North Carolina will stay in its current level of COVID-19 safety restrictions until at least Nov. 13. Gov. Roy Cooper announced the extension of Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan Wednesday, citing a rise in coronavirus infections.
“It’s critical that we take this time to focus on the basics,” Cooper said. “Yes, wear a mask. Wash your hands. Wait six feet apart from other people. These are the habits that helped lower our numbers over the summer, and they are still our best tools.”
As of Wednesday, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services was reporting that at least 250,592 coronavirus infections had been diagnosed by laboratory testing in the state since early March. At least 4,032 deaths in the state have been attributed to COVID-19 complications.
State Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said the trajectory of new cases has risen over the past two weeks, pushing the state past its previous peak in July. Both Cooper and Cohen said there had been more cases of people ignoring social distancing guidelines.
“Ignoring the virus does not make it go away,” Cohen said. “Just the opposite. In the past two weeks, we’ve seen an increase in COVID-19 clusters in social gatherings — things like informal get-togethers and family gatherings and parties. We’ve also seen an increase in cases from clusters in religious gatherings.”
One of those clusters is in Charlotte, where public health officials say at least 51 coronavirus infections have been tied to convocation events held Oct. 4-11 at the United House of Prayer for All People on Beatties Ford Road. Mecklenburg County Public Health is asking anyone who may have attended those events to get tested.
North Carolina has had some level of public safety restrictions in place since mid-March, and Phase 3 had initially been set to expire Friday. The state Department of Public Safety and Cohen sent a letter to municipal governments in communities with increased spread of the virus Tuesday, asking them to boost enforcement of safety rules, including possibly imposing civil penalties for violations.
“We’re working on increased enforcement,” Cooper said in response to a question about why he was pausing, rather than rolling back, restrictions as infections climb. “We have safety precautions in place that some people are not complying with, and we believe that enforcement will help us to slow the trends.”
Cooper originally moved North Carolina into Phase 3 on Oct. 2, allowing limited reopenings of bars that don't serve food, movie theaters and conference centers. The move also cleared the way for fans at more sporting events, with smaller outdoor venues allowed to operate at 30% or 100 people, and large venues with a 10,000-plus person capacity opening at 7% occupancy.
Phase 3 kept the mass gathering limit in the state capped at 25 people inside and 50 outside. Cooper's announcement Wednesday came just hours ahead of a visit by President Trump to Gastonia, where Trump is expected to hold a rally that could get thousands of attendees.
"While activities constituting the exercise of First Amendment rights are exempt from the requirements of the governor’s executive orders, large gatherings increase the risk of spreading COVID-19,” a North Carolina Health and Human Services spokesperson wrote to WFAE in response to a query about the event, urging people who attend “mass gatherings of any kind, including rallies” to get tested for the virus.
On Wednesday morning, 1,219 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in the state.
More than 3.6 million tests for the virus have been performed in North Carolina. The daily positivity rate for those tests has risen slightly in recent days. Roughly 7% of the test results reported to the state Monday and Sunday were positive for the virus. That number had hovered around 6% for several days before.
Of the more than 4,000 North Carolinians believed to have died from COVID-19 complications in the state, at least 2,041 were residents of nursing homes or congregant-living facilities, according to health department data. Eighty-one percent of the people here who have died from COVID-19 complications were 65 and older, despite that age group accounting for 13% of total confirmed infections.
As of Monday, the latest date for which such figures are available, Health and Human Services estimated that 218,541 residents had recovered from COVID-19 since March. That would have been about 88% of confirmed confections at the time.
Copyright 2020 WFAE-FM. To see more, visit WFAE-FM.