N.C. sees highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations for second day, reports 820+ deaths

N.C. sees highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations for second day, reports 820+ deaths
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has released new data about COVID-19 cases across the state. (Source: WBTV)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - North Carolina continued to see hospitalizations due to COVID-19 rise again on Thursday, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

Across the state, 25,412 people have tested positive for the virus, which is 784 more cases than the previous day.

Thirty-three additional deaths were reported across the state, bringing the total to 827.

There are 708 people currently hospitalized, which is the highest number reported yet by the state.

By Thursday, 375,192 tests had been completed in N.C. - a rise of 11,036 tests from the previous day.

North Carolina health officials reported only 176 new coronavirus cases on Monday, which was the lowest single-day increase in over three weeks.

Since the pandemic emerged, Congress passed legislation setting up the Coronavirus Relief Fund, with N.C. slated to receive $3.56 billion.

Gov. Cooper said Monday that he had ordered $300 million of that money to go directly to local governments, including counties and municipalities. By the end of the week, Cooper said, N.C. will have processed payments for 59 counties for a total of $85 million. More counties are expected to submit requests soon.

“This money is crucial for local governments to help pay for health and public safety officials, telemedicine, personal protection equipment and more,” Cooper said.

N.C. reported the state’s first case of a serious children’s illness associated with COVID-19, Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), on May 21.

Because children with this syndrome may become seriously ill, it is important that parents and caregivers know the signs and symptoms their children may have so they can get help right away.

Health officials say they have asked physicians across the state to be on the lookout for the illness.

North Carolina entered a “safer at home” Phase 2 of reopening on Friday, May 22 at 5 p.m.

The mass gathering limits in Phase 2 will be no more than 10 people indoors or 25 people outdoors. This applies to event venues; conference centers; stadiums and sports arenas; amphitheaters; and groups at parks or beaches.

Certain businesses will be open at limited capacity with other requirements. Restaurants can re-open for dine-in customers at mostly a 50 percent capacity, with distancing and cleaning requirements.

Personal care businesses like salons and barbers can also re-open at 50 percent capacity. These businesses will have face covering and cleaning requirements while also reducing the number of people in the waiting areas.

Swimming pools will be able to open at 50 percent capacity, and overnight and day camps can open with safety rules. Childcare facilities remain open and are now able to enroll all children.

On Friday, May 22, NCDHHS began distributing a one-time supplemental payment to families enrolled in the Work First Cash Assistance program with one or more children.

All Work First Cash Assistance families that received a benefit in April and had one or more children in their household will receive a supplement of $265 per child for a total of more than 17,000 children. Some families will receive the payment Friday on their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, others will receive the payment on Monday via a direct deposit.

For more information, click here.

On May 11, North Carolina health leaders announced it will begin releasing data on the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19.

The following day, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that the state would be ramping up testing for the virus. Retail sites, including grocery stores and pharmacies, will open up COVID-19 testing to the public, he said.

Gov. Cooper signed an executive order to move N.C. into Phase 1 of reopening that began on Friday, May 8 and ended on Friday, May 22.

Phase 1 removed the designations of essential and non-essential businesses. Retail stores could increase to 50 percent capacity as long as they implemented social distancing.

The order allowed people to leave home to visit open businesses and it encouraged parks and trails to re-open.

“I want to be clear,” Cooper said when announcing Phase 1. “North Carolina’s Stay At Home order will remain in place. But it will be modified to allow for more reasons for people to leave home and to allow for more commercial activity.”

Businesses that were specifically closed in the previous order would remain closed (salons, barbers, theaters, bars, gyms and pools). Restaurants would continue to be open for takeout or delivery only. Cooper said those businesses wouldl have the opportunity to open and do more in Phase 2.

Gatherings under Phase 1 were still limited to 10 people, but people were able to socialize with friends as long as they were outdoors and stayed socially distanced. In Phase 1, people were still encouraged to telework when possible.

Gov. Cooper announces plans to enter Phase 1 of reopening N.C.

The Phase 1 news came just hours after health officials said that more than half of North Carolina adults, 51.1%, are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 because they are 65 or older, have at least one underlying health condition or both, according to data analyzed by the NC Department of Health and Human Services.

NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said the percentage of people going to the emergency room for virus-like symptoms has decreased.

N.C. is doing twice as much testing per day as the state was just a few weeks ago, Cohen added.

Gov. Roy Cooper signed two bills into law Monday morning that include a relief package, which will send money to schools, hospitals, local governments and researchers.

The pair of bipartisan measures was approved unanimously by the House and Senate on Saturday, and direct how nearly $1.6 billion in federal funds are distributed and how government activities during the outbreak are deferred or delayed.

On Friday, health officials announced they will be releasing lab-confirmed data based on zip codes throughout North Carolina.

On Thursday, Gov. Cooper and health officials said that although the overall picture with trends is “mixed,” they feel confident N.C. will be moving into the first phase of reopening plans by May 8, when the state’s Stay at Home Order expires.

During Phase One, parks can reopen, outdoor exercise is encouraged, and face masks are still recommended when social distancing is not possible.

Cohen went into detail about the metrics and where the state stands as of April 30:

NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen addresses current NC COVID-19 trends

Officials said the state would begin posting new reports on outbreaks at congregate living facilities, such as nursing homes. The information will be updated twice a week.

The move marks a significant policy reversal for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, which for weeks has maintained that identifying facilities with outbreaks would reveal confidential health information for particular patients.

Cooper announced that he would be extending North Carolina’s Stay at Home Order until May 8. The order was originally set to expire at the end of April.

Gaston County announced a plan to reopen businesses Wednesday, which would contradict the state’s Stay at Home extension order.

“Confusion during a crisis is really unfortunate,” Mandy Cohen, Secretary of Health and Human Services, said. State leaders say the Stay at Home order remains in place across North Carolina. "I know folks are frustrated and I know that this has been hard in so many ways.”

Cohen said restrictions would start to loosen “next week,” the first week of May.

N.C. schools are closed for the remainder of the school year.

Gov. Cooper said he has signed an Executive Order to help furloughed workers whose employers have paid them a severance or furlough payment. Before the order, those workers were ineligible for employment compensation, but can now apply.

“We know this virus is taking a toll on our economy and on our workforce,” Cooper said, “and we can’t lose sight of how this virus is impacting our families in North Carolina.”

Cooper had previously said in order to ease the current restrictions, North Carolina needs to make progress in three areas: testing, tracing and monitoring COVID-19 trends.

“This virus is going to be with us until there is a vaccine, which may be a year or more away," Cooper said. "As we ease restrictions, we are going to enter a new normal.”

“Our efforts to flatten the curve are working. And that means we have saved lives. The stay at home orders are working, but we know our current situation is not sustainable in the long run,” Cooper continued. “I know people are wondering, where do we go from here?”

Cooper said that experts say it would be “dangerous to lift restrictions all at once.” He said officials have to monitor for troubling signs of a spike in cases that could overwhelm our hospitals and risk lives.

Health officials say that 3 percent of those infected by the coronavirus in North Carolina are under 18, 8 percent are 18 to 24, 42 percent are between ages of 25 and 49 years old, 26 percent are between ages 50 and 64 and 21 percent are older than 65 years old.

RECOVERY

An accurate number of coronavirus recoveries hasn’t been released in North Carolina. Cohen says scientists are working to determine a recovery number, but the problem is that some may define a recovery differently.

“How are we defining recovery? So how do we know – how do we document a recovery number?"Cohen said, reiterating a question that was asked to her. "We don’t all define recovery the same.”

During a press conference, state leaders said there were plans to reopen a hospital in Hamlet, about an hour and a half from Charlotte, that shut down in 2017. N.C. Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said the hospital is going to be prepared so that its beds can be ready to help with a possible upcoming surge of COIVD-19 patients.

During the conference, Gov. Cooper also said he signed an executive order in conjunction with NCDHHS to fast track child care for essential workers.

Financial aid is available to parents and caregivers who are essential workers and who meet the following criteria:

  • Their income is below 300 percent of the poverty line;
  • They are an essential worker fighting COVID-19 or protecting the health and safety of communities; and
  • They feel they have no other viable child care options available to them.

Child care teachers and staff that work in programs serving essential workers will also see bonuses in their pay in April and May. NCDHHS will pay child care programs staying open to serve essential workers $300 per month for each full-time teacher and $200 per month for each full-time non-teaching staff member, including administrators, janitors and other support staff.

Bonus payments will be paid by the child care programs to all eligible staff during their regular pay periods. Part-time workers are also eligible for prorated bonus awards.

If you are an essential worker and need help with child care, you can call a hotline at 1-888-600-1685 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

During a press conference last week, Cooper announced he had signed an executive order to prohibit utility companies from shutting off services to people who are unable to pay.

N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein said the “insidious virus” has forced N.C. businesses to lay off hundreds of thousands of people.

“It is orders of magnitude greater than any two-week period during the Great Recession," Stein said.

“I know it’s hard, but prevention is still the single most important thing you can do right now,” Cooper said. “If we don’t slow the infection, our medical system will be stretched beyond its capacity.”

Cohen echoed that statement.

“We do not have vaccines or a treatment. Social distancing is the only tool we have to slow the spread of COVID-19 so fewer people get sick at the same time and so we don’t overwhelm our hospitals,” said Cohen.

“I can’t stress it enough - your actions matter. Staying at home matters. Staying home will save lives,” Cohen continued. “I know this is really, really hard. Most of us have never lived through a time where we’ve had to take this kind of collective action to change our way of life in a matter of a couple days. In many ways this is like a war, right here at home, and our enemy is this virus.”

Cohen said if you’re leaving your house, it should be limited to getting groceries, picking up medication or going for a walk outside. If you’re working at an essential business, Cohen urged, you still need to follow social distancing guidelines.

Ninety-six N.C. counties are now under a state of emergency.

North Carolina is considered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have widespread transmission, meaning some people who have tested positive don’t know how they were infected.

“Because no one is immune and there’s no vaccination the best tool we have to slow the spread is keeping our physical distance and staying home,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said.

That’s why the governor issued the statewide stay-at-home order. The order went into effect at 5 p.m. on Monday, March 30.

“It truly is a matter of life and death,” Cooper said. “Even with the uncertainty of these times and the new pace of our lifestyles, we know that the good parts of our lives as North Carolinians will return. We fight this disease now so that we are better able to defeat it in the future.”

Cooper announced that more than 219,000 people have filed unemployment claims since March 16, as of Friday afternoon. The first unemployment benefits will be paid early next week.

Health officials say individuals and families can call 2-1-1 for assistance from the operation center.

Health officials said North Carolina currently has 18,557 in-patient beds in the state, and 6,953 of those are currently empty. There is also 3,223 intensive care beds in the state, and about 920 of those are empty.

Those numbers do not include extra, incoming beds that have been requested, officials added.

Cooper addressed the virus as a “cruel and contagious sickness,” after North Carolina announced its first coronavirus-related deaths.

The first person, from Cabarrus County and in their late seventies, died on March 24 from complications associated with the virus. The patient had several underlying medical conditions.

“Today is a stark reminder that we must take this disease seriously,” Cooper said after the state’s first coronavirus-related death.

“We’ve got to do everything we can do to help that family that’s wondering where the next paycheck is going to come [from],” Cooper said, noting that families who were on the edge have “fallen off the cliff.”

Cooper says the “number one mission right now is to save lives” and protect the people of North Carolina.

Cohen spoke with county managers across the state as well, stating that about 20 percent of people who contract the virus will need hospital-level care, while 80 percent who test positive for coronavirus will get mild illness.

For reference, Cohen pointed out that some of our worst flu seasons only needed 2 percent of hospital-level care.

All public K-12 schools will remain closed until May 15 under an executive order signed by Cooper.

Cooper said that despite not getting all the coronavirus tests the state requested, North Carolina has found more ways to get people who need it tested. Monday afternoon, Cooper said, there were at least 8,438 tests completed with 10,000 more tests waiting to be run.

Director of Emergency Management Michael Sprayberry said North Carolina has sent a request to FEMA and the White House for a Major Disaster Declaration, which would authorize “may of the same programs activated after a hurricane.”

Sprayberry said North Carolinians can still call 211 with any questions related to the coronavirus or assistance.

COVID-19 TIMELINE

Gov. Cooper also previously issued an executive order that closes bars and restaurants to dine-in customers. The order unlocked unemployment benefits for those who lost, or lose, their job during the coronavirus outbreak.

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