'This pandemic can be behind us’: Thanksgiving tips as NC tightens gathering limits

Gov. Roy Cooper has announced that North Carolina will remain “paused” in Phase 3 but that the state’s indoor gathering limit has been reduced from 25 to 10 ahead of Thanksgiving.

In a news briefing Tuesday, Cooper said that indoor gatherings would be subject to further restrictions as COVID-19 cases continue to spike across the state. The governor’s decision comes as cold weather moves events indoors and the holiday season approaches.

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“Thanksgiving is two weeks away, and North Carolinians are focused on how to celebrate the holiday amid this pandemic,” Cooper said. “There’ll be the usual concerns about who’s carving the turkey and whether we’re going to talk about politics. But we need everyone focused on how to keep safe.”

State health officials have released the following tips for holiday gatherings:

  • Do not host a gathering if you feel sick, have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or exposed to the virus
  • The smaller the gathering, the better
  • Try to hold event outdoors
  • Seat families that live in same household together at same table
  • Make sure tables are 6 feet apart
  • Disinfect common areas frequently
  • Adhere to the 3 W’s when you’re not eating/drinking
  • Get screening test prior to attending family event

“And even though this means changes to long-standing holiday traditions for many of us, take comfort in the fact that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. With our continued dedication, by next Thanksgiving or sooner, this pandemic can be behind us,” Cooper said.

According to a report on COVID-19 clusters in North Carolina released on Monday, there have been 29 COVID-19 clusters stemming from social gatherings, resulting in 279 cases and two deaths.

Health officials have repeatedly said the current spike in COVID-19 cases is being driven by gatherings among people who do not live in the same household.




The mass gathering limit, however, does not apply to religious services. Monday’s report noted that 100 COVID-19 clusters have been linked to religious gatherings, leading to 1,393 cases and 21 deaths. However, the report added that cases associated with religious gatherings decreased last week to the lowest level since August. Those attending religious services are still asked to stay socially distant and wear a face covering at all times during services.

“Science shows that the transition of this virus is much greater indoors, and the more people that are gathered, the more easily this virus can spread,” Cooper said. “As frustrating and painful as it is, we must keep fighting a little while longer. We don’t want to let the last eight months of sacrifices go to waste by dropping our guard or ignoring safety measures. We’ve come too far to lose our focus now.”

The state has been tracking where outbreaks have happened since the pandemic began and the data shows how the front lines have shifted in the last eight months.

In May, more than 500 workers at the Tyson processing plant in Wilkesboro tested positive for the virus. At the same time, cases in the workplace, specifically meat and poultry processing plants were spiking around the state. Those numbers are now close to zero.

Current NC trends provided by Dr. Mandy Cohen:

  • ER visits - decreasing
  • Cases - increasing
  • Percent positive - level near 7%
  • Hospitalizations - level

Aug. and early Sept. saw the return to school for students colleges and universities. With the return came a spike in virus cases at campuses around the state. Before Tuesday’s report of a cluster involving UNCC’s baseball team, cases on campus of the state’s universities had also decreased.

Restaurants and breweries reopened over the summer. Some clusters came after that but those numbers have been up and down over the last four months.

The state transitioned to Phase 3 on Oct. 2. The phase was set to expire Friday, but the governor’s announcement extends it until Dec. 4. No other changes were made to the current phase other than the limit on indoor gatherings. Outdoor gathering limits will remain at 50 people, bars and movie theaters will remain open and all businesses will be subject to capacity limits.

“This pandemic will end. A vaccine is in the final stages of development and the FDA has authorized a promising new treatment. Hope is on the horizon,” Cooper added. “This pandemic will not last forever.”

‘We won’t have to do this forever’: Charlotteans planning for holidays with tighter restrictions

A lot of disappointment comes with the latest restrictions, potentially affecting people’s Thanksgiving plans.

“There will be lots of leftovers because we’re not going to be doing much this year,” said Charlotte resident Sam Boileau."

She already has a turkey because a good sale at the grocery store had her preparing early. But she’ll be setting the table for a few instead of many.

“Usually, we try to have as much family as possible that can make it to our place because I really like to cook, but this year we’re keeping it small because we just don’t want the influx of people in the house,” she told Channel 9 on Wednesday.

Eyewitness News anchor Blaine Tolison met others who still don’t know if they’ll have a sit-down dinner on the holiday.

“No, I work in the medical field, so I’ll be on call for work,” said Chrissie Humes.

Humes said the holidays are bringing more unknowns and stress on top of what she goes through each day at her job.

“It’s a stress for anyone right now, especially not knowing if we’re going to be able to see them and stuff like that,” she said.

However, some of the most at-risk people are taking the changes in stride. 83-year-old Don Keen said he isn’t too worried.

“Not really. I’m 83, just living. You just have to kind of be strategic about it,” he told Channel 9.

Keen’s children are coming to town, including his daughter who flies in from Salt Lake City. He said COVID-19 precautions complicate things some, but that it’s OK.

“My daughter’s coming in on an airplane -- that’s a threat,” he said. “How are we going to … we’re not going to hug her. we’re going to keep our distance. If it helps then it’s easy enough, but I’m optimistic we won’t have to do this forever.”

What about closer to home?

Earlier Tuesday, the county released its latest COVID-19 data. It says that during the last week, an average of 7% of people tested were COVID-19 positive. That’s up over the last two weeks.

A month ago, that number was down to around 4%. And the number of people being admitted to the hospital is also up.

At this point, every state in the country is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases. President-elect Joe Biden is warning of a “dark winter” ahead as cases surge above 10 million -- that’s the highest number of reported cases in any nation.

Highlights about the 36,203 COVID-19 cases reported in Mecklenburg County as of November 8, 2020 include:

  • About 3 in 4 reported cases were adults ages 20 to 59 years old.
  • About 1 in 4 reported cases are Hispanic – most of whom are younger adults. As previously noted, some factors influencing this trend include:
  • Targeted testing occurring in neighborhoods with lower access to care, some of which have larger Hispanic populations;
  • Higher proportions of Hispanics working in essential jobs that make social distancing difficult;
  • Significant household spread among large families; and
  • Pre-existing disparities in other social and economic determinants of health, like poverty.
  • About 1 in 20 reported cases were hospitalized due to their COVID-19 infection. While everyone is at risk for severe COVID-19 complications, reported cases who were older adults (≥ 60 years) were more likely to be hospitalized compared to younger individuals.
  • About 8 out of 10 have met CDC criteria to be released from isolation.
  • During the past week, an average of 220 laboratory-confirmed infections were reported compared to the 14-day average of 216 confirmed infections. This represents an increase over the last 14 days. These data are based on Mecklenburg resident cases reported to MCPH.
  • During the past week, an average of 141 individuals with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infections were hospitalized at acute care facilities in Mecklenburg County. This represents an increase over the last 14 days. These data are based on daily census counts from acute care facilities in Mecklenburg County reporting to MCPH.
  • During the past week, an average of 7.0 percent of individuals who were tested in Mecklenburg County were positive for COVID-19. This represents an increase in trends over the last 14 days. These data only include ELRs for molecular (PCR) tests submitted to NC DHHS for laboratories electronically submitting negative and positive COVID-19 results.
  • Four hundred-ten deaths due to COVID-19 occurred among reported cases.
  • Almost all deaths were among older adults (≥ 60 years), 4 deaths occurred in adults ages 20 to 39 and 55 deaths were adults ages 40 to 59.
  • All deaths, except five, occurred among adults with underlying chronic illnesses.
  • Almost half were non-Hispanic Whites. The disparity in COVID-19 deaths among non-Hispanic Whites is related to differences in race/ethnicity of residents of long-term care (LTC) facilities actively experiencing an outbreak.
  • Half of all deaths were connected to active outbreaks at long-term care (LTC) facilities.
  • Among deaths not connected to outbreaks at long-term care facilities, nearly 3 in 4 were non-White, with 41 percent being non-Hispanic Black. As previously noted, these disparities are largely driven by higher rates of underlying chronic conditions that increase risk of severe complications due to COVID-19 infection among these communities
  • Based on publicly available mobility tracking data, social distancing slightly increased in Mecklenburg County over the last 14 days.