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Health Team

Is Phase 3 responsible for NC's rising coronavirus numbers?

Posted October 9, 2020 8:19 p.m. EDT

— Another 2,034 coronavirus cases were reported in North Carolina on Friday, the second straight day the state has topped 2,000 new cases.

The spike has pushed the state's rolling, seven-day case average to 1,821 per day – its highest level since Aug. 2.

Hilary Campbell, a research associate with Duke University's Margolis Center for Health Policy, said it's unclear what's behind the increase in cases, but she called it troubling.

"[It's] definitely concerning and worth watching," Campbell said.

A week ago, North Carolina moved to Phase 3 of its effort to reopen businesses and resume social activities during the pandemic, allowing movie theaters and event venues to reopen at limited capacity and bars to start serving people outside.

Campbell said it's too early to say whether easing those restrictions and allowing more people to socialize contributed to the rising caseload.

"We tend to think of things being in kind of two-week blocks with COVID-19," she said. "Since everything is a lagging indicator, it takes a while for people to show symptoms and get tested after they become infected.

"You could potentially say maybe people heard that and thought, 'This is maybe a sign that I don’t need to be as careful anymore,' and have kind of relaxed their vigilance about masking and keeping distance," she added.

A Greensboro woman who recently recovered from a bout of COVID-19 said reopening bars and movie theaters is likely leading to more infections.

"I feel like the spike might just be a reflection of people’s desires to go about their lives as they were before 2020," said Mary Lee, who says she thinks she caught the virus during an August trip to Wilmington.

"I do feel like there is going to be a lingering feeling that we might have to end up going back to the way things were – a little more shut down in March [and] April. It’s definitely, a concern for sure," Lee said.

Campbell said she's not sure the state needs to crack down again, especially if people keep following the advice to wear masks and maintain social distancing in public and frequently wash their hands.

"It’s unclear that a rollback is really the next thing that would need to happen," she said. "There’s always the potential for exponential growth, so this could certainly be the start of that if people aren’t as vigilant about infection prevention measures."

Lee agrees that people need to stick to safety guidelines to limit the spread of the virus.

"As long as we all, as public citizens, stay vigilant with the simple, easily implementable things, I think that will help a lot," she said.

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