RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper announced Friday that a statewide stay-at-home order will start next week, 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.
Local officials said they didn't anticipate any problems or issues enforcing the governor's order.
Currituck County spokesman Randall Edwards said the county Sheriff's Office is prepared to enforce any emergency orders that are issued.
"We just ask everybody to use common sense and follow these orders to stay safe," he said.
Camden County Sheriff Kevin Jones said he, too, believes citizens in Camden will comply voluntarily.
"From what I have seen everybody in Camden has been complying with the executive orders and we are not having any problems," Jones said. "I haven't really seen any issues yet."
Jones said the sheriff's office is ready to enforce compliance should problems arise.
"If we have any issues then we will have to go a different route and we have the executive orders to back us up," Jones said.
Interviewed earlier in the week about the prospect of a local stay-at-home order, Elizabeth City police Chief Eddie Buffaloe said his department had already been talking about how to enforce shelter in place.
"It was really a matter of 'what if?'" he said of the discussion. "What does that (shelter in place) look like? Will it be curfew-based? Will there be exceptions? And if there are exceptions, what will they be?"
Buffaloe said while he's always concerned about putting restrictions on people, he didn't anticipate any problems should a stay-at-home order be announced.
"I think our people are resilient and have been taking steps to prepare for this," he said, referring to local citizens.
City Manager Rich Olson said Friday that the city is not planning on implementing more restrictive measures such as a curfew “at this particular time.”
Olson also said that the police department had not issued any citations to individuals or businesses violating previous COVID-19 declarations by the governor. Many businesses, including, hair salons, movie theaters and gyms, had already been closed by Cooper prior to Friday’s stay-at-home order. Restaurants are limited to take-out and delivery orders-only as Cooper earlier banned dine-in service.
“Our job is to enforce that (governor’s orders),” Olson said. “The police department is going out and doing that. If they see businesses that have been closed by the governor that are not in compliance, they will talk to those individuals. Our job is to make sure there is voluntary compliance.”
Officials in Edenton and Chowan said Friday they were reviewing the governor's order. They planned to meet on Saturday to discuss the order further.
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.
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."
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 percent 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, with about a quarter assigned to patients age 50-64, DHHS data shows. Children under 18 account for 1% of the cases.