RALEIGH — North Carolina reported its first two COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday as local governments in several higher-populated areas ordered their residents to stay at home. Gov. Roy Cooper says additional state directives are coming to slow the virus spread.
Cooper announced the coronavirus-related deaths were a person from Cabarrus County and another person from Virginia who was traveling through the state. The Cabarrus County patient was over 70 years old with underlying conditions, while the Virginia patient was over 60, according to a news release, which did not include further details about them.
The deaths came as overall positive cases of the virus reached more than 500 statewide, according to a state tally Wednesday. About 30 people were hospitalized, authorities said, and some were in critical condition.
“Today is a stark reminder that we must take this disease seriously — all of us, young and old, employers and employees,” Cooper said at a news conference while asking for privacy for the families of those who died. “This virus can be deadly, and that’s why our daily lives have had to change so dramatically. I know it’s hard, but it’s necessary.”
A number of cities and counties are now issuing stay-at-home orders, including Mecklenburg County, the city of Durham, Pitt County and Madison County. Wake County, which includes Raleigh and ranks No. 2 in population behind Mecklenburg, planned to roll out a similar order very soon, said county commission Chairman Greg Ford.
North Carolina has not issued a statewide shelter-in-place order but has gradually reduced allowable gathering sizes, ordered some nonessential businesses to close starting Wednesday and shuttered K-12 schools until mid-May. Trade groups representing hospitals and doctors have written Cooper asking him to issue more statewide restrictions.
Without giving specifics, Cooper said further guidance and orders would be upcoming. He urged people to stay at home and businesses to get their telecommuting options in order.
“Local communities are doing what they think is right and I understand that. It’s important for (state officials) to make sure we are deliberate and that we get this right,” Cooper said. “We will be issuing additional orders soon.”
Durham Mayor Steve Schewel said at a Wednesday news conference that the city’s order covering more than 265,000 residents goes into effect Thursday and lasts through the end of April. Similar to other jurisdictions, the order includes exemptions for people going to get food or medicine or completing other essential tasks. Schewel said Durham County has 74 cases, including at least eight cases of community spread. The area ranks among the counties with the most cases in the state.
“What we know about this virus is that it spreads easily and fast,” he said. “Once cases begin multiplying, as they have in Italy and New York, the rise in the number of cases is exponential. And that is exactly what we are trying to avoid and to stop here in Durham.”
In other coronavirus-related news, state Treasurer Dale Folwell said on Wednesday he’s been diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus. Folwell, a Republican elected to the post in 2016, said he learned late Tuesday that he had tested positive.
Folwell said he returned to Raleigh last week after a recent, long-planned trip with his son and noticed that his perennial cough had worsened, a statement from his office said. He said he thought initially it was a reaction to pollen, but he ultimately contacted a doctor and got tested. Folwell did not say where he had traveled.
“I have quarantined myself and will follow the advice of my physician as to when I will be medically cleared to return to the office,” Folwell said in a news release. Services in the treasurer’s building in Raleigh have now been scaled back to only what’s absolutely necessary, the release said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
The tighter restrictions came as General Assembly members held their first formal meeting to determine what lawmakers can offer to buttress the state’s response. GOP House Speaker Tim Moore created four COVID-19 working groups, led by both Republicans and Democrats, that could recommend bills to the full legislature when it reconvenes.
The annual session is set to begin April 28, but there’s been talk that the governor would call lawmakers back sooner. Cooper has said his administration is compiling legislative action and spending requests. Moore and one House colleague were the only members to attend the economic work group meeting in person at the Legislative Building, with the rest participating by video conference.
The speaker said chamber leaders were looking at ways to reduce the spreading threat should they reconvene. Moore said one way would be to expand the time period to complete floor votes, currently 15 seconds for the House, to an hour, so that members can avoid close contact with each other. The state constitution requires a majority of legislators in a chamber be “actually present” to complete public business.
“This is an unprecedented time in our state, and it’s an unprecedented time here at the legislature,” Moore said.
GOP Senate leader Phil Berger and Minority Leader Dan Blue said Wednesday in a joint statement that fellow senators would collect ideas with a goal of coming to a consensus with Cooper and the House on “how to help all North Carolinians.”
If you’ve been to a grocery store lately, you’ve noticed people crowding into aisles in search of highly-sought-after items like meats, bread, toilet paper and cleaning supplies.
What you’re seeing doesn’t always involve the social distancing that health officials say is necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by coronavirus.
In response, store operators are encouraging customers to keep at least 6 feet apart — the distance recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some stores in fact have set up tape in their aisles showing customers exactly how far apart they should be.
Many stores also are imposing purchase limits on certain items that have been in high demand and subject to “panic buying.”
The impact of panic buying in fact caused Sarah Lane to alter her own shopping habits this week.
Lane was waiting outside the door at the Food Lion store on Ehringhaus Street in Elizabeth City when the store opened at 7 a.m. Monday.
Lane, who said she typically shops for groceries about once a week, explained that she went to the store Sunday and there was no bread on the shelves.
So she showed up early Monday for the express purpose of buying bread.
“Everybody is panicking and they are buying everything up,” Lane said.
Emma A. Inman, a spokeswoman for Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion stores, said this week the company was not limiting the number of shoppers in stores at this time but does encourage social distancing.
“We have not implemented limits on the number of customers who can shop, but we do encourage our customers and associates to follow social distancing guidelines recommended by national health authorities, such as the CDC,” Inman said.
Inman said Food Lion has not changed its hours of operation but has “limited purchases on key high-demand product categories.”
She said the company has implemented a two-item limit that applies to: bagged potatoes; bagged salads; eggs; fresh poultry; ground beef; liquid soaps; hand sanitizers; rubbing alcohol; peroxide; bottled water (both 24- and 32-pack Food Lion brand); bath tissue; paper towels; household cleaners; bleach; and dish detergent.
“As we receive product daily, our associates are working as rapidly as possible to get it on the trucks, get the trucks on the road and delivered to our stores,” Inman said. “We are in contact with our supply network daily and working with our suppliers in the most efficient way possible to get product to stores to help serve our neighbors who are counting on us during this unprecedented time of demand.”
Amy Underhill, a spokeswoman for Albemarle Regional Health Services, said social distancing is important in stories as it is everywhere.
“While we know trips to the grocery store are necessary, it is important to educate individuals on ways they can continue to practice social distancing while purchasing needed items,” Underhill said. “Individuals should try to limit how often they go to the store and shop at times when they are less busy.”
Underhill also emphasized the importance of shoppers washing their hands thoroughly before and after their trip to the store.
“Shoppers also need to maintain distance from others while shopping and remember that hoarding supplies negatively affects others so only buy what is needed and leave some for everyone else,” Underhill said.
Underhill noted that as of right now there are no mandates that retail stores queue people at the door at a distance of at least 6 feet apart or limit the number of people inside at any one time.
But some stores are implementing social distancing measures voluntarily.
“The business community is getting creative in ways that are proactively protecting the health of our community and preventing the spread of illness,” Underhill said.
She said further guidance can be found at both the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ website and the CDC website.
Recommendations from NC DHHS include:
If you typically have people waiting in line, consider marking 6-foot intervals on the floor for patrons to stand on.
Dear readers, you will notice that today’s newspaper is smaller than typical editions. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Daily Advance, like other businesses, is having to implement temporary cost-saving measures during what is an unprecedented economic as well as health crisis.
Accordingly, for the foreseeable future, readers may not always find their favorite feature in every day’s edition. For example, not every edition will include an editorial page. In addition, sports and diversion pages will be limited, particularly with most sports and entertainment activities canceled or curtailed because of the virus.
We hope these changes, like the crisis itself, will be short-lived and we can soon return to publishing full-size newspapers. In the meantime, please continue to visit dailyadvance.com for developments about the virus and other news.
We appreciate your patience and understanding. We also ask that you continue to follow all recommended health guidelines on sanitization and social distancing that will help keep you and your loved ones safe during this time.
Elizabeth City State University is investigating a report of a violent hazing incident in February in which up to nine people were struck with an object.
The incident reportedly occurred between 7 p.m. on Feb. 9 and 3 p.m. on Feb. 10 and involved persons associated with a student organization being struck with an object, according to a report filed by the ECSU Police Department. The report did not identify the object.
Seven of the nine victims are identified as female. There is no sex listed for the other two.
Ages are not given for some of the victims but one is listed as 19 and two others are listed as 21.
The report identifies the suspect as a 22-year-old female but does not identify her.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the university said it “took immediate steps to suspend all activities for this student organization” after learning of the allegations.
“We can confirm that the organization was not a fraternity or sorority,” the university said. “Because this allegation is under investigation by the university and it involves confidential student information, we cannot provide any additional information about this matter.”
A second case of COVID-19 has been reported in Hertford County, bringing the total number of regional cases to seven, which includes a case reported early Wednesday in Dare County.
Albemarle Regional Health Services Director Battle Betts Jr. was notified of the second case in Hertford County after lab tests confirmed the results, ARHS said in a press release. The unnamed individual is in isolation, and health officials are investigating the number of people who may have had close contact with the person.
According to ARHS, close contact is defined as a person having contact with, or having been within 6 feet for least 10 minutes, of another lab-confirmed case of COVID-19, while not wearing recommended personal protective gear.
Due to privacy laws, health officials are not allowed to release the individual’s name. Privacy laws also prohibit ARHS from revealing if the patient is in isolation at home or in another location, health officials have said.
The region’s first confirmed case was reported in Pasquotank County on Thursday, March 19. Hertford County’s first case was reported on Monday, and then on Tuesday three cases were reported in Bertie.
In Dare, the county’s Division of Public Health said the person who contracted COVID-19 is believed to have done so through either travel or direct contact. It is not a case of community spread, the division said.
“The individual has been self-isolating since being tested and doing well,” Dr. Sheila Davies, Director of the Dare County Department of Health and Human Services, said in the press release.
Dare health staff are conducting an active investigation into the person’s activity, the release said. Anyone determined to have had direct contact with the person will be contacted.
According to the county, the case will not show up as a Dare County case with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services because the person did not use a Dare County address when they were tested.
ARHS also announced Wednesday that it will no longer issue news releases for new COVID-19 cases in Hertford or Bertie counties because of community transmission of the respiratory disease.
The public health agency will continue to report new cases in other counties until their number of cases reaches or exceeds two. The agency also will continue to monitor additional cases in all counties within its coverage area.
COVID-19, which is short for coronavirus disease 2019, is caused by the virus SAR-CoV-2, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, coronavirus 2. The virus is believed to have originated in Wuhan City, China, and according to the World Health Organization, the disease was first reported on Dec. 31, 2019.
As of 11:20 a.m. Wednesday, the total number of COVID-19 cases in North Carolina was 504 and one death, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Nationwide, the total number of cases was 62,873, with 894 of those resulting in death.