NORTH CAROLINA — North Carolina continues to see an increase in positive cases of coronavirus, including an increase in deaths, while in Phase 2 of reopening.
According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Saturday saw an increase of almost 1,400 positive cases on more than 15,000 completed tests. It was the highest number of daily positive tests since the pandemic began.
The number of residents hospitalized because of COVID-19 rose to 708.
Mecklenburg County passed 5,000 positive coronavirus cases Friday. On Thursday, the county's death toll also passed 100.
North Carolina Moves Into Phase 2
North Carolina moved into Phase 2 of the multi-phase state reopening plan on Friday, May 22. Gov. Roy Cooper announced the move Wednesday, but says it will be a more modest pace than previously outlined.
Phase 2, which lifts the stay-at-home order and shifts to a safer-at-home recommendation, will tentatively last until 5 p.m. on June 26.
Under Phase 2, Cooper says teleworking when possible is still highly recommended, and businesses and places such as bars, nightclubs, gyms and indoor facilities, public playgrounds, and indoor entertainment venues like movie theaters and bowling alleys are to remain closed.
Mass gatherings indoors will be limited to no more than 10 people, 25 people if outdoors. This restriction applies to event venues, conference centers, stadiums and sports arenas, amphitheaters, and groups at parks or beaches.
Additional businesses will be allowed to reopen at a limited capacity.
Restaurants can reopen for dine-in customers at mostly a 50 percent capacity but must maintain distancing and cleaning requirements.
Personal care businesses, including salons and barbers, can also reopen at 50 percent capacity. Cooper says they will have face covering and cleaning requirements, as well as reducing the number of people in waiting areas.
Cooper says swimming pools will be able to open at 50 percent capacity, and overnight and day camps can resume with safety rules in place.
Local governments will continue to have the authority to enact their own restrictions and guidelines in addition to the state order, Cooper says, if they feel it is in the best interest of their community.
Read the full Phase 2 order here.
COVID-19 in North Carolina
To date, County health officials and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services report at least 34,709 cases of COVID-19 across the state and 1,014 deaths due to complications related to the coronavirus.
Health officials have said however, that the majority of those deadly cases involved patients who were in an older age group and or had underlying medical conditions that increased their risk.
Additionally, more than 497,000 tests have been completed in the state and 708 people are in the hospital, according to the NCDHHS.
“This reminds us all to do our part to decrease the chance of infection and stop the spread of the virus by following social distancing recommendations and staying home to the extent possible,” Johnston County Health Director Dr. Marilyn Pearson said.
Once the presumptive positive tests are made within the state, they are sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for final confirmation.
The identities of the patients are not being released to protect the families' privacy, but officials say they are being placed in isolation following their “presumptive positive” test in accordance to state and federal health guidelines.
The state’s first case was reported on March 3 in Wake County.
According to health officials, the patient tested presumptive positive after returning from Washington state where he had reportedly visited the same nursing facility which housed several confirmed cases.
You can view each county’s total in the interactive map above.
Health officials say they are continuing to actively investigating each case that is reported to produce a timeline of the patients’ travels while symptomatic. Using contact tracing, they are also working to identify any people who may have been put at risk during that time due to close contact.
According to the CDC, "close contact" is defined as being within six feet of the patient for 10 or more minutes.
The N.C. General Assembly on Saturday unanimously passed coronavirus relief and recovery legislation that will spend and reserve roughly $1.6 billion.
According to a release, the compromise spending plan will significantly help the state to move forward and respond to the economic and human impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Included in the bill are funds for testing, tracing, immediate recovery needs, and increasing access to broadband and electronic devices used to access remote learning opportunities.
Gov. Roy Cooper issued the following statement on the bill's passage:
“I applaud the General Assembly for working quickly to pass legislation to fight COVID-19 in North Carolina. These bills were developed collaboratively, and although it’s just a first step, they are the product of a consensus approach that I hope can continue. I will be reviewing them closely and look forward to taking action on them soon.”
You can see a breakdown, released by Senate leader Phil Berger's office, of how the funds will be appropriated below:
- $75 million for school nutrition
- $1 million for the Department of Public Instruction to improve internet connectivity for students through the use of mobile Wi-Fi hotspots on buses
- $11 million for the Department of Public Instruction to improve internet connectivity for students by providing internet access devices
- $30 million for schools to purchase devices for students in response to COVID-19
- $5 million for electronic devices for school staff in response to COVID-19
- $4.5 million for cybersecurity
- $10 million for student health programs
- $70 million for summer learning programs
- $1.48 million for enhancing the state’s learning management platform
- $3 million for non-digital learning instructional resources
- $15 million for exception children programs
- $660,029 for residential schools
- $5 million for the Department Public Instruction’s Extended Learning and Integrated Student Supports (ELISS) Grants
- $25 million for the Community College System to respond to COVID-19 impacts
- $44.4 million for the UNC System to respond to COVID-19 impacts
- $20 million for independent and private colleges to respond to COVID-19 impacts
- $85.1 million for COVID-19 research, including $29 million for the UNC Collaboratory, $20 million for Wake Forest University Health Services, $15 million for Duke University’s Human Vaccine Institute, $15 million to the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, and $6 million to the Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine
- $25 million for testing, tracing, and trends related to COVID-19
- $20 million for additional public health capacity, including increasing nursing capacity, number of community health workers, telehealth services and providing infection control support and training in nursing homes and adult care homes
- $20 million for enhanced behavioral health and crisis services to respond to COVID-19, including diverting individuals experiencing behavioral health emergencies from emergency departments
- $50 million for purchasing additional PPE
- $19 million for food, safety, shelter, and child care
- $6 million for food banks
- $2.25 million for foster care support
- $25 million for facilities that serve Special Assistance recipients
- $50 million for rural and under-served communities
- $65 million for rural hospital support
- $5 million for free and charitable clinics
- $1.5 million for NC MedAssist
- $15 million for the Teaching Hospitals Relief Fund
- $15 million for the General Hospital Relief Fund
- $300 million for the DOT Coronavirus Relief Fund, if allowed by the federal government
- $150 million for local government grants to support immediate COVID-19 needs
- $150 million for the Local Government Coronavirus Relief Reserve, if allowed by the federal government
- $20 million to support fee-supported state operations, if allowed by the federal government
- $70 million for continuity of government operation needs, including covering overtime costs, purchasing PPE, sanitation and hygienic supplies, and critical information technology equipment
- $15 million for animal depopulation and disposal
- $125 million for small business loans through Golden LEAF
- $290,000 for the LINKS program
- $5 million for the Association of Community Health Centers
- $5 million for Visit NC marketing
- $1.8 million for the Old North State Medical Society
- $9 million for the GREAT program to expand access to broadband internete.
Governor Declares State of Emergency Over Coronavirus
Gov. Roy Cooper has declared a State of Emergency in North Carolina as fears over a novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak continue to spread.
The state of emergency, according to the governor, allows officials more budget flexibility, quicker access to necessary supplies, and aid in the response to and prevention of further infections.
State officials say high-risk individuals should avoid mass travel and large gatherings, such as concerts, conventions, and church. High-risk residence homes are also encouraged to restrict visitor access.
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen says the recommendations are based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, actions already taken by other states, and available information on protecting public health.
Hospitals Adjust to Help Prevent and Fight COVID-19 Spread
Medical facilities across the state have implemented new protocols to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) among patients, visitors, and staff.
Atrium Health, Novant Health, and Wake Forest Baptist Health announced Tuesday they are coordinating together to "to prepare for and respond to the possibility of increasing cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) spreading in our communities."
The group says they are rescheduling all non-essential surgeries, procedures, and ambulatory appointments, effective Wednesday, March 18.
"Clinics will contact patients if their appointment needs reschedule. Patients do not need to call the helpline or the clinic to change their appointment at this time," according to a statement from Novant Health.
Emergency and essential services will continue uninterrupted, officials say.
For links to some of North Carolina's main healthcare providers, and to view policy and procedure changes, click here.
Schools, Businesses, Events Canceled/Closed as N.C. Responds to Coronavirus Outbreak
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, North Carolina moved to close businesses, schools, and cancel events in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.
School districts were switched to online learning, and have been ordered to remain closed through the rest of the academic year.
Many businesses were also forced to close their doors, which led to a surge unemployment numbers.
In March, recognizing the impact COVID-19 restrictions would have on North Carolina workers and businesses, Gov. Cooper announced measures to address unemployment and "directly aid workers who may have lost wages in restaurants and meeting places due to mass gathering restrictions."
According to a statement from Cooper's office, "workers who lose income due to tips or scheduled work hours, but are still employed, would be eligible for benefits because of this Executive Order."
Additionally, the order will:
- Remove the one-week waiting period to apply for unemployment payment for those workers who lose their jobs;
- Remove the requirement that a person must be actively looking for another job during this time when many potential employers are closed and social distancing guidelines are in effect.
- Allow employees who lose their jobs or, in certain cases have their hours reduced due to COVID-19 to apply for unemployment benefits.
- Direct that employers will not be held responsible for benefits paid as a direct result of these COVID-19 claims.
- Waive the requirement that people must apply for benefits in person; workers can apply for benefits online or by phone.
UNC to Reopen Campuses in the Fall
Interim President of the UNC System Bill Roper said Wednesday that he anticipates campuses will reopen in the fall.
"I expect to reopen our campuses for the Fall 2020 Semester and look forward to welcoming our faculty and students back to their classrooms and labs this fall," Roper said in a statement. "To do so, we are working closely with our chancellors to chart a course forward."
Roper said trends have been positive.
"We are optimistically seeing indications of improvement and hopeful that this will continue," Roper said. "But these trends will continue only if we stay focused and diligent, which we must and will do. North Carolina will likely have improved capacity for tracking student exposure and greater access to the tools, materials, and supplies that can help minimize the virus’s threat."
Roper emphasized that UNC will keep students' health as a top priority.
"Each and every step the UNC System takes will continue to prioritize health and safety," he said. "Until a vaccine is developed, many members of our community may not be able to risk teaching or attending in-person classes. Our chancellors will have flexibility to determine what local steps they need to take to protect all students, faculty and staff, especially high-risk populations, both on campus and off. They will have the ability to put unique precautions in place."
Airports Taking Steps to Combat the Spread of the Coronavirus
Airports across the state say they are taking extra steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus and other illnesses.
There is a larger effort to wipe down all "touchpoints," which are places where people could easily pick up viruses, like handrails on escalators, door handles, baggage claim areas, and seats in the gate areas, and conduct "deep cleanings" of public terminal areas and shuttle buses.
Officials say they are continuing to monitor COVID-19 cases throughout the country and are working with local, state, and federal health agencies to ensure the necessary protocols are in place.
Passengers are also being asked to take extra precautions when traveling, including:
- Avoid close contact with people showing symptoms
- Try not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Stay home when you’re sick
- Cover your mouth or nose when you sneeze or cough
- Frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
What are the Symptoms?
How to Protect Yourself and Others
According to the CDC, there are several simple steps you can take to help protect yourself and others during the coronavirus outbreak.
- Clean your hands thoroughly and often
- Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick
- Stay at home if you are sick, except to get medical care
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
- If you are sick, wear a facemask
- Clean and disinfect any frequently touched surfaces daily
If you or someone you know becomes ill, the CDC recommends taking the following steps:
- Stay home, except to get medical treatment
- Separate yourself from others, including animals, in your home
- Call ahead before visiting your doctor
- Wear a facemask if you are sick
- Cover coughs and sneezes
- Clean your hands thoroughly and often
- Avoid sharing any personal household items
- Clean any "high-touch" surfaces on a daily basis
- Monitor your symptoms
- Remain on home isolation until instructed to leave
N.C. DHHS has also released the following recommendations to keep yourself protected:
If you need medical care and have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or suspect you might have COVID-19, call ahead and tell your health care provider you have or may have COVID-19. This will allow them to take steps to keep other people from getting exposed. NC DHHS recommends that persons experiencing fever and cough should stay at home and not go out until their symptoms have completely resolved.
HIGH RISK PERSONS WITHOUT SYMPTOMS
NC DHHS recommends that people at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should stay at home to the extent possible to decrease the chance of infection.
People at high risk include people:
- Over 65 years of age, or
- with underlying health conditions including heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes, or
- with weakened immune systems.
CONGREGATE LIVING FACILITIES
NC DHHS recommends that all facilities that serve as residential establishments for high risk persons described above should restrict visitors. Exceptions should include end of life care or other emergent
situations determined by the facility to necessitate a visit. If visitation is allowed, the visitor should be screened and restricted if they have a respiratory illness or potential exposure to COVID-19. Facilities are encouraged to implement social distancing measures and perform temperature and respiratory symptom screening of residents and staff. These establishments include settings such as nursing homes, independent and assisted living facilities, correction facilities, and facilities that care for medically vulnerable children.
NC DHHS recommends that employers and employees use teleworking technologies to the greatest extent possible, stagger work schedules, and consider canceling non-essential travel. Workplaces should hold larger meetings virtually, to the extent possible. Additionally, employers should arrange the workspace to optimize distance between employees, ideally at least six feet apart. Employers should urge high risk employees to stay home and urge employees to stay home when they are sick and maximize flexibility in sick leave benefits.
Mass transit operators should maximize opportunities for cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces. People should avoid using use mass transit (e.g. buses, trains) while sick.
Any North Carolinian seeking additional information on COVID-19 can call NC 2-1-1, which is an information and referral service that families and individuals can call to obtain free and confidential information on health and human services resources within their community, or text COVIDNC to 898211 to receive general information and updates about COVID-19.
N.C. Medicaid Gets Updates in Response to Coronavirus
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has announced changes to N.C. Medicaid beginning on March 13.
The policies are in response to the coronavirus and will address pharmacy benefits, supplies, and access to care.
For a detailed list of policy changes and more information, click here.
In related news, N.C. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey on Thursday "directed all health benefit plans licensed by the N.C. Department of Insurance to allow for extra prescriptions as a result of the state of emergency declared by Governor Roy Cooper."
The change will allow covered persons to obtain one refill on a prescription if there are authorized refills and not contrary to the dispensing authority of the pharmacy, according to a statement.
This emergency authorization is effective immediately and will remain in effect through April 9.
The following information was also included in Thursday's news release:
"CVS Pharmacy has announced it will also waive charges for home delivery of prescription medications to encourage people at a higher risk for COVID-19 to stay home as much as possible.
"Insurance Commissioner Causey reminds consumers the largest health insurer in the state, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, has agreed to waive copays for coronavirus services and NCDOI is encouraging other health insurers in the state to do the same.
"Many insurers have also agreed to cover telemedicine or virtual visits to allow people to remotely speak to their doctors."
Cooper Signs Executive Order Prohibiting Utility Disconnections
Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order on March 31 that prohibits companies from disconnecting the utilities of people who are unable to pay during the coronavirus pandemic.
The order specifically applies to electric, gas, water, and wastewater services, according to a release, but companies providing services like phone, cable, and internet are also "strongly urged" to follow the same rules.
Under the order, companies are directed to give residential customers at least six months to pay outstanding bills and prohibits them from collecting fees, penalties, or interest for late payments.
Amid mass shutdowns and cancellations, several cities and companies around North Carolina had already announced they would make sure residents still have the necessary utilities, regardless of payment, during the coronavirus health emergency.
Charlotte and Raleigh were two of the major cities in the state who made this announcement.
Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas also released similar statements saying they would suspend diconnection of services due to non-payment effective immediately.