North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced Friday that a statewide stay-at-home order will start Monday, saying more movement restrictions are needed to blunt the new coronavirus and prevent hospitals from being overrun by cases.
Cooper said the order will take effect at 5 p.m. Monday and last 30 days. It will prevent people from leaving their homes except for work that’s considered essential, along with activities such as getting food, going to the doctor or exercising. Cooper’s order also bans groups of more than 10 people, and individuals who are outdoors are asked to stay 6 feet apart.
The restrictions for the state’s 10.5 million residents largely mimic what large counties – such as Mecklenburg and Wake – and cities like Durham and Winston-Salem had been issuing on their own earlier this week. Violations of the statewide order are punishable by a misdemeanor.
Cooper already had issued statewide orders that shuttered K-12 schools through mid-May, banned mass gatherings of more than 50 people, told restaurants to stop dine-in service and closed hair salons, gyms and movie theaters. These closings and restrictions elsewhere has led to an historic spike in unemployment claims.
“Being apart from family and friends is difficult,” Cooper said at a news conference. “Losing your job or closing your business has to be difficult. But we have to act now in the safest, smartest way while we have the chance to save lives. It is truly a matter of life and death.”
The state Department of Health and Human Services announced more than 760 positive COVID-19 cases statewide as of Friday morning, 125 more than Thursday’s tally, along with three deaths. More than 200 of the cases are in Mecklenburg County and over 100 in Wake County. More than 75 people are hospitalized statewide, according to the department.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up within three weeks. It can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death for older adults and people those with existing health problems. The vast majority of people recover.
Groups representing hospitals and doctors had urged the Democratic governor earlier in the week to issue statewide stay-at-home or shelter-in-place directives. They were worried an expected surge in cases could overwhelm hospitals and endangered health care workers. But the head of the North Carolina Chamber said a statewide prohibition that covered most businesses needed to be a “last-ditch resort.”
The statewide order does provide a broad definition for an essential business or nonprofit that can keep operating as one that can maintain social distancing between employees or between employees and customers.
Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, one of the state’s most powerful politicians, recommended earlier Friday random sample testing for COVID-19 in North Carolina to evaluate the prevalence of the virus before adding more restrictions.
“If the true data supports the most stringent measures, then presenting that data to the public will increase compliance and confidence in government,” Berger said in a release.
Without mentioning random testing, DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said “we do not have the luxury of time. We must act quickly, based on what we do know to slow the spread. If we do not act preemptively to slow the virus right now, many people will get sick at the same time, which could overwhelm our medical system.”
With more than 80% of the state’s hospitals reporting, North Carolina currently has 7,200 empty hospital beds and 725 empty intensive care unit beds, according to DHHS.
The latest reported death is of a Johnston County resident in their mid-60s who had underlying medical conditions, the county said in a news release. Cabarrus and Harnett county residents also have died. A fourth person from Virginia who died of COVID-19 complications in North Carolina is not in the state’s official count.
Overall, people age 25-49 account for nearly half of the positive cases in North Carolina, with about a quarter assigned to patients age 50-64, DHHS data shows. Children under 18 account for 1% of the cases.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.
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