5/18/20: PHASE TWO MAY GO INTO EFFECT THIS WEEKEND. GOVERNOR TO ANNOUNCE MID-WEEK IF STATE WILL MOVE FORWARD WITH REOPENING. Plus, Governor Reacts Angrily to News of ‘Covid Parties.’

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Governor Roy Cooper seemed inclined at a 2 p.m. briefing today toward moving North Carolina’s reopening into Phase Two this weekend—a phase that would lift the statewide stay-at-home order and allow more non-essential businesses, including close-contact personal services, to operate with restrictions.

The Governor said he would “let people know something very soon” about Phase Two, most likely by mid-week.

Although Governor Cooper said that he and his public-health team would have to look at the COVID-19 “indicators and trends” for the next two days, to decide if Phase Two is advisable, he raised no concerns about the data the State has received since Phase One took effect on May 8.

Phase One, which was designed to last at least two weeks, has no expiration date.

Secretary of the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mandy Cohen, briefly addressed the “largest single-day increase” in COVID-19 cases of 853 over the weekend, calling it “concerning.” She said she would “continue to look into the data to understand why” the spike occurred.

As she has in previous briefings, Dr. Cohen stressed the increase in the number of COVID-19 tests being conducted as the main reason for the increase in cases.

“We are easing restrictions,” she explained further, “and folks are moving around more,” so the virus has more chance to spread.

Dr. Cohen described the metrics of daily case counts and positive-test rate percentages as being “stable,” saying the latter average about 7 percent, which is “in line” with what she would like to see.

Dr. Cohen did not mention that the positive-test rate spiked to 12 percent with the 853 cases recorded in the 24-hour period from 11 a.m. Friday to 11 a.m. Saturday.

Today’s NCDHHS dashboard records 511 new COVID-19 cases among 6,811 completed tests, for a 7.5 percent positive-test rate. Hospitalizations increased 18 to 511, and deaths rose by two to 661.

The Beacon has recently learned from N.C. media reports, including by The Raleigh News & Observer, that the data used to compile the number of hospitalizations are incomplete: They are based exclusively on voluntary surveys submitted–sometimes not every day–by only 100 hospitals statewide.

According to The News & Observer, the statistics submitted also do not always include COVID-19 patients in the hospitals’ intensive care units or on ventilators.

Both the Governor and Dr. Cohen repeated in today’s briefing messages they have delivered before, including that North Carolina “has flattened the curve, but the threat is still there,” that “more testing is critical”—about 7,500 tests are being conducted daily—and that people need to take a cloth face covering and hand sanitizer with them when they go out to a public place and observe the three W’s of wear, wait, and wash.

Early in the briefing, Governor Cooper said that he was “troubled” by people’s failure to wear face coverings, especially in supermarkets and other stores where employees risk infection simply by going to work.

He urged people to “protect others, as well as yourselves” and to show appreciation for the “front-line” retail workers by wearing face coverings.

A media question about young people holding “COVID parties” in order to deliberately get infected and to build “herd immunity” drew an angry response from the Governor.

“That is completely irresponsible and absolutely unacceptable,” he said, disgustedly.

After Dr. Cohen explained that a “COVID party” would do “exactly the opposite” of what public-health officials are trying to achieve—which is to slow the spread of the virus—Governor Cooper responded further.

“If you do that, you can easily kill someone you love,” he said.

It was a powerful moment in what was otherwise a routine update.

PHASE TWO

Governor Cooper was reluctant to give specific details about Phase Two, which is expected to last four to six weeks.

Asked by reporters specifically about the operation of barbershops and hair salons and the limitation on mass gatherings indoors, the Governor would say only that restrictions will be imposed, and that he would elaborate upon them later.

In close-contact businesses, he said, personal protective equipment will be required of both service professionals and their customers, and a capacity limit will be applied to a mass gathering indoors.

When he first announced his three-phase reopening plan, the Governor said that in Phase Two, restaurants, bars, and other businesses that have been closed because of customers’ proximity to each other would be allowed to reopen with “reduced [customer] capacity or with specific restrictions requiring social distancing.”

Dr. Cohen answered a question about the reopening of public pools, which is permissible in Phase Two. She said pools will be allowed to reopen with fewer people than the usual capacity; with seating that ensures six-foot physical distancing; with people wearing face coverings when they are not swimming; and with other distancing imperatives.

The Governor said there are currently 275 testing sites in North Carolina, a number that he expects will “grow,” including with modular units that will temporarily set up in a town, city, or community. (Dr. Sheila Davies, director of the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services announced last week that she would have details about a local drive-thru testing initiative this week.)

“We want testing to be far and wide,” the Governor said.

The Governor said he is “hopeful” that North Carolina can move into Phase Two on Friday,  adding “that economic prosperity and public health can go hand-in-hand.”
BREAKING NEWS: The News & Observer just reported that sparsely populated Avery County in the mountains along the Tennessee border reported its first positive test result for COVID-19 this afternoon.

Avery County had been the only one of North Carolina’s 100 counties without a confirmed COVID-19 case. See: https://www.newsobserver.com/news/coronavirus/article242655241.html?utm_source=pushly&intcid=%7B__explicit:pushly_537129%7D

Avery County’s positive test apparently was one of 250 nasal-swab tests conducted in a drive-thru testing event in early May, according to The News & Observer.

A popular second-home destination, Avery has a 14-day self-quarantine rule in effect for anyone coming into the county for an overnight stay.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 5/18/20

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