North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper says officials “just don’t know” yet if the state will need to extend its stay-at-home order into May to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cooper and several top state officials addressed reporters Tuesday afternoon, one day after health researchers pointed to a new brief indicating an extension of social distancing rules might save lives and head off an overwhelmed health care system.
Researchers said their projections are constantly adjusting as the dangerous virus spread within the state. As of Tuesday, NC was reporting 3,221 confirmed cases statewide, and 46 deaths related to the worldwide pandemic. Officials could confirm that the novel coronavirus had been found in 90 of NC’s 100 counties.
Yet Cooper and the state’s top healthcare leader, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen, say the state’s steps thus far have been effective in slowing transmission, particularly in comparison to other states.
“It is our best weapon in this fight,” said Cooper.
“The quarantine is helping fewer people get sick at the same time,” added Cohen.
Cooper spoke to reporters as his office also readied a new executive order, which would enforce social distancing requirements for all retailers, heeding complaints that some stores in North Carolina have been more stringent than others. The order would limit the number of people that could be in stores in one time.
Researchers from Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, Blue Cross Blue Shield and RTI International said Monday that their projections estimated a 25% chance that the state’s hospitals are overburdened in mid- to late-May with the current social distancing orders in place.
But they warned that lifting the stay-at-home order at the end of April, when the governor’s order is currently slated to expire, could triple the number of infections and double the chances of a swamped system.
“The more we practice social distancing, the more lives can be saved,” Pia D.M. MacDonald, a senior epidemiologist with RTI International, said Monday.
Cooper and Cohen also announced that financial aid would be forthcoming to provide childcare for families of the state’s “essential” workers.
Cooper’s office is expected to announce details of those new steps this week.
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