KINSTON, N.C. (WNCT)- – Governor Roy Cooper visited Kinston Tuesday afternoon to learn more about rural broadband initiatives while also learning more about the efforts to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine.

On Monday, Governor Cooper proclaimed Aug. 16–20, 2021, as Rural Broadband Week to call attention to the urgent need to improve broadband access and adoption across the state. On Tuesday, he visited Kinston-Lenoir Library to find out more on the work there.

Rural Broadband Week will celebrate the innovative broadband activities of residents, businesses, nonprofits, and governments in rural North Carolina. lt will also raise awareness of the critical needs for equitable access to affordable, reliable broadband in rural areas, as demonstrated during the pandemic. 

Cooper said it’s time to bring a spotlight on rural areas and the need for internet in areas like Lenoir County. He is proposing part of federal funds from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan go towards broadband infrastructure, including bringing high-speed internet to homes and implementing “digital literacy” programs so people know how to use the technology given to them. At the library, that included education programs and how to search for jobs.

Cooper said it’ll take years to meet the broadband infrastructure he has planned, which is why he’s highlighting Kinston’s library for being a public hot spot while they continue to plan for the future.

“Having these mobile hot spots, and not only that, having people there who can help them understand what they’re doing, with their job search and their homework, or whatever it is they come for, we want to make sure there’s funding out there to increase these types of things, which some of them are temporary some of them are permanent,” Cooper said.

Negotiations are set for next week to talk about how much money will go towards this project. Cooper is proposing $1.2 billion.

Cooper also visited Lenior County Health Department to see how vaccinations were going. Like many areas in North Carolina, Kinston is a hot spot for the rising number of COVID-19 cases. Health officials have been encouraging residents to get the vaccine while also practicing social distancing and wearing masks.

Cooper said he’s relying on employers to enforce mask and vaccine policies to help slow the spread. When asked, Cooper would not answer if a statewide mask mandate is off the table.

“We’ve got a verification mandate in place right now so state employees would have to tell us you’ve been vaccinated, and if not you’ve got to get tested and you’ve got to wear a mask … and a number of other employers are doing that as well,” Cooper said.

The Lenoir County Health Department is one of several in the state distributing $100 cash cards to people getting their first COVID-19 vaccine. There are also $25 cash cards being given out to their drivers. In addition, workers there go out in the community to give vaccines to those who want them.

“It’s great to see more people across the state stepping up to get their lifesaving vaccine,” Governor Cooper said. “Each shot gets us closer to emerging stronger on the other side of this pandemic. Let’s encourage our loved ones to get a shot now so we can get there even sooner.”

“It is an honor to do the important work of Public Health for the residents of Lenoir County,” said Lenoir County Health Director Pam Brown. “The pandemic has been a tremendous challenge for all of us. I am thankful to the Lenoir County leadership, health department staff, and many partners who did not waver in serving the residents of our community even when the challenges seemed overwhelming.”

Kinston Mayor Don Hardy said he’s seen his city come a long way since the start of the pandemic and is pushing for people to get vaccinated.

“We must do whatever we can, however we can, whenever we can to help impact the lives of others, for the better,” Hardy said.

Governor Cooper’s press office also contributed to this story.