Governor Cooper, in his latest briefing on the virus Wednesday afternoon, said decisions on what to do next will be made before the current executive orders expire at the end of April, but he doesn't expect a quick return--even to a 'new normal.' "We'll discuss the data that has been collected with healthcare executives, business leaders and others and take whatever action we believe will best serve the people of North Carolina." Cooper said sports events may have to be held without an in-person audience, restaurants may have to reduce available seating to maintain social distancing, and some restrictions may have to remain in place.
The Governor said the return to normality will have to be like using a dimmer switch instead of an on-off one. "We'll slowly bring the lights back up, but we still have to do what is necessary to protect the most vulnerable of our citizens."
Secretary of Health & Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen said testing is better than it was a month ago, but still more is needed. "Sending people back to work must include plans to keep people safe. This is a very infectious disease and for some, very deadly."
Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said while personal protective gear is still in short supply, the state is getting another big shipment of N95 masks and face shields.
Cooper said decisions now will be based on testing, tracing and trends. Testing is improving. We must continue to trace where people who have been infected might have come in contact with others; and we need to see trends in the right direction--fewer people being hospitalized, a reduction in the number of new cases. "The good news is that we're flattening the curve; what we have been doing is working-but we're not there yet."
A spokesman for the North Carolina Healthcare Association, which represents all 15 hospitals in the state, told the Lincoln Herald Wednesday that he is concerned that trying to restart the economy too quickly might create another wave of cases of the virus. "We want to get back to work like everyone else. A lot of our rural hospitals have had to postpone other procedures to make sure they could handle the pandemic. We want to avoid a spike in cases that might overwhelm them. Many are fearful about the economy, but the economy will recover much faster if it's not having to try to recover at the same time as we fight a second or third wave of COVID-19 cases.
"At this point, we don't know if we'll have the peak this week or if it will come in another two or three weeks. If we can get this virus under control, reduce the number of new cases in this quarter, then we can spend the third and fourth quarters of this year helping the economy to recover."
Some European countries are allowing certain non-essential workers to return to their jobs this week including Spain, which has been one of the countries worst affected by the pandemic. More than 300,000 people who work in construction and manufacturing there--and who cannot, of course, work from home--are being allowed to go back to work, but schools and restaurants will remain closed.
Austria plans to open most shops including malls and hairdressers on May 1st, but restaurants and hotels will remain closed, and face masks (medical or home-made) will be mandatory for everyone in public places.
In Italy, some stores including book stores and children’s clothing stores opened Monday. Denmark allowed nurseries and schools to reopen this week. German chancellor Angela Merkel was to consider relaxing restrictions across Germany in a meeting Wednesday (April 15th).
In France, the lockdown may be extended until May 11th. The UK has extended the lockdown there for at least three more weeks, and may ban outdoor exercise if people don’t follow social distancing laws. The lockdown in the UK has been much less restrictive than in other countries. Construction workers, for example, were able to continue working.
For anyone who doesn't remember, the COVID-19 virus was first reported in Wuhan, China, where the first case (although not identified as such at the time) happened on November 20, 2019. The first death from COVID-19 happened in China on January 9th. The first death in the US was in Washington state on February 29th. The first death in North Carolina was in Cabarrus County on March 24th. As of Wednesday (April 15th), 133,870 people worldwide had died from COVID-19 related illness. North Carolina's death toll had reached 117. 431 people in North Carolina were hospitalized with the disease--up over a hundred from last Friday's figure. Lincoln County had recorded 17 positive tests for the virus; there were four active cases and four awaiting results from their test; 13 people had recovered from the disease in Lincoln County. There have been no deaths from COVID-19 in Lincoln County.
Gaston County had 16 active cases, 79 people who had recovered, and three deaths. Cleveland County had 40 positive cases and one death. Catawba County had 38 positive test results and one death.
Cooper did not specifically address the letters from Lincoln & Gaston County Commissioners, but appeared to dismiss their requests. “This virus is going to be with us until there is a vaccine, which may be a year or more away,” said Cooper. "Experts tell us it would be dangerous to lift our restrictions all at once."
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