Gov. Roy Cooper announced at Wednesday’s Coronavirus Task Force news briefing that the modified stay-at-home order he put into effect at the beginning of December will continue for another three weeks as Covid-19 numbers continue to rise.
To date 582,348 have been infected with the virus in the state and 7,076 have died.
“We’ve turned a page on a new year, hoping to bring us better times,” Cooper said. “But the virus didn’t disappear at midnight on Dec. 31.”
In fact, North Carolina experienced its highest one-day cases on Jan. 1 and 2, with more than 9,300 reported each day.
Cooper announced 96 counties in the state have moved into the orange and red zones on the Covid-19 County Alert System: 84 are in red, 12 in orange and only four in yellow. Among the red counties are both New Hanover and Brunswick, previously in orange. Pender also remains in red.
The determination of zones come from three metrics, including case rate, percent positive cases, and hospitalizations across the state. Red (critical) indicates an increase of more than 42 cases over the last 14 days, with a high impact on hospitals. Orange means there have been at least 21 new cases with a moderate impact on hospitals.
The governor’s announcement comes as the state’s percentage of positive Covid-19 tests has hit 17% — the highest rate seen since the highly infectious disease was first reported here in March.
“We have an alarming amount of virus in our state,” North Carolina Health and Human Services secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said. “And we don’t think we’ve seen the impact of the holidays even yet. . . . It’s the most worried I’ve been through this pandemic.”
Cohen issued a secretarial directive with immediate actions to protect North Carolinians. Though it isn’t enforced by law, it’s been made, according to Cohen, to be excessively clear to residents how to protect each other.
The directive states for residents to:
- Only leave home for essential activities such as going to work or school, for health care purposes, to care for family members or to buy food.
- Avoid leaving home if you are over 65 or at high risk for developing serious illness. Use delivery services or alternative pick-up methods for food and retail.
- Avoid gathering with people who do not live with you.
- Wear a mask and keep distance from people when you leave home.
- Avoid any indoor public spaces where people are not wearing masks.
- Stay away from crowds. Avoid places where people may gather in large numbers
“No matter where you live, work, worship or play, Covid-19 is a deadly threat,” Cooper said.
However, upon questions from the media as to whether Cooper would take more strict measures to stop in-person classes from happening in school districts statewide, the governor said he would rely on superintendents to make the best decisions for their counties.
Cooper also has mobilized the National Guard to help with the state’s vaccination plan. It’s the most pressing and urgent priority, according to Cohen: to give support to hospitals and health departments that are inoculating citizens.
“We are concerned about reports of some people declining the vaccine when it’s their turn,” Cooper said. “I hope many who are hesitant will gain confidence; it’s safe and effective, approved by an individual advisory board of experts.”
“The vaccine is 95% effective, but you can’t get Covid from it,” Cohen said. “You may get tired or achy for a day or two, but that’s it.”
“But it will take many months to get there [to herd immunity] — we have to follow data and use prevention tools to stop the spread of virus,” Cooper added.
Although vaccination efforts are underway statewide, supplies of the two approved medications remain limited and both require a second dose of the vaccine three-to-four weeks after the initial dose to achieve the 95% protection rate.
As part of the statewide vaccination plan, appointments will be handled by local health departments and hospitals. Right now, most doctors cannot provide vaccines in office, according to Cohen. However, anyone with questions can go to “your spot, your shot” on the state’s website to search for vaccine providers. A toll free number is also provided to call for updated information.
The National Guard are mobile and will move as directed, according to Gen. Todd Hunt. “We can ramp up or down and go anywhere in the state, according to the state’s needs,” he said.
As of Wednesday, the state is getting a limited number of vaccines weekly to distribute. As more are made available into each phase, Cohen said they will continue training personnel and onboarding new vaccinators.
First imposed Dec. 11, the extended Executive Order 181 restricts alcohol sales between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. and requires citizens follow a statewide curfew between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. There are several exceptions to the curfew, including travel for work-related purposes, to care for a family member, personal safety, to businesses open outside of curfew hours, and more.
Cooper also warned of a new highly contagious strain of the virus recently detected in the U.S. “We should act as if it’s already here,” he said. “It should inspire us to double down on safety precautions.”
COVID-19 NUMBERS TO DATE
View the state’s recent virus risk maps from the Covid-19 County Alert System below:
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