NC restaurant, retail officials back push for masks, distancing to keep virus in check
State health and safety officials provide an Oct. 13, 2020, update on the coronavirus outbreak in North Carolina and the state's response to it.
and I'm very pleased to have two special guests with me today. Lynne Minges, who is the president and CEO for the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, and Andy Ellen, president of the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association. Monica, Maggie and Brian Tipton are are American Sign language interpreters and Jasmine Motivator and Sarah Arredondo are are Spanish translators. I'll start with a rundown of the numbers. As of this morning, there were 234,481 laboratory confirmed cases and 2734 new cases. Today we have 1103 people currently hospitalized, and sadly, there have been 3816 deaths. This has been a long and challenging year. It's hard to imagine that a year ago we didn't know that this virus even existed. We've learned a lot in these past several months. Today we have the benefit of science and research that we didn't have back in March when we first had when we first had our first case. We now know that while this virus is highly contagious, we have the ability to slow its spread. You know where I'm going with this. It's those three W's wearing a face mask properly over the nose and mouth protects you and your community. Waiting 6 ft apart from other people and avoiding large crowd protects you and your community. Washing your hands frequently protects you and your community. Multiple studies support these measures, and a recent study published by the CDC shows that wearing mass consistently reduces transmission and infections and that social distancing has a large protective effect, as does hand washing. We need to recommit to these actions right now, like much of the rest of the country in the world are trends are moving in the wrong direction. We'll take a closer look at the data on Thursday, but if you look at our dashboard, you can see that our cases are up. Our hospitalizations are up and our early surveillance data is up back in August. Are increasing trends tied back to those university and college re openings? But our current worsening trends don't link to anyone place any one age group or any one type of activity. Overall, we're seeing that when people follow the three W's, the virus is less likely to spread. And when people don't wear a mask and don't stay physically apart, this virus spreads. We see viral spread when people get together in groups at their homes, or when a business or religious setting does not follow those health and safety guidance, or when people don't wear masks or safe, distant when they're out with others. This worsening of our trends is concerning, and we need to do all we can to turn those trends around. We do not want a have to go backwards. Fortunately, our guest speakers are committed to protecting our progress. They're helping their members follow and implement health and safety guidelines. First, let me welcome Lynne Min Ji's the president and CEO of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association. Her work with Count on Me and See has been a national model for the restaurant industry when thank you so much. Secretary Cohen, for the opportunity to be here today and thank you in the entire team at N. C. DHHS, who's been working tirelessly to help keep North Carolinians safe during this pandemic. When restaurants first reopened for indicting service in phase two, we were provided guidance and regulations for operating safely during Cove in 19. I'm so very proud of the many restaurants across our state who stepped up and have worked hard to put extra safety measures in place to help protect both their employees and their guests. Operating at 50% capacity with table space 6 ft apart helps to ensure that all guests and restaurant employees are safe face coverings worn by all restaurant employees all the time and by guest when they aren't eating. And drinking also helps to reduce the chances of spreading the virus. And washing hands frequently is a very simple way that we can all help reduce the spread of Cove in 19 Without question. North Carolina's hospitality industry has taken a devastating economic blow from this pandemic. Sales and restaurants, hotels, event venues and other places are down significantly. Many small businesses are struggling, and nearly 130,000 workers from the hospitality community industry remains sidelined as a result of business closures and reduced operating capacity. Today, I encourage all hospitality business owners and operators and all guests to do your part to help keep our employees and our guests safe and help keep North Carolina's restaurants open for business during the months ahead. We can't afford to go backwards, and we're counting on you. And speaking of that, please let us know that we can count on you by visiting our website. Count on me, N C dot or GTA. If your business owner or operator you can learn mawr and consigned the pledge to be listed among the long list of businesses across our state who are committed to operating at the very high standards during Cove in 19. And if you're a citizen, you can visit the site to find out about those businesses in your community who have taken the pledge to follow the guidance and to keep guests safe during Cove in 19. You can also learn more about how you can play a role in this important public health initiative. That's count on me and C dot or GTA. Thank you, great. Thank you, Lynn. And now I'd like to welcome Andy Ellen, president of North Carolina Retail Merchants Association. Andy has been an essential partner in our work to slow the spread of Cove in 1990. Thank you, Madam Secretary. Good afternoon. My name is Andy. Ellen and I have the honor of being the president of the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association, representing more than 2500 retailers with more than 25,000 store locations across North Carolina and providing one out of every four jobs here. Since Kobe began in mid March, the main priority from North Carolina retailers has been to ensure the safety of their staff and their customers. Many retailers were closed for weeks and are just now beginning to get back to some sense of normalcy. In the midst of this new normal thes, retailers have been following important guidelines to protect their employees and customers, such as frequent cleanings, maintaining social distance, installation of plexi glass and requiring facial coverings. And I want to remind retailers to continue to comply with these guidelines, as if Cove it just began. Retailers who need compliance assistance can visit our website at www dot n. C. R. M a dot or GTA for information, and they're always welcome to contact N. C R M A staff As we head into the holiday shopping season, North Carolina's brick and mortar retailers need your business now more than ever, retailers are going to continue to follow CDC and state guidelines to ensure they're providing a clean, safe and inviting shopping experience. But these retailers also need your cooperation to shop smart by practicing the three W's where your mask wait 6 ft apart and wash your hands. Practicing these three simple steps whenever you're gonna be around other people or shopping makes a difference. Right now, many businesses are struggling just to survive. They need a strong shopping season and cannot afford for us to let our state slip backwards and how we handle Cove it. So please do your part. Go get your flu shot at your pharmacy unease e in and out and shop smart. Help your local retailers the backbone of your community by practicing the three W's where your mask weights 6 ft apart and wash your hands. Thank you. Great. Thank you, Andy. Thanks, Lynn. I'm so appreciative of all that you're doing. We know that our business community is committed to protecting their workers and customers. Three incredible work of all of our partners has allowed North Carolina tow. Avoid the 1st and 2nd waves that devastated so many other states. To protect our communities. We must continue to work together in this fight against Cove in 19. Sadly, it only takes a few settings where folks drop their guard and don't practice three W's for virus to spread quickly. So be sure to look for those restaurants participating and count on me and retail outlets that support you to shop smart. We can find that balance that allows us to live with this virus, protecting the public's health and reigniting the economy. And with that, we will open for your questions. Our first question today is from Clayton Baumann with WDTN TV. Dr Cohen Thank you for taking my question. Clayton Baumann With W 10 here in Greenville on Thursday, President Trump will be holding a rally. I imagine you saw the images out of Sanford, Florida last night. Uh, there were some mass in the crowd, but overwhelmingly, uh, no social distancing taking place. Does the state have concerns, especially with the trends that you mentioned going up about this sort of rally taking place? Clayton, Thanks for that question. We know so much more about this virus than we did even just a few months ago, and we know what works as we keep saying over and over. What I need is for folks to do what works and if those are the three W's wearing a mask waiting 6 ft apart in washing your hands. And I hope that anyone coming to North Carolina, whether they're political leaders or others, are going to do everything they can to protect North Carolinians. Because we know when folks get together in close quarters without a mask, that's when this virus spreads. So we're gonna keep working hard to make sure that everyone understands that message and is doing their part because we don't want to go backwards and in the wrong direction. We all need to pull together. Thanks. Our next question is from Richard Craver with The Winston Salem Journal. I think, Yes, Secretary Cohen, this is Richard Craver with the Winston Salem Journal. Um, given the trans that you're talking about that air going in the wrong direction. What cause or connections can you point to, um, the relaxation of the restrictions from phase 2.5, and it may be too early to decide from phase three. But, um, do you see any correlation between the increase is in the trends going in the wrong directions. And with those two, um, relaxations of the restrictions, I think there's a number Richard. Thanks for that question. I think there are number of things going on right now, so I think one. I know that folks are weary of this virus, right? And folks have been doing good at the three W's, but maybe you're getting a little tired of it. And I think I think Lynn and Andy for being here to hopefully re energize us, remind us that the business community and that we're all in this together to re energize us to do those three W's. Um, I think we are also starting to see a change in the season now, which is what we're seeing around the country and around the world that we're just seeing mawr opportunities for this virus to spread. Think that's why we have to be even more vigilant. I think as we did ease restrictions, I think that I think everyone relaxes a little bit too much. Um and I think we all have to remember that whether that's setting is in your home and you're having just a few close friends, you need to be wearing a face covering. If you're going to church or another religious setting, you need to wear a face covering. If you're going out to a restaurant or to shop, you need to wear a face covering Um, and so I think practicing those three W's is gonna be really important. So I think it's a lot of those factors together, and that's why it's going to take all of us together to turn the trends around, where before I could pinpoint maybe a certain thing here or there. What we're seeing now is this virus is everywhere. There's no single place, no single age, no single location, which means we have to make sure we're being vigilant across the board. And that's why again, I think Lynn and Andy for sharing that that same message. The next question is from Brian Anderson with The Associated Press Hi, Dr Cohen. Brian Anderson, here with the AP had a couple questions for you. I know you said, that takes some time Thio analyze the impact of President Trump's rallies, and it's been weeks since he had that rally in Winston Salem and in Fayetteville. Do you know how many, if any, North Carolinians have been infected with the coronavirus as a direct result of their presence at those events. Brian, thanks for that question. And as you know, we do try to get in touch with every single person who has co vid here in North Carolina and understand their source of exposure. But not everyone picks up the phone and works with us, and when they do, they'd aren't always sharing all those details. So what we have been able, Thio find out is there are certain events that folks have been to, whether they're political rallies or other large gatherings with folks who are close together and not wearing masks where this virus spreads. I think we learned that from Washington D. C. In the White House itself, right when you are close together without mass, this virus spreads, Um, and so we're seeing that and why we are reiterating the message. We really need to be working hard all together on those three W's, and if you are positive, pick up the phone so you can work with your local health department so they can identify people you may have been exposed to, and we can make sure that others know that they may have been exposed to co vid. Thanks. Come on. We have a follow up from Brian Anderson with a P. Thanks. And I'm just a quick yes or no for this one. Did you support Governor Cooper's transition to a phase three? I know you said you're diving mawr into the data on Thursday. Will you recommend going backward as you put it, a Sfar tightening those restrictions? I think your question was Do I support the governor and the work we've done so far and the 100%? Yes. I think the governor has been incredibly dedicated to the science and the data to going slow to putting a mask mandate in thio, making sure that we are, um, working together across this state. So yes, support the governor and the work that he has done, um, and we need to continue to look at at are trends on dso. We don't want to go backwards. Wife again. One thank my partners in the business community to show the sense of unity. We don't wanna go backwards. No one wants to go backwards. So let's do the hard work of doing the three W's. I know it can be inconvenient. But if we do those things, we can make sure that our trends are heading in the right direction. Our next question is from lose Schlemmer with North Carolina Public Radio. Hi, Dr Cohen. Thanks for taking my question. Um, you mentioned the impact of college re openings on outbreaks in August, but other colleges have had more slow and steady outbreaks. Um, AP State, for example, has had a recent spike in cases. So I wanted to ask, What have you learned about best practices for colleges and universities? Do you have any new advice now that we are much later in the semester? Um, than when we saw large universities switch to online instruction in August? You know, should schools like Appalachian State change their instruction or make other policy moves this late in the semester? Liz, thanks for the question. I think we have learned a lot. I think first and foremost, we know that the three W's work and I know I'm being repetitive, But it's the simple tool and extrapolated into any setting. It's what we need to dio think what we've also learned about our our institutes of higher education is that we have to work on campus and off campus on what I've really appreciated about, uh, the university and college leadership is that they're using their tools, um, as a student body student codes of conduct, student codes of conduct to make sure that folks are following those. Www. If they live on campus or they go to class on campus or if they're they're living off campus, because then we need to be good stewards both on and off campus to make sure we're slowing the spread of this virus. So I think that are those air some of the things that I think we need to continue to be aggressive at. I know a number of schools are also doing more testing and more surveillance. I think those are all positive. Um, And again, the more we can spread out, give folks opportunities to be remote in terms of learning de identify on any of the dorms that are there, I think all of those things are positive towards slowing the spread of this virus. Thanks. Our next question is from Joedy. McCreary with CBS 17. Yes, thank you. Dr Cohen. My question is what concerns do the increasing numbers cause as it relates to some public school district scoring the plan? A Thanks for question about schools and our trends, right? So whenever we make these hard decisions about using restrictions or not, we have to take into account both the risks of covitz spread but also the benefits of the activity. What we know about the virus and its risks is that we do see it is different in terms of spread in Children who are younger, particularly those who are of elementary school age. What we see is that elementary school students seem to get the virus less often. They get less sick, and they also transmitted onto others less often doesn't mean never but less often. And that's why we're able to make a differentiation between elementary school being able to make a recommendation, to go back and plan A versus junior high school in high school, where we're saying to think about a Plan B. But I want to remind folks that no matter what plan a school district may choose, uh, that that it's very important to do the protocol, the safety protocols that are foundational Lee set on the three W's. So it's face coverings for everyone. It's social distancing its screening. When the kids come into school, Um, it's washing of hands and high traffic surfaces. Eso those protocols are incredibly important to make sure that this virus isn't spreading. So it's both looking at our metrics and our trends, of course, um, understanding how this virus spreads in Children. But then it's also about implementing those good protocols. And I know those those protocols are not easy. And I know school districts have been working on that and are now taking steps forward to bring kids back either in a Plan B or plan a scenario because they have been working on implementing those safety protocols. Mhm. Our next question is from Rose Hoban with North Carolina Health News. Hi, Secretary. Thank you for taking my my question. Um, e I have two questions. You know, we have these, like, to 200 mawr hospitalizations today than we had 10 days ago. Are there any specific parts of the state that you're concerned with, or, um you know, we're seeing two of the hospitalization regions that have close toe half the cases. Is there anything in particular that you're looking at. Thanks, Rose, for the question around hospitalizations. And you're right. We are seeing that trend go in the wrong direction. Mawr People being hospitalized It's a reminder that this virus can be very serious for folks and that they require hospitalization and support. We are very lucky that our hospitals have really been working in close collaboration with each other and with us. We've been working on response and surge plan since the beginning of this pandemic. We do have to watch that closely, particularly for some of our small hospitals that when if they got a surge of patients, could get quickly overwhelmed. We need to make sure our larger hospitals are able to help them out, that we at the state are able thio support them with either materials or staff or whatever the resource is that they might need. Right now, we have capacity in our state and that is a good thing. But we know that that capacity is finite, it is fixed and so we know that we have to be careful about the spread of this virus. That's why we go back to those three W's. We wanna. We wanna turn these trends around right now, as we think about heading into flu season, when hospitals are known to be mawr more crowded and more stretched in a normal year. This is why we need everyone to get their flu shot and do the three W's because our capacity or is going to be stretched as we head into the winter months before co vid. So we now know, adding Cove it, too. That is going to be a challenge. So we have to work extra hard right now. Thank you Way have a follow up from Rose hoping with North Carolina healthy. Thanks for the protecting this follow up. You know, in, um, in other states and countries, you know, like health officials are doing more targeted restrictions. I mean, I'm thinking specifically of New York City. Uh, you know, an area, you know? Well, um, there are parts in Brooklyn and Queens, for example, where officials closed bars and restaurants in one neighborhood kind of like a bull's eye with the most restrictions in the middle. And then you stretch out from, like, you know, areas around that there's, uh, some few more restrictions, but not many um, have you thought about taking that approach If we've got, you know, a part of the state where, um uh, you know, the cases were going up not county by county, but maybe more regional Gross. Thanks for that question. And I want to remind folks that right now any of our local municipalities and, uh can can doom or, um and I encourage them to look at the metrics on our dashboard. We make sure that that that data is both at the county level and down to the zip code level to allow local officials to look at that and use some of their additional authority to do exactly what you're saying. Should we think about some or targeted, uh, restrictions in places where we're seeing higher cases? And I encourage local officials to look at their own data and be tracking along with us, um, to make sure that they're doing everything they can again, We're acting at a at a statewide level and trying to set a baseline for the state. But local officials, looking at their own data, um, I encourage them to think about what else they can dio, um, at the local level to be targeted so we can be targeted here in in our efforts to try to slow the spread of this virus. Our next question is from Ben Systems with the News and Observer. Thank you for taking my question dot going, um, so I had a few questions about restaurants. So, to what extent are restaurants contributing to the spread of Koven in North Carolina? Um, what aspect of the dining experience is most concerning, and will there be any changes to guidelines as the weather forces more diners indoors? Will there be any increase or decrease in capacity rules? Ben, thanks for that question. I think we we've known that any activities where you're indoors and you need to take off your mask or higher risk, and we know if you're doing indoor dining and you're gonna eat, you're taking off your mask. So it's it's by nature. It's going to be a higher risk activity. I think that's why Lynn was talking about some of the protocols that they've put in place and the training related to count on me and see that I think is very important and effective so that patrons can know all right. I see that. Count on me, N C sign. I know that this the the owners and the workers here have gone through that training. I think it's another layer of assurance that folks can have in knowing that that's a place where they are following the safety protocols. Because we know indoors without mass is a higher risk activity. Why don't I turn over toe Lin to tell you a little bit more about some of the safety protocols I know restaurants are working through? Thank you so much. Um, I know that many restaurants across our state are are taking this very seriously, and they have completed the training, training for front of the house, back of the house, cleaning staff, restaurant managers and others. We have the training available in English and in Spanish. And so for those restaurants who are going above and beyond what's required. Um, kudos to those folks. And I know that diners who are looking for safe places to eat can go to the website and be confident, confident that um, those restaurant owners and operators are committed thio the best practices of operating during Cove in 19. With regard Thio Cem Cem specific steps restaurants are taking, um by requiring employees to wear mask that eliminates, uh, exposure of those employees with the guests were coming in from the outside. And so that's that's why that regulation requirement eyes very, very important. And so we commend those restaurants who are actively requiring their employees to wear face coverings. Um, also, we require guest to come into restaurants, uh, to wear face coverings. There's a sign posted at the front of every business, uh, in North Carolina. At least there should be requiring reminding guest, um, to where face covering so that they don't expose other guest. And then, finally, I've been just amazed at the innovation that many restaurant owners and operators have employed during Cove in 19 things like touchless payment and delivery. Um, things that they're doing to reduce exposure to guests who are coming into facilities so online ordering, ordering by phone and tablets in restaurants. And so those are just a few of the things that good owners and operators are doing and will continue to do. We hope, uh, to ease the spread of covert 19 and to allow restaurants to continue to operate during the months ahead. Thank you. Thanks. Lynne way have a follow up from Ben and Systems, but the news and observer. Uh, just one more question, Dr Going. Um, So you mentioned earlier that you don't want North Carolina to go backwards? Um, So, um, given the rise of hospitalizations over the past few weeks, what is the threshold for, um, returning to some of those restrictions? And what restrictions do you think would have to return in order to slow the spread? Thanks, Ben, for that question, and as always, there is no magic number or anyone metric that we look at when we make these decisions. Because these metrics are all interrelated. The cases, the surveillance data, the hospitalizations, the percent of tests that are positive. They all interact with each other in different ways. Um and so we have to look at all of them when we are thinking about whether or not we are going to move forward in terms of easing more restrictions, staying in place or needing to move backwards. And I don't think anyone wants to move backwards. And I think that's the overarching message of today. We don't need to move backwards if we can all do the three W's together, we there are places that are higher risk, like a restaurant. But with the safety protocols and the face coverings and others, we can make sure that we can continue, uh, toe live with this virus. We don't have to make a choice between public health and igniting the economy. We can do both at the same time. We just have to work together and focus on those three W's thanks. Our final question today is from Ashley Tally with WRL TV. Big Factor. Cohen, um, similar to what other people have been asking. We are about thio have hundreds of thousands of people mixing who have otherwise been, um, isolated. That's what schools opening and with early voting starting on Thursday, it with numbers already going up. Is state doing anything to prepare for an influx of potential? Ah, lot of new cases, a lot of new testing and potentially a lot of new hospitalizations? Well, actually, thanks for that question. I want to address the early voting piece in particular because I think the Board of Elections, state and local have done a lot of work in coordination with our teams as well as emergency management, to prepare for early voting and to make it a safe experience. I plan to early vote in person myself. I think if someone would want to equate it to a level of risk, I would equate it. Thio being in one of Andy's retail stores or grocery store? Um, right. They have implemented protocols where everyone is wearing a face covering where folks are waiting 6 ft apart. Um, and and with early voting weaken, spread out folks that are there. So hopefully we can make sure that it is a safe experience for everyone. If you don't want to vote in person, I encourage you to get, um, your absentee ballot and vote by mail. That is always an option. Um, and I know many have already. So I think there are a lot of options here to make sure that we can have a safe and effective voting process over the next number of weeks. And so I'd encourage everyone to make sure that they're making their plan, uh, to vote. Make sure you're taking your face covering with you when you go to do it. Um, and I want to thank the Board of Elections and all of the local leaders and the poll workers and others who I know have been training and preparing and early voting starts on the 15th. I think that was our last question. I think I've said the three W's more today than in any other day, but I think you know that. I mean it. Um, look, I know North Carolina has been incredibly, um, uh, you know, has been doing incredibly hard work since this pandemic began. And it shows in our numbers. We never got that first spike. We never got that second spike. I want to avoid making sure that we are not part of any other additional surge that might be happening across the country. We can do this. We know how we know the science tells us what to dio. Um, we all have these face covering, so make sure you're taking it with you everywhere you go. And whatever your reason to get behind the mask. Thank you so much. Stay well, right? Yeah. Mm hmm.