On Saturday (Nov. 21st) North Carolina surpassed 5,000 deaths from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The state reported 3,415 new cases of confirmed COVID-19. The rate of positive tests increased to 8.5%. Bad as things are, they're getting worse.
In only one state is the number of new cases not increasing almost every day--Hawaii. The Aloha state had its biggest one-day number of new cases on August 13th (354). On Saturday, they had 163. The state's death toll is now 231. Hawaii has, of course, an advantage in being separated by much of the Pacific Ocean from the rest of the US, but another reason the state has fared much better than others is that it adopted many more restrictions early on and didn't relax them nearly as quickly as other states.
Now, fearing that visitors over the holidays could further spread the disease, Hawaii is again tightening up. Those planning to visit Hawaii will need to get a COVID-19 test. A new statewide mask mandate issued last Monday (Nov. 16th) requires those ages 5 and up to wear masks in all indoor public settings, in private vehicles when members of other households are present, and outdoors when 6 feet distance from non-household members can't be maintained; and unlike North Carolina's mask mandate, Hawaii's has 'teeth,'violation is a misdemeanor with penalties of up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
If you visit the state after getting tested and the results of your test come back positive after you arrive there, you'll have to quarantine in a designated hotel at your own expense.
Hawaii's restrictions haven't come without a price tag. The state has the highest unemployment rate of any state--14.1%. One big reason is the state's dependence on tourism, which has been the hardest hit segment of the economy.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has been much criticized for restrictions he imposed and for not relaxing them and allowing businesses to reopen more quickly. It's worth mentioning that in large part because of Cooper's restrictions, North Carolina's deaths from the disease are much lower than most other Southern states: 47 per 100K population, compared to 83 in South Carolina and Florida, 86 in Georgia, 62 in Tennessee, 70 in Alabama & Texas, 77 in Arkansas, 122 in Mississippi and 133 in Louisiana.
Our number of cases per 100K is also less than in any of those states.
Now, North Carolina is seeing the biggest number of new cases yet; and it's happening just as we are closing in on having one or two vaccines available to stop the virus. As Cooper said this past week, "letting the virus win now is like punting on the 10-yard line, it's foolish."
Cooper also threatened further restrictions if the trend isn't reversed: "If our metrics keep moving in the wrong direction, the state could impose additional orders, either at a local or statewide level. As numbers worsen, we need to treat this virus like the deadly threat it still is."
Three of the counties in our four-county primary coverage area for which we report news are among the problematic counties in North Carolina for spread of the disease. On a map issued by the NC Dept. of Health & Human Services Tuesday, Lincoln was shown as yellow--meaning significant spread of the virus; Catawba and Cleveland counties were shown as orange, substantial spread; and Gaston County was one of the ten red counties on the map, meaning critical spread of the disease.
In an interview with Charlotte public radio station WFAE, Tracy Philbeck, the chairman of Gaston County's Commissioners, called the DHHS report 'a snapshot in time.'
"Let's see a month from now, a couple of weeks from now,' Philbeck said. "Those numbers are gonna fluctuate throughout the state. So I think the initial report doesn't really say a lot."
It may be purely coincidental, but after the state issued the map on Tuesday, Gaston County's Health Dept. discontinued reporting currently active cases of the disease. On their report issued Friday, they said, "We are no longer able to accurately report ACTIVE and RECOVERED cases due to changes in the way we conduct case investigations. Other key metrics - hospitalizations, daily case counts, and percentage of positive tests – continue to be more accurate measures of local impact." Prior to the change, Gaston County's number of active cases had been growing with every recent report--by 265 from 2,526 on Friday Nov. 13th to 2,791 Monday Nov 16th.
Nationally, many states that didn't have mask mandates have now imposed them. 37 states now have mask requirements as New Hampshire, Iowa and North Dakota have issued mask orders. One that hasn't is South Dakota, which has resisted anyrestrictions related to the virus. The state has the second highest number of new cases per 100K population in the last week of any state except North Dakota (141.6 and 162.9 respectively). [By comparison, North Carolina's number of new cases, even with the recent record daily figures, is 32.5 per 100K for the past seven days.
There are still those people who are claiming that the virus is a hoax, even as over a quarter million Americans and over 1.3 million people worldwide have died from it. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading epidemiologist, says he's most frustrated the some who have been infected and become seriously ill, almost dying, still insist that it is. " Do you mean that every single country in Europe is doing the same thing, is making things up? They're not. I mean, it's so obvious."
Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, the best medical experts on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, agree that until we get a vaccine, masks are our best opportunity to slow the spread of the virus; yet some, foolishly and selfishly, insist that not wearing a mask is their 'Constitutional right.'
We find it interesting that many of the same people who were hollering, "reopen North Carolina" back in the Spring are the ones who are now insisting on not wearing a mask. Shame on you!
If you plan to participate in the event in downtown Lincolnton next Sunday, we hope that you will also 'get behind the mask.' Your 'rights' come with responsibilities, and among them is not doing something that harms your neighbors--and your not wearing a mask could do just that.
My brother, who will be 87 New Year's Day, and who has COPD, called me early last week to invite me to have Thanksgiving Dinner with him and his daughter's family (he now lives with them in Waxhaw). I declined, telling him, "if I brought this disease to you and it killed you, I couldn't live with myself. I'll just spend the day alone at home; we can talk on the phone. That way I won't be getting the virus or spreading it to anyone else."
If ALL of us will just behave responsibly, wear the masks, avoid crowds and keep our distance as much as possible, we can reduce the spread of the disease before the vaccines become available. If we don't, many more will get sick and some will die. My conscience doesn't allow me to believe that is acceptable.
We don't want to see businesses shut down. We want to survive this epidemic and to have businesses survive; but we have to do our part. To do otherwise is indeed like punting on the 10-yard line, very foolish.