11/10/20: DARE REPORTS SURGE TODAY OF 21 NEW COVID-19 CASES; GOVERNOR LOWERS INDOOR SOCIAL GATHERING LIMIT TO 10 PEOPLE; SECY. COHEN DODGES QUESTION ABOUT JOINING BIDEN’S CABINET.

Dr. Mandy Cohen is reportedly being considered for an appointment in President-Elect Biden’s Cabinet.

Governor Roy Cooper announced today a lowering of the indoor “mass gathering” limit in North Carolina from 25 people to 10 people and said that the State “will remain paused in Phase Three,” when the current Executive Order expires Friday, in an afternoon COVID-19 briefing that was most noteworthy for how it ended.

After both the Governor and Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services, discussed what the former called the “stubbornly high” and “troubling” COVID-19 metrics in North Carolina that compel their “targeting” of social gatherings, two reporters directly asked Dr. Cohen whether she would consider joining President-Elect Joe Biden’s administration.

Neither got the direct yes-or-no answer requested.

IN OTHER COVID-19 NEWS TODAY . . . Dare County announced at 3 p.m. 21 new COVID-19 cases—18 of them residents of all ages—as the local COVID-19 surge continues. Today’s total is second only to the single-day total of 24 new COVID-19 cases reported in Dare on Nov. 3, last Tuesday.

Dr. Sheila Davies, Director of the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services, reported in her Tuesday update that 80 percent of the 77 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week are symptomatic, and that 400 people are now in quarantine because of direct exposure to a positive case, including nearly 175 students or staff members associated with Dare County schools.

In one of her most detailed updates ever, Dr. Davies directly implicated “Halloween parties, sleepovers, weddings, coworkers, and gatherings of friends” for the “recent spread” in Dare County of COVID-19 cases.  We will provide a more thorough update tomorrow about the local COVID-19 scene and will return now to the Governor’s  briefing:

The first reporter interested in the Secretary’s political aspirations asked both the Governor and Dr. Cohen, who was appointed to her NCDHHS position in January 2017, whether they would consider positions in Mr. Biden’s “administration.”

Governor Cooper quickly answered “no” for himself and also answered indirectly for Secretary Cohen by singing her praises, and that of her department, and saying, “I want her right here,” while she demurred off-stage.

In response to a second persistent reporter, Dr. Cohen said she was flattered by the attention she is receiving nationally, but she remains “focused here” on getting North Carolinians through the holidays.

“I’m going to keep focused on that,” she said, clearly not ruling out a federal appointment, if she is offered one, that would take effect next year.

Dr. Cohen is reportedly among the President-Elect’s top three candidates for the Cabinet position of Secretary of the U.S. Dept. of HHS.

The others, according to POLITICO and other media outlets, are New Mexico Governor Michelle Lugan Grisham, an attorney, and Dr. Vivek Murthy, who served as U.S. Surgeon General from December 2014 to April 2017 and already has been named to the President-Elect’s coronavirus task force.

Before joining Governor Cooper’s Administration, Dr. Cohen, 41, who trained as an internist, served as Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under the Obama Administration.

She made clear her views on expanding Medicaid in the State in answering a question about the dearth of mental-health services available to many North Carolinians who lack health insurance. After she advocated for expansion, the Governor said, “Amen!”

Both Governor Cooper and Dr. Cohen sought to “send a strong signal” to people about “social, community, and family gatherings,” according to the Governor. (Dr. Davies does the same today in her plea to Dare County residents to stay “vigilant” and “practice the three Ws.”)

It is in such gatherings—not in restaurants, churches, or other venues where people congregate—“where we’ve seen the clusters,” the Governor said, “the outbreaks” of COVID-19.

Indeed, the Governor’s reduction in the number of people who may gather indoors, from 25 to 10, has no effect on restaurants, churches, schools, municipal governments, and other venues that are either exempted from the “mass gathering” provisions of his current Executive Order or treated separately.

While the Governor said that the current “pause” in Phase Three would remain in effect, he did not say now long after Friday’s deadline the extension would last.

“We have not experienced the spikes that a lot of other states have” in COVID-19 case numbers and deaths, Governor Cooper said, “[but] we’re entering a very dangerous and potentially uncertain time.”

Dr. Cohen echoed the Governor, saying North Carolinians are “on shaky ground as we head into Thanksgiving.” She advised people to limit their travel and their get-togethers and to get a COVID-19 screening test about three or four days ahead of any travel that they must make.

“We need everyone focused on how to keep safe this holiday season,” Governor Cooper said, emphasizing, as always, the “three Ws” of mask-wearing, hand-washing, and waiting six feet (social-distancing). “Hope is on the horizon. This pandemic will not last forever.”

Dr. Cohen also announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given Emergency Use Authorization to a new antibody treatment for COVID-19, and she spoke encouragingly about Pfizer’s vaccine, which has reportedly shown a high level of efficacy in clinical trials.

[UPDATE: ABC reported on-air Tuesday night that the new antibody treatment is only for people age 65 or older or those with underlying medical conditions who have mild or moderate symptoms of COVID-19. It is not for use in patients with severe cases of COVID-19.]

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 11/10/20

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