RALEIGH — Governor Roy Cooper announced on June 24 that North Carolina will remain in Phase 2 of its reopening strategy for the next three weeks until 5 p.m. on July 17, when a decision whether or not to extend the order will be made. 

Gov. Cooper’s extension of Executive Order 141 comes with additional caveats, namely the requiring of face masks to be worn in additional businesses, including those businesses that already fall under the executive order such as tattoo shops, personal care businesses and grooming. 

New settings in which people are required to wear face coverings include retail businesses, restaurants, child care facilities, state government agencies, public and private transportation, industrial or agricultural work settings, long-term care facilities and other health care settings. 

While exceptions to the requirement encompassing individuals who have medical or behavioral disabilities, are younger than 11 years old, are eating or drinking as well as those who may be at-risk at work by wearing a face covering, according to workplace safety guidelines.  

According to the revised executive order, citations are authorized only to businesses or organizations that fail to enforce the requirement to wear face coverings. Law enforcement personnel are not authorized to enforce the requirement against individual workers, customers or patrons. However, if a business refuses entry to a customer who refuses to wear a face covering, law enforcement may enforce trespassing laws against the individual. 

“The numbers we see are a stark warning. I’m concerned. As we’ve watched and studied and dissected these numbers in recent weeks, that concern has grown,” Cooper said. “Since the beginning of this pandemic, I’ve been clear that data and science will lead the way. In following that standard, it’s clear that our numbers will keep us from moving ahead into the next phase of these restrictions.”

Before the governor’s announcement, NC Department of Health and Human Resources Director Dr. Mandy Cohen gave an update on the data that was used to make the decision.

According to Dr. Cohen, there has been an upward trend in the number of patients who come to the emergency room with COVID-like symptoms over the past several weeks, a trend which she described as “concerning.” Additionally, the seven-day average of laboratory-confirmed tests began to level last week, but the trend as a whole has continued be elevated throughout Phase 2. 

On June 24, the state recorded the second-highest number of cases at 1,721. Since May 15, new cases have also continued to increase, despite leveling the previous week. The percentage of total positive tests in comparison to the number of people tested continues to be elevated at around 10 percent. Dr. Cohen said the department would like to see that percentage decrease to around five percent. 

The states day-by-day hospitalizations is also rising. June 23 was the state’s highest number of hospitalizations, with 915 people hospitalized. 

“Our hospitals still have the capacity to meet increased demand if more people become seriously ill, which is good. But the fact that this metric has continued to decline for more than a month is concerning. We would like to see this at least level or decline. If this upward trend continues or worse accelerates, we could face capacity challenges within our health care system,” Dr. Cohen said. 

Before finishing her update, Dr. Cohen said that labs in NC and around the country are starting to see supply shortages for laboratory chemicals, or reagents, which are key components for processing tests. The state is completing approximately 17,000 tests per day. 

Gov. Cooper implored North Carolinians to abide by the order for the benefit of the state and the economy as a whole. 

“Overwhelming evidence that is growing by the week shows that wearing a face covering can greatly reduce the spread of COVID-19, especially for people who have it and don’t know it yet. Face coverings are a simple way to control this virus while protecting ourselves, our families and the other people around us. Required face coverings not only cause zero harm to our economy. They, in fact, help our economy by making it safer to shop,” Cooper said. 

Latest county and statewide statistics

North Carolina health officials report the total number of lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state have topped the 60,000 mark at 60,537 cases, according to statistics posted from NCDHHS. The state also has reported 1,312 virus-related deaths.

NCDHHS reports 888 people are currently hospitalized. 

The Raleigh News & Observer newspaper reported that 1,297 individuals have died from the virus, with 1,297 cases statewide as of Saturday afternoon, June 27.

The numbers reported by the newspaper, which is compiling the numbers of cases announced by counties throughout the day, vary from the daily reports provided by N.C. DHHS. N.C. DHHS has emphasized that not all people with symptoms of COVID-19 are being tested, and the numbers reported by county and state health departments do not represent the total number of people infected throughout the state.

Nationwide, Johns Hopkins University & Medicine reports a total of 2,480,876 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. as of noon p.m. on June 27, with 125,120 reported deaths and more than 670,809 individuals reported as having recovered from the virus.

A total of 855,131 tests had been completed by the N.C. State Laboratory of Public Health and reporting hospitals and commercial labs as of Saturday afternoon, June 27, according to N.C. DHHS. The estimate of people who have recovered from the virus as of June 22 is 36,921, with the estimate provided each Monday by NCDHHS. NCDHHS estimates a median time to recovery of 14 days from the date of specimen collection for non-fatal COVID-19 cases who were not hospitalized, or if hospitalization status is unknown. The estimated median recovery time is 28 days from the date of specimen collection for hospitalized non-fatal COVID-19 cases.

“North Carolina is experiencing significant community spread of the COVID19 virus, and many of our metrics are headed in the wrong direction, with increased ER visits, hospitalizations increasing, and the percentage of positive tests is also high, at 10 percent,” a social media post from the Avery County Health Department earlier this week stated.

The health department also urged practice of safe health protocols with the coming Fourth of July weekend approaching.

"What I would like everyone to think about is Fourth of July, family BBQ's, work, church, meetings, shopping, etc. There are ways to do these activities and do them safely. The key is mask, social distance and wash your hands. We want people to be able to have some social interaction and 'normal' activities, but we want you to do them safely," Diane Creek with Avery County Health Department stated in a June 27 Facebook post.

Toe River Health District reported on Saturday, June 27, that Avery County has a total of 11 positive cases, with the latest case reported on June 25. The county health district reports  with six active and five having recovered. The department added that a total of 1,217 people had been tested in Avery County, with 990 negative results and 216 pending results. The health department conducted a pair of drive-through testing events earlier this month, one on June 9 and another on June 11.

According to TRHD, 943 people have been tested in Mitchell County, with 803 negative results, 109 results pending and 31 total positive cases (11 active, 20 having recovered). Yancey County reports 1,246 people tested, with 1,132 negative results, 72 results pending and 42 total positive cases (seven active, 35 having recovered). 

In neighboring counties, Watauga County has 58 positive tests among residents, Caldwell County has 358 positive tests as of June 27 with four deaths, while Wilkes County has 567 reported cases and six deaths, according to NCDHHS. Ashe County has 52 cases and one death, and the department reports McDowell County with 220 cases and one death. Burke County reports 1,000 cases and 19 deaths attributed to the virus, according to NCDHHS.

In Tennessee, Johnson County reports 30 cases, while Carter County reports 48 cases and one death as of June 27, according to statistics from the Tennessee Department of Health.

Statewide, Mecklenburg County has reported the most cases with 10,287. Wake County is reporting 4,675 cases and Durham County reports 3,521 cases, according to June 27 NCDHHS statistics.

The reported testing numbers could be incomplete due to differences in reporting from health departments and other agencies. Sources include Toe River Health District, AppHealthCare, NCDHHS, Caldwell County Health Department and Tennessee Department of Health.

For more information on COVID-19 and the state’s response, click to covid19.ncdhhs.gov.

This story is developing. Check averyjournal.com for additional updates.

NCDHHS COVID-19 Dashboard for North Carolina

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