CHARLOTTE — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper says he’ll announce early next week a decision on whether businesses still shuttered because of COVID-19 will be allowed to reopen.
State public health officials are concerned with the rising numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
The state is most worried about the uptick in eight counties, including Mecklenburg -- which continues to lead the state in both cases and deaths with at least 7,321 and 124 respectively.
Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris said the county is meeting their testing goal of 5% of the population, which is about 2,000 people a day.
State health leaders released the latest virus numbers Monday morning and after days of significant increases, the numbers were slightly better. 983 new cases were reported, which is down after 5 straight days with more than 1,000 new cases. The largest increase in one day was on Friday when 1,768 new cases were reported.
Officials said hospitalizations are a key area to watch. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, one month ago there were 492 people hospitalized with COVID-19, on Monday, that number was 797. Cooper said hospitals currently have the bed capacity to handle the cases, but they’re monitoring the data closely because that can change quickly.
73% of the state’s hospital beds are in use and 78% of the beds in the intensive care units are full, according to NCDHHS.
Nine more people died in the past 24 hours, bringing the statewide total to 1,118.
Over the last day, NCDHHS has reported that a little more than 8% of the completed tests have come back positive. Last week, the department’s Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said that the percentage of positive tests in North Carolina is among the highest in the U.S.
Cooper said he has talked to Vice President Mike Pence about North Carolina’s concerning numbers. The governor said he asked him to help the state with increasing testing capabilities especially in the counties seeing the highest numbers. Another focus would be the continued testing of all nursing home residents and staff.
At this point, Cohen said nursing homes are only testing long-term care facilities that report at least one COVID-19 case, but she is working on proactive testing.
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She said protective equipment, close contact tracing, visitor restrictions, and strict adherence to the 3 W’s are all part of the state’s strategy to prevent spread within congregate care settings.
Experts fear a second wave of the virus, as the state continues to gather more data from people who tested positive for COVID-19. Cohen said after weeks in Phase 2, she is concerned about trends.
Gov. Roy Cooper started gradually reopening businesses at the end of May, but issued a reminder last week that North Carolina is still under the “Safer at Home” phase and just because we can go out, doesn’t mean we should. The governor said he hopes to transition to a “Phase 2.5″ if the numbers start to improve.
Cooper and Cohen both said North Carolina has worked to flatten the curve once and can do it again.
“I know we see things going in the wrong direction, but if we act collectively, we can take control of our fate here,” Cohen said. “I know folks want to move forward with additional openings and want to get back to the activities, I know they want to get their kids back to school ... this is the way to do it -- to focus on these collective actions we can do.”
The growth in cases has largely been attributed to more testing and the uptick in residents traveling to newly reopened businesses without following the recommended public safety guidelines.
Leaders continued to stress the importance of the 3 W’s: wearing a face covering, waiting 6 feet apart and washing/sanitizing hands frequently.
They placed an emphasis on wearing face coverings to not only protect yourself, but the people around you.
According to Cooper, he and other state leaders are actively discussing whether cloth face coverings should be mandatory in public across the state. Some counties, like Durham County and Orange County, already have similar restrictions in place. Face coverings are currently required for employees at personal care salons -- like hair salons and barbershops -- but customers are not required to wear face coverings.
The governor said he would make an announcement early next week about whether the state will move into a new phase of reopening on Friday, June 26 -- five weeks since Phase 2 began.
Cooper’s current executive order expires June 26. It allows restaurants to have dine-in seating again and for barber shops and hair and nail salons to reopen. But bars, movie theaters and gyms remain closed. The governor said Monday his decision will be based on science and data.
He has not yet said whether the next step will be a full Phase 3 or a modified Phase 2.5, lifting some restrictions currently in place, but said the decision will be based on science and data. Adding he will always do what’s best for the North Carolina.
The crowds at restaurants and other local businesses have people wondering if residents are taking the threat of the virus seriously anymore.
Outside the QC Pourhouse in South End on Friday, people could be seen crowding the door without any social distancing.
The restaurant’s owner Ashley Gassboro said she can limit the number of customers inside, but it’s tough to control the people waiting outside. She said because its a younger crowd, the rules aren’t always followed.
Resident Ugo Uche said people aren’t being as careful.
“We’re letting our guard down a bit,” he said.
That feeling is shared by state and local health officials who have seen big crowds protesting in the streets for more than two weeks. But daily crowds on sidewalks and streets are perhaps more telling.
Resident Jenny Moore told Channel 9 that she’s being careful, but you can’t make everyone do the same.
“People are going to do what they’re going to do. Whether you say go to a restaurant or don’t, they’re going to find some way to get out. Whether they want to distance themselves, they will, I mean as human beings we are kind of self reliant and are going to do what we want to do,” she said.
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