Cooper says ‘strong people’ wear face coverings as sign of compassion

Cooper considers statewide mask mandate as hospitalizations hit record highs

RALEIGH, N.C. — As COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to hit new highs in North Carolina, state leaders stressed that face-coverings and social distancing remain the best tools for containing the spread of the virus.

Gov. Roy Cooper said at a news conference Thursday that masks and standing 6 feet apart are proven ways to slow the spread of the virus. He said they are also something everybody can do to pitch in and they don’t hurt the economy.

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“This is a low-cost, low-tech way to protect ourselves and our communities. It’s an important way to slow the spread of the virus without hurting the economy,” he said.

According to the governor, leaders are looking into a statewide requirement for masks but said they must first analyze the data and consider age range, disabilities, and type of employment in the language of any law put into effect.

“Strong people wear face coverings because it is a sign of compassion and that you actually care about people,” he said.

“You just can’t snap your finger and say, ‘Hey, it’s a rule, everybody do it,’” Cooper said. “It’s gotta be something that’s well-thought through and something that will be effective with the least intrusion that we can have on people.”

Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen opened up by saying that until we have a vaccine, we are going to have to live with the virus. She said research shows that masks are an effective tool and wearing them all the time could significantly reduce the transmission of the virus.

Health leaders reported another record-high number of hospitalizations in the state Thursday, with 857 people currently in the hospital due to complications from COVID-19. That number is up 11 from Wednesday, which had just established the highest total. The latest data is the 10th time in June that North Carolina reached a new record for COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Cohen said the percentage of positive tests is at 9%, which is a slight increase compared to Wednesday’s 8%.

She said that people ages 25-49 are driving the new cases in the state. She said although younger people are at a lower risk of contracting the virus, they can spread it to higher-risk populations. More than half of North Carolina’s residents are considered to be at higher risk for severe complications.

At the state level, Cohen said they will continue to ramp up testing and tracing, but it takes a combined effort from everyone in the state to stop the virus.

“We all need to take precautions,” she said.

According to Cohen, our efforts in local communities will help move the state in the right direction, which will lead to what everyone wants -- easing restrictions.

Director of the Emergency Management Mike Sprayberry said that North Carolina has received a grant for over a million dollars to support North Carolinians dealing with the impacts of COVID-19.

Since the start of the pandemic, he said food insecurity has doubled and urged people to donate to their local food banks.

North Carolina Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee joined state leaders at the conference to announce that they are beginning to test all 31,200 offenders throughout the state’s prison system. He said the testing is expected to take about 60 days and cost $3.3 million dollars.

Albemarle Correctional started testing Thursday. Ishee said so far, 2,809 inmates have been tested and of the 717 who have tested positive, 635 have met the requirements to be released from isolation.

Cooper thanked the state for its continued efforts and was steadfast in his position that public health is his priority.

When asked if he would reinstate the stay-at-home order due to the continued rise in cases, Cooper said he doesn’t want to go backward.

The governor said state health leaders are working on a comprehensive plan to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which will be released next week along with his decision on whether the state will move into the next phase of reopening.

Crowds at local businesses have people wondering if virus is being taken serious