NC Medical Official: Opening Too Soon Risks Quick Return to Strict Stay-at-Home Order

NC DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen (image via screenshot)

By Billy Ball

April 27, 2020

State also releases new data, showing more than half of NC’s COVID-19 deaths were in congregated living facilities.

North Carolina risks going backward in its COVID-19 recovery if it reopens too soon, the state’s top medical official told reporters Monday.

“The better position North Carolina is when we reopen, the more likely we are to do well going through the phases,” said Mandy Cohen, secretary of the NC Department of Health and Human Services.

Cohen added that, if the state’s social distancing orders are lifted too soon, NC risks a spike in coronavirus transmissions and a return to strict stay-at-home orders.

Some conservatives and members of the “Reopen” movement have been critical of social distancing requirements. 

Gov. Roy Cooper extended those orders to May 8 last week, while laying out a phased approach for returning to normalcy. Those phases require that the state show improvement on several metrics, including hospitalizations, completed tests, positive tests as a percentage of those tests, a greater supply of protective equipment like gowns and masks, and more. 

As of Monday morning, NC’s COVID-19 count had exceeded 9,100 lab-confirmed cases and killed 306 people. The virus had also spread into 95 of 100 counties.

Cohen emphasized the number of unknowns with coronavirus. For example, she said state leaders are uncertain whether the warmer summer temperatures will have any effect on the virus. 

“We have never seen this virus make it through a full annual cycle yet,” Cohen said. “So we’re going to stay looking at the numbers and focused on the trends.”

Meanwhile, state officials expanded their coronavirus reporting Monday, including identifying information about ongoing outbreaks in congregated living centers such as nursing homes, rehab centers and correctional facilities. 

Of the state’s 9,142 cases, more than a quarter of the confirmed cases and more than half of the deaths were reported in such facilities.

Graphic via Desirée Tapia for Cardinal & Pine

Cohen’s agency was under pressure from media organizations seeking more transparency on those hotspots.


  • 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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