North Carolina’s “highest one-day record” today of 2,532 new COVID-19 cases did not induce Governor Roy Cooper to change at his afternoon coronavirus briefing the message he has given at every other such briefing for months or to bolster the safeguards he has already put in place to prevent the virus’s spread.

Next week, he said, he will “look at the science and the data over a 14-day period . . . [and] make a decision about Phase 3 extension.” Phase 3 is set to expire at 5 p.m. on Oct. 23.

Next week, he will consider whether his recent loosening of restrictions on movie theaters, amusement parks, and other venues that had been closed has contributed to the recent upward trends of all of the State’s COVID-19 metrics, including: the number of people presenting to emergency departments with COVID-like symptoms, the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, and the percent positive rates.

Today, the Governor just wanted to stress one word during his 40-minute briefing with Secretary Mandy Cohen of the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services, and that word was mask, as in North Carolinians need to “pull together,” “be responsible,” and “wear a mask.”

If they do, he said, they can “drive [the] numbers down.”

“The science is clear on masks: They work,” Dr. Cohen said emphatically, after detailing State data on COVID-19 that show, “We are moving in the wrong direction.”

The Secretary asked everyone to wear a mask “when you are with people you don’t live with,” including extended family and close friends.

“We cannot let weariness and frustration win out,” the Governor said, also advising people to wear masks when they “are with friends, extended family, or just running into the store for a second.”

The Governor exhorted North Carolinians to be “even more vigilant,” now that “we’ve seen higher numbers,” in exercising precautions such as wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands, and avoiding crowds.

“Complacency will cost lives,” he said, “and hurt our economy.”

Addressing the reason for the upward trends in all of the metrics, Secretary Cohen said she could not pinpoint “one place, one age group, or one type of activity.” 

There is “not one geographic area or industry to blame,” Governor Cooper observed.

Asked by a reporter whether the virus might be changing and intensifying, Secretary Cohen said it was not and had not, but that the virus “likes” the lower temperatures and lower rates of humidity that we have now.

Both are “more conducive for the virus to spread,” she said.

Dr. Cohen also reiterated that there is “more chance for viral spread indoors,” and people are increasingly moving indoors with the cooler weather.

Room ventilation, she said in response to another reporter’s question, “can be an important factor,” but she stressed that “it is only one component that we need to think about.”

The Secretary would rather “avoid virus particles getting into the air to begin with,” and that starts with people wearing masks.

Dr. Cohen also revealed in her update that she has received “numerous reports from [local] health departments of people refusing to share contact information.” She encouraged people to cooperate, pointing out that all information is private.

Pressed about this lack of communication by a reporter later, Dr. Cohen said that “about half of the folks [being contacted] are not responding to calls,” thus significantly hindering contact tracing statewide.

When a reporter from Dunn, N.C., tried to pin Dr. Cohen down on the number of people in North Carolina who had died from COVID-19 and were under the age of 65 or lacking an underlying condition, she demurred on a figure, referring him to the NCDHHS dashboard, which records deaths and breaks them down by age, sex, ethnicity, and other factors.

The reporter said a U.S. Congressman Richard Hudson, a Republican who represents North Carolina’s eighth U.S. congressional district, had told him that only 52 people under the age of 65 had died from COVID-19. The eighth district encompasses a large portion of the southern Piedmont area.

Secretary Cohen disputed this contention and pointed out that “Nearly half of adults in North Carolina have an underlying health condition that puts them at higher risk of severe illness” from COVID-19.

Governor Cooper had an even better rejoinder, which he has used before.

“Having a preexisting condition or being over the age of 65 shouldn’t be a death sentence,” he said.

(Another reporter who posed a subsequent question said that the NCDHHS dashboard shows that “hundreds” of North Carolinians under the age of 65 have died of COVID-19, but we have been unable to confirm this. If anyone can locate on the dashboard the demographic breakdown of the people who have died, please email us at ssbeaconeditor@gmail.com. This information once was readily available, but not so anymore. Posted 10/16/20.)

In other news, the Governor announced that renters in need of assistance with paying their rent and utilities may now apply to the N.C. Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions (HOPE) program for financial support. The eligibility requirements and an application for a grant from HOPE, which has a $117 million fund, are available at nc211.org/hope.

Governor Cooper also reported that the State would submit to federal officials tomorrow its plan for COVID-19 vaccine distribution. At-risk people, such as first responders and residents of nursing homes, will be given priority to receive the “limited supply of vaccine” that will be available at first, the Governor and the Secretary confirmed.

Dr. Cohen noted that a number of vaccines are currently in clinical trials, but no manufacturer has applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for vaccine approval yet.

No mention was made of the White House Coronavirus Task Force having put North Carolina in the red zone of COVID-19 risk, as we reported in a post earlier today.

(This article was revised 10/16/20.)

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/15/20

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