NORTH CAROLINA — County health officials and NCDHHS are now indicating at least 2,594 people in the state have COVID-19. The death total is now 31 for the state, with the number of total confirmed cases in the U.S. being around 312,000, with more than 8,500 deaths. 

So far, more than 40,000 tests have been completed in the state, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Latest

Nearly one out of every four cases in North Carolina is out of Mecklenburg County, which has reported 664 cases, with three deaths.

Wake County has the second most cases, with 304, amounting for less than 12 percent of the state totals.

Guilford County and Johnston County also have three deaths due to coronavirus, according to the DHHS

Lowe's announced that an employee at its home improvement store in Apex tested positive for COVID-19. The employee last worked on March 30 and is being quarantined and is under care. The store remains open after being cleaned as required by CDC. Co-workers who came in worked closely with the employee over a period of time have been put on paid leave, according to Lowe's.

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.

 

COVID-19 in North Carolina

As the state continues to implement restrictions encouraging social distancing as a way to help curb the spread of COVID-19, positive case totals and coronavirus-related death rates continue to climb.

To date, 25 people have died across the state due to complications related to the coronavirus. Health officials have said however, that the majority of the patients were in an older age group and or had underlying medical conditions that increased their risk.

“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,” said Johnston County Health Director, Dr. Marilyn Pearson.

Mecklenburg County and Guilford County have each had three reported deaths so far. Mecklenburg also currently has the highest number of cases in the state at 635.

Wake County has the second highest total of cases with 283, and Durham County follows with 181. 

Neither of those counties has reported a coronavirus-related death however. 

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.

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Gov. Cooper Places N.C. Under Stay-at-Home Order

On Friday, March 27, Gov. Roy Cooper issued a statewide stay-at-home order as North Carolina is now considered a widespread transmission state by the CDC.

“To continue our aggressive battle against COVID-19, I have signed a Stay at Home Order for the entire state of North Carolina. Though it is difficult we must do this to slow the disease spread,” Cooper said in a statement. “We need our medical system to be able to care for the friends and family we know will become seriously ill from the virus.”

The order, which "has the force of law and will be enforced in all 100 counties", will take effect at 5 p.m. on Monday, March 30 and last until April 29.

Residents are directed to stay at home "except to visit essential businesses, to exercise outdoors, or to help a family member," according to a release. 

“I know this order may lead to even more hardship and heartache. Although we are physically apart, we must take this step together in spirit,” said Cooper. 

Unless noted in the order, previous closures and orders stand as written as do local government orders in cities and counties. Frequently Asked Questions about the Order can be found HERE.

If you do not think your business is included in the essential services list, and you think it should be, you may apply online at the NC Department of Revenue to be designated essential HERE. Until your exemption is reviewed, you may operate as long as your business can accommodate social distancing in your workplace.

You can read the full order below:

 

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.

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Schools, Businesses, Events Canceled/Closed as N.C. Responds to Coronavirus Outbreak

Cooper issued an executive order that closed all K-12 public schools effective Monday, March 16 and lasting until May 15.

A new statewide stay-at-home order also bans any gathering of more than 10 people, and directs everyone to stay at least six feet apart from others.

Cooper says, "We are working on efforts to deal with these challenges, from changes to unemployment insurance to special funding from the state and federal government to help get us through this." 

On Tuesday, March 17, Cooper also issued an order for all restaurants and bars to close to dine-in customers. Take-out and delivery services will continue.

Recognizing the impact Tuesday's order will have on jobs across the state, Cooper also announced an additional measure that will 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.
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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

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What are the Symptoms?

Related Content: What We Know About the Coronavirus

 

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:

SYMPTOMATIC PERSONS

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.

WORKPLACE

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

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. 

 

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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.

You can read the full order below.

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Confirmed Cases Worldwide (Source: Johns Hopkins University)