lag times for identification and Social Security cards, not to mention broadband disparities that make WiFi moot in some rural areas.
Walker gets those struggles. After reentering society but still experiencing substance use issues, he was able to find solace in transitional housing and the connections he made there five years ago.
Now, he works to give other formerly incarcerated people another chance as the programs manager for Wilkes Recovery Revolution in North Wilkesboro, and a member of the Peer Justice Initiative, a group of formerly incarcerated people who advocate for others reentering society and within the jail and prison systems.
Returning in a pandemic
Personal connections are very important for those returning to society after a period of incarceration. Peer-to-peer support is what Walker and others in the Peer Justice Initiative are all about.
But as the COVID-19 virus claimed the lives of thousands in the state, businesses and nonprofits closed their doors and most North Carolinians stayed in their homes. Peer support was hard to find.
The pandemic forced many support groups and mental health services to shift to online. After reemerging into society after years behind bars, some formerly incarcerated people reentering society don’t know how to use the technology that has been vital to pandemic-era communication, such as cellphones and computers.
On top of that, people released without IDs or social security numbers were unable to work for weeks after reentering society, Walker said, especially at the height of the pandemic when the Department of Motor Vehicles was shut down.
Existing inequities such as spotty broadband access were also thrown into high relief during the pandemic, said Philip Cooper, economic and workforce development at YMI Cultural Center in Asheville and a member of the Peer Justice Initiative.
“I was recommending to people: don’t go back to your rural counties right now, go somewhere else,” Cooper said.
People leaving jails and prisons were left feeling directionless — and that can be deadly. One study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that formerly incarcerated people were 40 times more likely to die of an overdose in their first two weeks after release than someone in the general population.
Many formerly incarcerated people say their drug or alcohol use ultimately landed them in jail or prison, said Walker.
“[If] individuals don’t have some kind of support when they’re being released to do something different,” Walker said, “then they’re gonna go back to doing what they know how to do.”
In North Carolina, some 98 percent of people currently incarcerated will eventually be released back into society, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. Reentry is still a challenge for many formerly incarcerated people battling both physical and mental illnesses.
Reentering society after a long jail or prison sentence is already an anxiety-inducing experience, Cooper said. They are worried about where they will live and find work.
Additionally, they aren’t linked to the substance use treatment or mental health services that so many justice-involved people need. In 2017, DPS found that 71 percent of inmates screened for substance use disorder needed long-term treatment. At that time, 17 percent of the prison population had a mental health diagnosis, many had more than one.
“A lot of times these guys don’t even properly get engaged for substance use and mental health treatment,” Cooper said.
He said the often formerly incarcerated people don’t trust the counselor or social worker they have been connected with because they view that person as working for the system.
“And they already got this distrust with the system,” he said.
By the time they come home, the combined anxiety and unstable plans could lead them to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, Cooper said.
Incarceration may be the place where someone starts using substances for the first time, said Earl Owens II, a peer support specialist in Mecklenburg County, and a member of the Peer Justice Initiative.
“I know it’s hard for people to believe, but sometimes people go to prison and create a drug habit. One that they didn’t have before they were incarcerated,” said Owens, who called substance use and mental health issues “collateral consequences” of incarceration.
In addition to mental health problems and substance use disorders, people in prison have higher rates of chronic disease like diabetes and hypertension and communicable diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
In an attempt to combat recidivism rates and ease the transition of prisoners back into society, Gov. Roy Cooper established the state’s Reentry Action Plan in 2018.
“North Carolina is a better and safer place when those who take responsibility for and learn from their mistakes can get another chance to live productive, purposeful lives,” Cooper said at the time. “ … We owe it to everyone to make sure they’re successful.”
The plan established State Reentry Council Collaborative workgroups, which include stakeholders such as businesses, faith-based agencies and representatives of state agencies, across the state. The plan also encouraged local reentry councils and formal partnerships with community organizations doing the work on the ground.
The Guilford County Local Reentry Council is one of those local groups. While the program has been around for years, it opened its physical Reentry Center in June. Edward “Chap” Williams, reentry director at the center, said it gives people the ability to “change their narrative, their story,” as he peered at the Wall of Fame at the center during an Open House in June.
With the help of reentry programs, Williams said formerly incarcerated people can fight the narratives in their heads, such as “You’ll never be anything” or “You’ll be just like your mom or dad.”
“Now they have some substantial things, some information,” Williams said. “They have a job, they’re able to pay their rent. Their self esteem has increased, and for me that’s one of the biggest to see — a man or a woman feel like a man or a woman.”
Co-director KJ Powe, said she has seen how incarceration can be a “generational thing,” through her experience as a detention officer. While experts debate some research that points to a higher risk of incarceration for children of incarcerated parents, children of incarcerated parents may also face stigma and are more likely to experience mental health problems, such as anxiety disorders.
“I got to see firsthand the revolving door of how people will come in and out constantly because they didn’t know,” Powe said. “They didn’t have the skills that nobody ever told them there’s something different.”
Many returning citizens also need a medical reentry plan, whether it be for physical health conditions, drug addiction or mental illness. Some 80 percent of formerly incarcerated people reenter society without health insurance, according to Health Affairs.
While people have access to health care in prison, since many formerly incarcerated people don’t have their own insurance or qualify for Medicaid once they’re released, they end up on their own.
A medical reentry plan
Evan Ashkin, the director of North Carolina Formerly Incarcerated Transition Program (NC FIT) said he initially made the “incorrect assumption” that prisoners would be linked to medical care upon release.
“Even if you didn’t care about the person, from a fiscal standpoint, diabetes, hypertension, you’re going to wind up in an emergency room with terrible complications,” said Ashkin, who is also a professor at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine,
“However, that is exactly the case.”
In order to prevent formerly incarcerated people from going without necessary medicine upon their release — which could lead to worsening illness — NC FIT’s Community Health Workers, who have a lived experience of incarceration, connect people with health resources upon their release.
NC FIT is a partnership between UNC Family Medicine, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, the North Carolina Community Health Center Association, federally qualified health centers, county departments of public health and community-based reentry programs and councils.
The program has sites in Durham, Orange, Wake, Mecklenburg and Guilford counties, according to its website, but it still “cannot even come close to meeting the need,” Ashkin said.
Ashkin estimated that about 80 percent of people who participate in NC FIT are uninsured and uninsurable. Because North Carolina has yet to expand Medicaid, people who earn more than about $6,400 and less than $14,500 a year fall in the Medicaid “coverage gap,” and are ineligible for either Medicaid or Affordable Care Act subsidies.
NC FIT is able to fundraise to get its clients into primary care, but it does not have the funds to get those with serious medical conditions into specialty care.
“Medicaid expansion would be enormously impactful to the quality of their lives, to them getting the appropriate medical care that anybody else is entitled to who has chronic disease, and for prevention,” Ashkin said.
Because of the pandemic, the prison system released some people who were medically vulnerable early, so they could stay with family or in a transition home, to be at less risk of contracting COVID-19. But Ashkin pointed out a related problem, namely, that these medically vulnerable people lacked access to care.
“I know there’s no connections to health care,” he said. “How are they getting their meds? Follow up? Everything is closed.”
NC FIT’s solution was FIT Connect, a program that got the medical records from people who were released early, so they could connect them to an appointment at a federally qualified health center in the state, using a network of agencies the program made.
“It’s been tricky,” Ashkin said. “It’s hard to track down people, and we certainly haven’t been 100 percent successful. We have gotten hundreds of people appointments, so that’s good, but paying for it is very challenging.”
This story was updated to add more context about children of incarcerated parents.
Masks for some (not all): Gyms navigate murky vaccine terrain as exercise classes fill up - North Carolina Health News
By Liora Engel-Smith
For more than a year now, Katie Burke’s work life has been a month-to-month series of twists and shimmies. A co-owner of the Zumba studio Triangle Dance 4 Life, Burke has had to make more than a few pivots in how she taught her dance classes since coronavirus took over.
The initial change came all at once. Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home orders shuttered gyms almost right away in spring 2020. Later, in the summer, as North Carolinians came to terms with capacity restrictions at stores, takeout-only restaurants and the mask mandate, hundreds of gym owners across the state had to find a way to stay afloat and comply with a seemingly endless stream of statewide orders.
Burke moved all classes online for a time, then added outdoor classes at a local park as restrictions eased. The mask mandate was recently lifted and Burke, who used the guidelines to establish safe practices, is wondering what to do next.
The pandemic nearly doubled attendance to some classes and her tiny studio space cannot accommodate everyone while maintaining social distancing. Vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks indoors, but with roughly one-in-four Wake County residents remaining unvaccinated, some clients should still be masking up.
Burke isn’t sure how to proceed. Should she require all clients to wear masks indoors or trust that unvaccinated clients will continue to wear masks without prompting? Talking to people about their vaccination status is equally as fraught.
“It’s such a fine line,” she said, “I don’t want to get too personal [with clients’ health information].”
Remaining outdoors indefinitely isn’t feasible either. Even in the shade, North Carolina’s sweltering summer weather won’t allow it, Burke added. In this new reality where not everyone is vaccinated, deciding what and how many coronavirus measures should stay in place has become a gym-by-gym decision.
At the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, staff balance personal safety with feasibility. The organization recommends that unvaccinated people — more than half the county’s population — wear a mask indoors, said Pamela Hempstead, the Y’s group exercise and health equity director.
Hempstead, who oversees upward of 20 weekly classes, from spin to water aerobics, said enforcing these guidelines is tricky.
“We are a Christian organization and it would be entirely too messy to ask people to show proof of vaccination,” she said.
Staff at the front desk are also too busy to ask people to show their vaccination cards at the door, she added.
Still, Hempstead said many participants continue to wear a mask indoors and staff is encouraging people to use hand sanitizer. The Y’s janitors will continue to clean the facilities more often, and staff have made wipes available for clients to sanitize their own spaces.
Lyndsey Hogue, owner of MELT Fitness Studio in Greenville, acknowledged that conversations around vaccine status may feel off-limits to some instructors. Hogue, a nurse who worked on coronavirus units throughout the pandemic, brings it up. A personal trainer who used to also hold outdoor bootcamp events, Hogue has seen some of her clients’ vaccination cards, either at her own request or because clients brought it up.
But the stringent procedures — constant sanitizing and ascertaining each client’s vaccine status — is a privilege larger gyms may not have, she added.
“I’m only able to do that because I’m looking after one person at a time,” she said. “My clients feel safe and I feel safe. I don’t know whether they are going home to family members who have not taken the vaccine so it’s my responsibility to make sure they don’t contract it at my gym.”
Even so, she added, demand for private training is booming, especially from clients who want to manage their risk while working out.
Natalie Johnston, owner of Spring Pilates, a boutique studio in Wilmington, has seen a similar increased demand especially as tourists return to the coast. Johnston said instructors have continued to wear masks at the gym regardless of vaccination status. Staff also check vaccination status of clients, and folks who have not been fully vaccinated must wear their mask between exercise stations.
With only a handful of clients at the gym at a time and few pieces of equipment, staff have tried to create a safe environment that’s also free of judgment, Johnston said.
“We just want everybody to feel comfortable when they’re stepping into a nice boutique studio environment so if they’re not vaccinated, we don’t want them to feel as though they’re being judged,” she said. “We don’t want anybody that has been vaccinated to feel threatened [either].”
Other gyms have found it easier and more productive to stay mostly virtual. Stephany McMillan, founder and owner of the Greensboro-based Rise and Flow studio, has found herself in that position. McMillan’s studio is one of four Black-owned yoga gyms in the state. As with many other gyms in the state, McMillan and her staff pivoted to Zoom workouts early on in the pandemic. A community dedicated to dealing with trauma and sharing hardship, McMillan’s Zoom classes attracted clients from across the state and the country.
McMillan says Rise and Flow will offer a few outdoor workouts in the fall, but for now, classes meet online, even if members are vaccinated.
“The reason we shifted to virtual is for the safety of our students and members,” she said. “It was an easy decision to say ‘hey, I value your health’ so it wasn’t a difficult decision because there’s that value of protecting the community.”
Burke, the Zumba studio co-owner, is still thinking of her options. Interest in online classes from the Cary studio has waned now that in-person activities have returned, she said. At the same time, outdoor classes in 90-degree weather aren’t appealing to most.
“We’re kind of waiting to see what the collective fitness community handles,” Burke said. “ … Our business is very, very small and I just don’t feel we are in a position to be trailblazers in that matter.”
Vaccine and a haircut? Could be! - North Carolina Health News
By Mona Dougani
Walk into Reggie Winston’s barbershop, and you’ll know immediately that you’ll get more than just a haircut.
A small studio set up in the back left corner of the shop pipes soft R&B music that pulses underneath the buzzing of electric clippers, the chop-chop of scissors, the whir of blow dryers, and the occasional chatter.
Clients of all ages are greeted with a smile as they come in, and kids pick out Hot Wheels cars and toy dinosaurs to take home. House rules listed on the wall remind you that you’re more than just a client: You’re family.
Located in Raleigh and founded in 2014, the Bar Ber Shop, named to highlight the bar inside the shop, creates leaders, according to Winston, who’s the owner and brains behind the operation.
Winston has mentored people that start their own barbershops, he said.
“Here, we don’t just pay,” Winston said. “We want to help shape and build people up by starting on the inside of that person. ‘Today, we groom the character of tomorrow’s leaders.’ That’s been our motto.”
In addition to providing traditional services and encouraging future entrepreneurs, Winston jumps at any opportunity to serve his community. He has partnered with organizations such as the American Heart Association, Wake County Public School System and Wake County Public Health Center to host blood pressure checks, to host screenings for sexually transmitted infections and HIV, food drives and more at his shop.
Shots at the shop?
So when Winston heard that on June 2, President Joe Biden’s administration announced partnerships with 1,000 Black-owned barbershops across the nation to host vaccine clinics, with the goal of 70 percent of the population vaccinated by July 4, he was in support of the initiative.
With some conditions.
The Bar Ber Shop is not one of the shops the Biden administration partnered with, but Winston is open to holding vaccine clinics.
“If they say, ‘Reggie, we want to come and really educate people on what the vaccine is, how it works, and offer it to them if they want.’ I’m cool with it,” Winston said. “I don’t want them to force my customers or force my barbers to influence the customers to get the vaccine, [but] if they wanted to make it available here, I’m all cool for it.”
Winston expects his customers and employees to follow social distancing guidelines and wear masks, he said, but he does not plan on making vaccines a requirement to enter or to work at his shop. He understands why some people might not want a vaccine yet.
“There’s going to be a lot of trust that’s needed to be rebuilt for low income and minorities,” Winston said. “I know, my mother, she was born in the 60s, she has older sisters that have been through some things.
“I’ve seen some things, that’s just one generation ago. We’ve learned a lot from that last generation, and there is going to be some hesitancy.”
Addressing those on the fence
In March, the administration of vaccines was lower in communities of color in the state, with Black North Carolinians accounting for 21 percent of the population and COVID-19 cases, but only roughly 16 percent of the population that was vaccinated.
As of June 14, the total number of Black North Carolinians vaccinated was 640,950, or 18 percent of the population, overall, an increased proportion of the population since March, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services vaccine dashboard.
Winston and other barbers across North Carolina could help increase vaccination numbers.
According to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, barber shops not only provide traditional hair services, but are often places where Black people congregate to discuss important community issues.
“Outside of a pastor or a faith leader we’re [the] number one influencers or impactors in our community,” Winston explained. “A lot of people can’t tell their faith leader everything that they’re dealing with or have experienced, but they feel like they can tell that to us and our advice go[es] a long way.”
‘We have those conversations.’
Winston grew up in Zebulon and Wendell with five siblings and a fierce drive, knowing what it’s like to rely on others for help.
“US Foods service was my dream job. And it was my dream job because I grew up really, really in poverty, right?” he recalled. “Five kids, low income, government assistance, everything, you know, pretty much everything in school.”
After high school, Winston worked 60 to 70 hours a week at a food distribution company but decided a decade ago to pick up the clippers.
He hasn’t looked back.
Since the vaccines have been rolled out, Winston has shared what he knows about vaccines with his clients and listened to their mix of positive and negative responses.
“The people in my chair, and the people that I actually see and speak to, we have those conversations,” Winston said. “‘I’ll ask, ‘Have you done it? Are you considering it? What are your thoughts on it?’ I can’t change the person’s mind, I can just only give them my story.”
Sharing his story has propelled some clients to join the vaccination effort.
“It definitely happens without even having to tell them to do it,” Winston said. “‘Reggie, did you take the vaccine?’ ‘Yeah, I’m feeling good. I can’t wait.’ Some people start thinking, ‘I do want to go out. Yeah, Reggie did it so [can I].’”
‘We are essential’
On June 10, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that his administration had set up a $4 million lottery program to encourage more North Carolinians to get vaccinated. Winston said he thought the chance to win $1 million in one of four drawings this summer might move some of those not vaccinated off the fence, but he said time will tell.
Though Winston personally jumped at his first chance to get the vaccine, when thinking about the Biden administration initiative he wishes the federal and state governments had seen the value of barbers sooner in the pandemic.
“I think if they’re going to push that in North Carolina, they should do something to really help take care of the barbers, or the barber shops that are getting involved and not just only rely on them when they need us to give something,” he said. “We are essential. Take care of the barbers and stylists, don’t just ask them for help, give them some funding or some grant money or whatever to stay in business and be able to continue to make change in the community.”
At the end of the day, Winston has two dreams in mind: To be the best husband and someday have children of his own that he can nurture, while also empowering the community. At the Bar Ber Shop, he does just that.