RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s governor and top health official issued their most pointed warnings on Wednesday as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continued to surge to levels not seen before during the pandemic.
At a news conference from the Emergency Operations Center, Governor Roy Cooper extended his current modified Stay-at-Home order for at least three weeks.
The order was initially set to expire on Friday but will now run through at least Jan. 29.
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The stay-at-home restrictions, which have been in place since Dec. 11, close non-essential businesses like gyms, restaurants and retail at 10 p.m. nightly, and allow them to reopen at 5 a.m. The new restrictions also include moving the alcohol curfew to 9 p.m. -- two hours earlier than a previous curfew of 11 p.m.
The extension comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to surge to the highest levels seen since the start of the pandemic.
There were 6,952 new COVID-19 cases reported Wednesday and the percent positive rate is at 17.8% -- the highest rate of the pandemic, well above the 5% total that the state wants to reach.
A total of 3,893 people across North Carolina are hospitalized due to the virus, which is also higher than at any point since March. 531 confirmed COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in the past 24 hours -- the largest spike so far in the pandemic.
In explaining the extension, Cooper praised hospitals for managing the crisis amid growing capacity issues, but warned if and when hospitals become more strained, a stricter Stay-At-Home order similar to earlier lockdowns could be put in place.
The state’s top health official Dr. Mandy Cohen joined Cooper at the conference and for the first time, issued her own order -- a Secretarial Directive telling North Carolinians to stay home except for essential activities. It also directs people to avoid gathering, especially indoors, with people who do not live with you.
Under the directive North Carolinians are instructed to:
- Only leave home for essential activities such as going to work or school, for health care purposes, to care for family members or to buy food.
- Avoid leaving home if you are over 65 or at high risk for developing serious illness. Use delivery services or alternative pick-up methods for food and retail.
- Avoid gathering with people who do not live with you.
- Wear a mask and keep distance from people when you leave home.
- Avoid any indoor public spaces where people are not wearing masks.
- Stay away from crowds. Avoid places where people may gather in large numbers.
Though the directive doesn’t have the force of law or enforcement, Cohen said she hopes this formal action reinforces the 3W’s and adds on admonitions consistent with the White House Coronavirus Task Force. That includes a warning that if people do gather with people outside of their household to “presume” you have the virus and get tested.
“There is an alarming amount of virus everywhere in our state. We are in a very dangerous position,” said Cohen. “Every single North Carolinian needs to take immediate action to save lives and protect themselves and each other.”
According to Cohen, 96% of North Carolina’s 100 counties are red or orange in the COVID-19 County Alert System, meaning they are experiencing critical or substantial community spread.
84 counties, including Mecklenburg, are now in the red -- an increase from the 65 that were reported three days before Christmas.
Both Cooper and Cohen touched on the vaccine being the best weapon to combat the virus.
“The vaccine will eventually be our best medical weapon against this deadly pandemic. But as we’ve said, it will take many months to get there. Until then, we have to mind the data and use our best prevention tools to slow the rapid spread of this virus,” Cooper said.
The governor said he is concerned about reports some people have declined to take the vaccine when it is their turn, but he hopes those who are hesitant will gin confidence.
Vaccine rollout across the state has been deemed one of the slowest by the Centers for Disease Control. To help with the process, the governor mobilized the National Guard to coordinate with NCDHHS and Emergency Management. The mobilization includes about 50 Guardsmen and women, some of whom will help administer the vaccine.
Others will support logistics, planning and other key functions like helping local health departments and other providers make timely data entry into the state’s tracking system.
So far, nearly 124,000 people across North Carolina have gotten their shots and nearly 500 have gotten both doses.
More than 3 million Americans were vaccinated Tuesday. That pushes the total number of Americans vaccinated near 20 million.
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