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COVID-19 NC: Troubling Trends, Mask Mixup & Transgender Telehealth

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Every Friday we check in with NC Health News founding editor Rose Hoban for a look at the week in COVID-19 headlines.  Rose is visiting family in New York is week, so we connected by cell phone (pardon the occasional static). There was lots to talk about  - the continued climb in new cases and hospitalizations as the governor and health officials prepare to release their reopening plans for the school and the state, the mixed reponse to the NC mask mandate and how the boost in telemedicine is helping make healthcare more accessible for transgender patients. 

HC: Thank you so much for joining us from New York. As you were leaving town, we saw numbers cross thresholds, all as the governor prepares to announce what school reopening and what will happen to phase-2 will look like.  I wouldn’t want to be the governor.   

RH: Neither would I, these are going to be brutal choices that he and the secretary will end up making, going forward crossing that psychic threshold of a thousand people in the hospital. How significant is that? It just feels significant. Maybe it is, I don't know, but we now have more than a thousand people in the hospital because of COVID. What I would really like to know is how many of those folks are in ICU and how many of those folks are as we say in healthcare, on the floor.  It would give us a sense as to how dire the situations are.   I'm in New York, new York's case positive rate is 1%.  In North Carolina we're at we're hovering around  nine to 10%. So that means that there's ten times as much virus circulating in North Carolina than there is in New York state.   Here, everyone is wearing masks.  

HC: So, speaking of masks, you have a great piece on your website about the mixed response among businesses to North Carolina's mask mandate, which we're seeing here in Western North Carolina

RH: Yesterday, I asked the governor and the secretary about whether there'd be stronger enforcement of the mask mandate. Cooper kind of sidestepped it.   The question was more like, “would we do better if we had more enforcement and less encouraging?”  Because you can encourage, and people are like, whatever. I mean, someone pinged me on Twitter yesterday saying, “Well, you know, we were overwhelmed during flu season a couple of years ago, but we didn't have masks.”   I've been  thinking about a response in my head, which is like, “Well, we have a treatment for flu, we have a vaccine for flu -  and flu is far more seasonal.”  I think what we're trying to do is really accomplish culture change. We're trying to get people to change the way they act. And that is the hardest thing to do.  

HC: I know we're running out of time. I wanted to ask you about an article on your site about an unexpected side  effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, how it  is supporting virtual visits for transgender patients. Tell me more about that.

RH: I've been quipping for months that, you know, COVID is the pandemic that will launch a million PhD dissertation. And I think a good number of those dissertations will be on how COVID tip the balance toward telehealth  The main character in the story is someone who's trying to make a transition and looking to get hormone treatment and sort of also navigating telling family members about this decision. And, you know, it's interesting to hear that tele-health is becoming the mechanism to allow this to happen for this person.

Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News, as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992 but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees in public health policy and journalism. She's reported on science, health, policy, and research in NC since 2005. Contact: editor at northcarolinahealthnews.org

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.