8/5/20: NORTH CAROLINA TO REMAIN ‘PAUSED’ IN PHASE TWO FOR FIVE MORE WEEKS, WHILE PUBLIC SCHOOLS, COLLEGES, & UNIVERSITIES REOPEN. Plus More COVID-19 News Locally.

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North Carolina “will remain paused in Stay-at-Home Phase Two for five more weeks”—until 5 p.m. on Sept. 11—Governor Roy Cooper announced at a 4 p.m. briefing today.

While the COVID-19 metrics tracked by the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services are “overall stabilizing,” HHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said before the Governor announced the extension, “We still have much work to do.”

Dr. Cohen characterized the statewide indicators of the single-day number of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 tests, the single-day number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations, and the positivity rate (which, she said, is “hovering near 7 to 8 percent”), as either starting to stabilize or to “level off,” but as still being too high.

Secretary Cohen “has a glimmer of hope,” she said, because she “sees subtle signs of progress.”

Later in the briefing, she advised people to “hold on to that hope.”

“Stable is good,” the Governor said after listening to Dr. Cohen’s report, “but declining is better.”

Then he added: “Stabile is fragile.”

With public schools K-12 and public colleges and universities reopening this month, either with a combination of in-person and remote learning, or with just remote learning, both the Governor and Dr. Cohen endorsed a five-week extension of Phase Two, rather than a three-week extension, as was done with the executive order currently in effect.

Executive Order 151 expires at 5 p.m. Friday. We will post a link to the new executive order when it is available online.

(Dare County public schools pre-K-12 are reopening with 100 percent remote learning. The first day of school is Aug. 17.)

The extra two weeks, Dr. Cohen explained, will give State officials time to evaluate the impact of reopening schools—especially higher-educational campuses—on COVID-19 transmission and case numbers and “to look at trends as we go forward.”

The Secretary specifically acknowledged an increased risk of viral spread associated with college and university campuses, where students who come from all over the country gather and may mingle—with or without wearing masks and/or observing social distancing.

“Any type of gathering of people has risk,” she said, not just campus gatherings. “The virus is with us. It is in our communities.”

On Monday, North Carolina arrived at “the solemn benchmark” of 2,000 COVID-19-related deaths, the Governor observed at the start of the briefing, which lasted only 15 minutes before he started taking questions from the media.

As he does at every press conference, the Governor sought to individualize everyone who has died and to express his condolences to their loved ones, describing the fatalities as “North Carolinians who are missed dearly.”

As of today, the number of COVID-19-related deaths statewide is 2,050.

North Carolina has recorded a total of 129,288 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases, the Governor said, reciting NCDHHS data—1,127 of them today. There currently are 1,167 people hospitalized with the disease.

The positivity rate today was 5.7 percent, which is closer to the 5 percent that Dr. Cohen would like to see.

Saying he earlier today had visited Hurricane Isaias-devastated Bertie County, where two people died and dozens of others were injured, Governor Cooper reflected that “A hurricane on top of a pandemic is cruel.”

Both the Governor and Dr. Cohen attributed the declining, but still elevated, number of people presenting to emergency departments statewide with Covid-like symptoms, and the stabilizing of the other disease metrics to mandatory mask-wearing.

“We know what works,” Dr. Cohen said.

Although “our cases are still too high,” she continued “. . .  hard work [has been achieved] with face coverings.”

The Secretary also said it is “time to double-down on the simple strategies” of the three Ws: wearing a mask; waiting six feet behind someone; and washing hands frequently.

“Keep wearing your mask,” she stressed.

Asked by a member of the media whether he thought that North Carolina would progress into Phase Three before a vaccine becomes available, the Governor replied: “I hope that we will.”

“If people will do the things that we keep telling them to do,” he said, “we can definitely decrease the numbers.”

The extended pause in Phase Two means that bars, gyms, fitness centers, movie theaters, entertainment arcades, and other close-contact venues will remain closed, and restaurants will continue operating at a reduced capacity.

“Bars are high-transmission areas,” the Governor said in responding to a question from the media about the late-night drinking curfew he imposed.

In an executive order that took effect last Friday at 11 p.m., the Governor sought to prevent “restaurants from turning into bars after hours,” he said, by restricting the indoor sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

See Executive Order 153 at https://files.nc.gov/governor/documents/files/EO-153-Restricting-Late-Night-Service-of-Alcoholic-Beverages.pdf

The Governor and Dr. Cohen also confirmed that State officials are continuing to discuss with the Republican National Committee the possibility of holding a “safe convention” in Charlotte later this month.

COVID-19 IN DARE COUNTY

The Beacon gave an update yesterday on COVID-19 in Dare County, before Dr. Sheila Davies, director of the Dept. of Health and Human Services, analyzed the latest cases. We elaborate today.

Thirteen people tested positive for the disease between Friday and yesterday—six of them Dare County residents and seven of them nonresidents. All of the 13 newly diagnosed people are in home isolation.

In her update yesterday, Dr. Davies attributed six of the new COVID-19 cases to direct-contact transmission and seven to “unclear” transmission, an indication of “community spread.”

Of the six people who acquired the virus by direct contact, four of them did so outside of Dare County, she said.

Dr. Davies also reported that all six of the new resident cases are symptomatic, while only four of the seven non-resident cases are.

See https://www.darenc.com/Home/Components/News/News/6532/1483

While we were writing this report, three more COVID-19-confirmed cases were reported on the DCDHHS dashboard: two residents and one non-resident. The residents are both between the ages of 25 and 49 and are in home isolation. The nonresident is a woman age 65 or older who has been hospitalized.

As of today, 363 COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed in Dare County, 205 residents and 158 nonresidents. The age breakdown of the 363 cases is as follows:

51 are age 17 and under;

86 are between the ages of 18 and 24;

130 are between the ages of 25 and 49;

57 are between the ages of 50 and 64;

39 are age 65 or older

Dr. Davies’s next case update will be Friday.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 8/5/20

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