RALEIGH — As cases of COVID-19 have continued to climb on a statewide level, including the report of 2,859 new cases on Thursday, Nov. 5, the second-highest daily total since the pandemic began, along with data indicating that the seven-day rolling average of new cases measures 2,300 new cases daily in North Carolina, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and NC Dept. of Health and Human Services Director Dr. Mandy Cohen addressed the virus during its latest media briefing on Thursday afternoon, Nov. 5.
During the briefing, both Cooper and Cohen acknowledged the higher testing totals at the state level and continued to advocate and encourage citizens to practice preventive measures to help slow the spread of the virus, but made no new announcements regarding current phasing of reopening.
"The election on Tuesday of course has been a focus for many this week, but our work battling COVID-19 continues without pause," Cooper said during his introductory remarks. "This virus is still with us, and nothing has diminished our resolve to prevent the spread... We need to get these numbers down and we know how: wear a mask, wash your hands, wait six feet apart. These tools worked over the summer to lower our numbers, and they can work again now if we're vigilant. We'll need that vigilance as we enter the fall and winter months."
Cohen presented an update on the state's key data trends, noting that despite the lack of a spike or large hospital overload, the need is present to practice measures to turn the trends in a favorable direction.
Cohen presented data presented each week on COVID syndromic-like cases, new cases, positive tests as a percentage of total tests, and hospitalizations. Additionally, testing and tracing capacity was shared with supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE).
According to the data, Cohen noted that the number of people coming to the emergency department with COVID-like symptoms have dropped in the past 14 days, but remains elevated. She explained that the number of new cases have considerably increased, with the state experiencing its highest number of day-over-day cases since the pandemic began.
"Today we once again surpassed 2,800 cases reported in just one day. Last week we had three days where we reported more than 2,800 cases each day. These are our highest daily numbers so far," Cohen said. "This is concerning, particularly as our weather turns colder and people are gathering indoors, which carries a higher risk."
Statistics indicated that the percent of total tests that are positive has remained fairly level since mid-October, but have remained at a total of approximately seven percent, a metric greater than the five-percent or less total which the state experienced in September and is more comfortable seeing in the data.
Day-to-day hospitalizations have remained fairly stable since mid-October, but overall related hospitalizations have increased since September.
"Overall, we're too high headed into the winter months, where hospitals have stretched capacity, even in non-COVID years due to flu and other non-COVID viruses that are circulating in winter," Cohen said.
Cohen continued to advocate that citizens be tested if they believe they are experiencing COVID-like symptoms or may have been exposed to the virus. She also announced that NCDHHS will be providing specific recommendations next week regarding the coming holiday season and gatherings, but offered a number of proactive measures individuals can take as the holiday season approaches.
"I'm concerned our numbers will trend higher when we gather for the holidays. While the safest thing we can do is to avoid getting together in person, especially indoors, I know that runs counter to our holiday traditions," Cohen added. "If you do decide to host or attend a holiday gathering, there are steps you can take to do it as safely as possible."
Among the recommendations Cohen highlighted from the coming guidance were that individuals not attend or host a gathering if they feel sick, been diagnosed or exposed to COVID-19, maintaining smaller gathering limits, preferably outdoors, while putting people who live in the same household together at the same table, as well as sanitizing hands and all surface areas while also wearing a face covering any time besides actively eating or drinking, while doing so six-feet apart.
Cohen in a new announcement also advocated residents consider a COVID-19 screening test prior to traveling or attending family gatherings.
"We can't eliminate risk, but we can reduce it," Cohen noted. "A screening test is by no means perfect, but it can catch some people who have the virus and don't have symptoms yet. Screening tests can miss infections, particularly if you use rapid tests, and a negative test can only give you an indication for that one point in time. A negative test does not mean that you will remain negative. Simply put, think about getting a test before traveling or before gathering for holiday celebrations. If you test positive, stay home and isolate. Testing negative is not a free pass. Let's keep our loved ones, family and friends safe this holiday season."
Cooper shared that although the state does not wish to have to steps backward in its reopening plan, he and health officials will continue to track the data and factor it into upcoming decisions.
“We certainly don’t want to (revert back), but we are going to let the data guide our decisions," Cooper said. "The department continues to gain information on a daily basis about what is happening in other states and what their research is showing them on what we can do to help slow the spread of the virus, so I know they are looking at a lot of that. We'll have an announcement on what the next steps are for when the current order expires soon, but we're gonna continue this preventive message that we have out there that we can get control of this virus. We hold it in our hands if people will come together and wear their mask and social distance. That really doesn't cost us anything but being vigilant. We continue to emphasize that, and we'll have an announcement of where we'll go after the next executive order next week."