Local News

Paused in Phase 3: Cooper asks local leaders to do more to contain coronavirus spread

Posted October 21, 2020 12:12 p.m. EDT
Updated October 21, 2020 7:29 p.m. EDT

— When Gov. Roy Cooper allowed bars and movie theaters to reopen with limited capacity on Oct. 2, the state had seen weeks of basically stable numbers of new coronavirus cases and deaths. After a week of increasing cases and record numbers of deaths and hospitalizations, on Wednesday, he put any further openings of businesses on hold for at least three weeks.

"Like states across the country, our numbers are higher than we want," Cooper said in announcing he'd keep the state in Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan until Nov. 11.

Fines for businesses that don't require masks?

On Tuesday, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the North Carolina Department of Public Safety sent letters to leaders of the three most populous counties in the state, along with 33 others identified as seeing particular spikes based on cases per 10,000 people or the number of new cases.

The letter asked that additional actions – including fines for non-compliance – be taken at the local level to control the spread of the virus.

The letter asked that local leaders consider: "(1) imposing fines for businesses that do not enforce the mask requirements; (2) establishing lower mass gathering limits; (3) curtailing the sale of alcohol earlier than 11 pm; (4) closing high risk venues such as bars and night spots; and (5) limiting restaurant service."

Total COVID-19 cases, deaths by county

This North Carolina map of COVID-19 cases is updated daily based on cumulative numbers of county-level COVID-19 cases and deaths reported by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Click on or hover over any highlighted county in the map to see details of the cases in that county. Darker shaded counties have the highest number of cases. NOTE: As of Sept. 28, the data on this map includes cases and deaths identified both through PCR and antigen tests.

Source: N.C. DHHS
Graphic: Alex Phillips & Tyler Dukes, WRAL

"We must keep prevention at the forefront," Cooper said. "Wearing a mask shows you care about others."

Asked about enforcement of the statewide mask mandate, Cooper pointed to the change of position of Halifax County Sheriff Wes Tripp, who earlier this week said his deputies would begin to cite businesses that don't require employees to wear masks.

"More and more law enforcement have come to realize that it is important for them to play a role," Cooper said.

He suggested that some counties with high infection rates might consider restrictions on businesses or gatherings that go beyond the statewide guidelines.

Letters were sent to leaders in the following counties: Alamance, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Caswell, Catawba, Chowan, Cleveland, Craven, Cumberland, Davidson, Duplin, Edgecombe, Gaston, Graham, Greene, Guilford, Hoke, Hyde, Johnston, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Moore, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Pitt, Randolph, Robeson, Rockingham, Rowan, Scotland, Union, Wake, Watauga and Wayne.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is running against Cooper, called the request an attempt by the governor to "shutdown North Carolina without telling the public."

In Chapel Hill, Mayor Pam Hemminger said there is a reason Orange County was left off that list. The county required masks in public and limited late-night sales of alcohol before either measure was adopted statewide.

"I think people bought into that early when we showed that there was science and data behind wearing a mask," she said.

"We now know that the mask wearing might actually be more effective than the upcoming vaccines at this point, so once we learned that that was the most effective, the community was really behind it."

She advised her peers in other counties "to really educate people about why mask wearing is so effective."

In Johnston County, where the number of new cases per day has more than doubled in the past three weeks, Ted Godwin, a member of the Johnston County Board of Commissioners, doesn't see any additional crackdown.

"We have chosen not to issue any mandatory situations at this point in time," he said.

Godwin, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 in June, said it was a wakeup call to wear a mask, but he and the county board don’t believe in requiring others to do so.

"We have a conservative board. We believe in freedom," he said. "We’ve got a lot of confidence in our citizens. I know we got numbers going in the wrong direction, but we are going to redouble our efforts to encourage our citizens."

Deaths in NC top 4,000; Total cases top 250,000

An additional 40 virus-related deaths were reported statewide on Wednesday, pushing the total since the pandemic began to 4,032.

Meanwhile, 1,219 people are hospitalized across the state with COVID-19, which is the second-highest one-day figure to date. More than 1,000 people have been reported hospitalized with the virus for 15 days straight.

While the data on who those people are lags the reporting of the raw numbers, DHHS data shows that in the week of Oct. 10-16, over half, or 58%, of them were white and and about 28% were Black. Whites make up about 70% of the North Carolina population, so that group is under-indexing in hospitalizations. According to this data, Black patients are being hospitalized at a greater rate than their population in the state, which is about 22%.

Asians made up around 1% of the rest of the cases, American Indians were about 2%, and 11% of people were designated as "other" or had no race listed in the data.

People over 60 make up about 64% of everyone hospitalized during that week, though that age group makes up only about 21% of the state's population.

Dr. Linda Butler, chief medical officer at UNC Rex Healthcare in Raleigh, said UNC Health's predictive model shows trends continuing to get worse for North Carolina further into the fall.

"It does show that we may have a peak in hospitalized cases over the next eight weeks or so," she said. "We are in a good place with the equipment, [but] I think our staff are tired because this pandemic has been going on for quite some time."

Another 1,842 coronavirus infections were reported statewide on Wednesday, bringing the total to 250,592 during the pandemic. But an estimated 88 percent of those people are presumed to have recovered.

The rolling, seven-day average of new cases remains above 2,000 per day for the fourth consecutive day, at 2,038. The only other time the average has been that high was a four-day period in mid-July.

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