NC governor declares state of emergency amid coronavirus concerns

Updated: Mar. 10, 2020 at 9:26 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTV) - Governor Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency for North Carolina amid coronavirus concerns Tuesday, a day after officials announced a total of seven positive COVID-19 cases in the state.

“Our most important work is keeping people healthy and safe," Cooper said.

Monday’s five additional cases were all linked to people who traveled to Boston in late February to attend a BioGen conference. Several cases of COVID-19 across the country have been tied to the conference. Cooper expects more positive cases to be linked to the conference.

“I think we’re going to start seeing more across the state – maybe related to this conference, but I think we’re going to start seeing more from other exposures as well,” state health officials said Tuesday during a press conference with Cooper.

State officials are urging employers and employees in North Carolina’s Triangle area to use telecommunication as much as possible and to consider staggering employee start and end times to avoid crowding.

“We are making no recommendations about canceling anything,” Cooper said of events, although he does recommend separating people as much as possible and to keep sanitizer on hand.

State officials said they are not planning to cancel schools at this time over the virus, as children appear to be at low risk. Closures may be recommended to sanitize a facility for any reason, including if a positive case is tied to a facility.

“This situation is rapidly changing," state officials said. "Today we are not recommending any preemptive school closure.”

Chief of Staff of Emergency Management says the state of emergency operations center is being activated.

“It could be months,” health officials said regarding how long this virus could stick around.

As part of the state of emergency, health officials are recommending anyone at high risk - those 65-years and older, those with underlying health issues or compromised immune systems - avoid events and gatherings with large crowds and any air travel.

Officials are also recommending all facilities which house higher risk citizens, such as nursing homes, to limit the number of visitors and restrict visitation from anyone who is sick.

Anyone planning a public event should also encourage those who are sick to not attend, health officials said.

The new cases announced Monday are based in Wake County, but are not related to the Wake County individual who tested positive last week. All are in isolation at their respective homes.

“As off 11:45 a.m., we have tested a total of 44 people,” state health officials said Tuesday. “We have current supplies to test another 300 people.”

The tests, conducted by the North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health, are presumptively positive and will be confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lab. While awaiting confirmation of results from the CDC, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services will treat presumptive cases as positive and follow CDC guidelines to protect public health and limit the spread of infection.

The Wake County Public Health Division is already working to identify close contacts. The CDC defines close contact as being within approximately 6 feet of a person with a COVID-19 infection for a prolonged period of time.

Based on information provided by the individual, county health officials will assess risks of exposure, determine which if any additional measures are needed such as temperature and symptom checks, quarantine and/or testing.

The other two positive cases include a person in isolation at his home in Chatham County, and the first positive case that was discovered in Wake County. These two cases are unrelated to the five new cases announced on Monday.

In South Carolina, seven people have also tested positive for coronavirus. Health officials say one of the seven people from South Carolina flew into Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.

Because COVID-19 is most commonly spread through respiratory droplets, North Carolinians should take the same measures that health care providers recommend to prevent the spread of the flu and other viruses, including washing your hands, avoiding touching your face, staying home if you are sick and covering coughs and sneezes with your elbow.

Any returning traveler, both internationally and domestic, should do self-monitoring, state officials say. Those that experience any fever or lower-respiratory symptoms are asked to contact their medical provider.

North Carolinians with questions or concerns about COVID-19 can call the COVID-19 phone line toll-free at 866-462-3821. This helpline is staffed by the North Carolina Poison Control 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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