COVID-19 Has Killed More North Carolinians Than the Flu. Protesters Still Want To Open The State.

NC DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen says COVID-19 deaths in NC have now surpassed the flu. (Image via screenshot)

By Billy Ball

April 20, 2020

In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 has now killed more North Carolinians than the flu has all season.

NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen put the new coronavirus figures in context Monday, noting that the dangerous virus has now killed 179 in the state. Since last September, the flu has killed 161 in North Carolina.

“And it is important to note that the death rate would have been worse had we not taken the aggressive actions we took to slow the growth in the state,” Cohen told reporters Monday.

Cohen’s comments came with officials in NC Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration facing some pressure to begin lifting social distancing orders put into place last month as the dangerous virus began its rapid spread within the state. 

Indeed, a group of protesters calling themselves “Reopen NC” planned a rally Tuesday in Raleigh.

Organizers with that group did not respond to Cardinal & Pine interview requests Monday, although Cooper’s administration continues to make its case the governor’s orders are, at least for now, necessary to save lives. 

“We all want to start talking about re-opening,” Cohen said. “But It is going to take a few elements to get there.”

Cooper’s office said the governor offered an update to Vice President Mike Pence Monday, with Cooper reaffirming calls for more protective equipment, a point Mike Sprayberry, NC’s director of emergency management, drove home to reporters Monday.

“Some items like gowns and masks remain in short supply,” Sprayberry said. “Our medical providers still do not have all the protective equipment they need.”

Cohen said state leaders will need to upgrade their tracing of individuals with confirmed cases of COVID-19, and see evidence of positive trends in their data. 

Infections and deaths continue to grow in North Carolina, with the number of confirmed cases ballooning over the weekend from 5,859 to 6,764 as of Monday morning. The number of deaths associated with the virus also grew from 152 to 179. Another 429 North Carolinians are currently hospitalized, according to reporting health care providers. The virus has now been confirmed in 93 of 100 counties.

However, those numbers are an undercount, officials have emphasized, with 77% of the state’s hospitals reporting data as of Monday.

Epidemiologists told Cooper’s administration this month that they believe lifting social distancing orders, including the governor’s stay-at-home order, at the end of April would triple the number of infections and double the chances that NC hospitals are overwhelmed in May.

With a vaccine likely 12 to 18 months away, state and federal officials are relying on social distancing to attempt to limit the virus.

Cohen said experts’ models are constantly shifting with new COVID-19 numbers arriving. 

“It is hard to actually pin down how things would move forward in COVID-19,” she added.

Cooper’s administration also announced Monday that they had received federal clearance to participate in a program extending benefits to families with children who qualified for free and reduced lunch when they attended school. Feeding families that relied on school lunches has been a key concern for state and local government leaders since Cooper ordered schools closed last month.

As Cardinal & Pine has reported, families relying on social welfare programs have struggled to obtain grocery delivery and pick-up services, only complicating matters. 

“So many families are in need, especially with so many out of work right now. This approval helps people get assistance faster to feed their families,” Cooper said in a statement.

From Cooper’s office Monday:

“The program provides a benefit on an EBT card to North Carolina families whose children are eligible for free and reduced lunch at school. Families will receive $250 in P-EBT benefits per child, provided in two installments, with the possibility of an additional benefit if North Carolina schools are closed beyond May 15. Families will be able to use the P-EBT benefit to purchase food items at EBT authorized retailers, including most major grocery stores.  

Families will not need to apply for the P-EBT program. P-EBT eligible families already receiving Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) benefits will receive an additional benefit on their existing EBT card. P-EBT eligible families not already enrolled in FNS will be mailed a new EBT card in the next few weeks. Families who receive a new EBT card will receive a letter from DHHS in the mail explaining how to activate and use their card.”


  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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