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Health Team

New coronavirus cases spike in NC

Posted October 8, 2020 2:11 p.m. EDT
Updated October 8, 2020 7:40 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina tallied its third-highest one-day number of new coronavirus cases on Thursday, as the spread of the virus starts to inch up again after several weeks of stability.

The 2,428 new cases trail only the totals reported on two days in mid-July, when viral spread in the state was at its peak. The rolling average of new cases has risen to 1,784 a day over the last week, the highest average since Aug. 3.

Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease expert at UNC Health, said testing has expanded across the state, which could result in higher numbers. But he also said people are becoming more lax about combating the virus, and in looking for a way to get back to life before the pandemic, they're having the opposite effect.

"It’s as if there’s nothing going on that’s any different from the ordinary," Wohl said of people's attitudes and actions. "People are shoulder to shoulder literally, eating together, hanging out together, standing in line together."

Gov. Roy Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen noted during a Tuesday briefing their concern about the recent uptick in cases.

"When you look at what's happening and you see what's happening across the country and know that we're getting into the fall and winter, you remain concerned about – people really need to double-down and practice the 'three W's' in order to slow the spread," Cooper said, referring to health guidance about wearing masks in public, waiting 6 feet away from others and washing hands frequently.

"As people move around more, there are more opportunities for this virus to spread," Cohen said. "We are seeing this in our trends, which have moved in the wrong direction over the past week. Our cases have ticked up, as have the percent of tests that are positive and hospitalizations."

Twenty-nine virus-related deaths were reported statewide on Thursday, bringing the total during the pandemic to 3,722. The rolling average of virus deaths continues a downward trend, to 20 per day over the last week, which is the lowest level since July 24.

The state has recorded more than 225,000 coronavirus infections since the pandemic began, although state officials estimate that 192,000 of those people have already recovered. More than 1,050 people are hospitalized with COVID-19.

Mark Holmes, a professor of health policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the state and the nation are nowhere near moving past the pandemic.

"The national trends over the past couple of weeks are particularly worrisome. You see places like Wisconsin that are reaching areas they haven’t seen in a while," Holmes said. "Rural America, throughout the country, is going to face higher rates than we’ve seen. So, I think the national trend as we look around is that were a long way from beating this."

Last Friday, North Carolina moved into Phase 3 of its plan to reopen businesses and resume social activities during the pandemic, but Cohen said it was too early to link that to the growth of cases. Under the new restrictions, bars can serve a limited number of people in outdoor areas, and movie theaters and event venues can reopen at limited capacity.

Wohl and Holmes said they think many North Carolinians took the move as a signal that they could let up on wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

"It’s hard to have a healthy economy when we have a raging pandemic, and ultimately, the wisest minds out there have really argued that you have to get the pandemic under control before the economy can really recover robustly," Holmes said.

"We don’t want to start going back to where we were," Wohl said. "We have to do a better job. This is not good enough."

Cooper said that Phase 3 "only works safely if we realize that every gathering carries the risk of spreading this disease."

"If we're going out, let's do what works – wear a mask, keep social distancing, wash your hands often – and stay away from places where people aren't doing that," he said.