NC May Loosen Restrictions This Week as Coronavirus Numbers Climb

NC wants to reopen its economy. But the state's COVID-19 figures are troubling. (Graphic via Shutterstock)

By Billy Ball

June 22, 2020

But NC Is Heading In ‘Wrong Direction’ In Fight Against Coronavirus, State Health Official Says.

North Carolina’s battle with the novel coronavirus is heading in the “wrong direction,” the state’s top health official said Monday.

Mandy Cohen, secretary of the NC Department of Health and Human Services, said the state continues to see a surge in new cases and hospitalizations, while the percentage of overall tests coming back positive remains high at about 10%. 

“We’re seeing significant spread of COVID-19 across our state,” Cohen said.

The state’s continuing spike comes with Cohen and other officials in Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration expected to consider further loosening state social distancing restrictions Friday.

State leaders have also stated they would reconsider reopening bars and nightclubs in late June, but the uptick in numbers make any easing of orders seem unlikely.

Some state lawmakers have been more bullish than others in seeking to spur a badly wounded economy, pushing bills to reopen bars, nightclubs, bowling alleys, skating rinks and more. 

Cohen was reluctant to commit to any course Monday, talking often about individual responsibility and urging residents to don masks.

“We are trying to find the right balance here between reigniting the economy and protecting our public health,” Cohen said.

RELATED: The NC House Wants to Reopen Bowling Alleys and Skating Rinks Despite The COVID Surge

Cooper acknowledged last week that a mandatory mask rule for public spaces is in consideration.

“This is the time to say what can we do differently to change the trajectory?” Cohen said Monday. “If you’re only going up and up and up, you need to do something to change that trajectory.”

Some municipalities such as Durham and Raleigh have already adopted mandatory mask rules, but business owners worry about employing a “patchwork” of regulations across the state, Cohen said.  

Particularly troubling is the increasing evidence of the virus’ spread among asymptomatic people. This spring, health officials indicated they believe asymptomatic transmission to be rare, but that understanding of the virus continues to evolve

Cohen said wearing a mask and practicing social distancing remain among the best tools for slowing the spread regardless, while the world awaits a coronavirus vaccine that is likely still months away. One of the most optimistic predictions, made by the Chinese government in May, forecast a potential vaccine by late 2020 or early 2021. 

“We’re seeing more and more people who don’t know they have COVID-19 and are spreading it,” Cohen said. “You could be that person.”

COVID Hitting Latino and Younger Residents Harder 

Cohen noted an increase in younger residents under the age of 49, and among the state’s Latino residents.

As of Monday, the virus had spread to 53,605 in North Carolina, killing 1,223. And NC officials have crucially begun breaking down coronavirus data Monday by race, gender, age and ethnicity.

Those figures showed staggering disparities. 

Source: NC DHHS

Officials with Cohen’s agency say that 46% of the state’s cases have been reported among Hispanic residents. But, according to US Census estimates, Hispanic residents account for just 9.6% of the state’s population. 

Still, NC’s count is vexed by, in some cases, missing data. DHHS officials reported Monday that ethnicity is missing in more than 18,000 of the state’s cases, and race is missing in more than 17,000.

As The News & Observer reported Friday, the disparities are not “across the board.” Latinos make up a more disproportionate share of coronavirus cases than Black North Carolinians, Black residents are a greater share of the state’s COVID deaths.

Cohen pointed out Latino workers have been hit hard in what the state considers “essential” services, services such as child care, construction, and food processing. Staying away from the coronavirus is particularly problematic in these sectors because social distancing is hard to maintain in these professions.

Staying home when being sick not only challenges paying the rent, but also putting food on the table,” Cohen added.

Also, the state has reported 45% of cases are in the 25-49 age bracket, the largest percentage by far. 


  • 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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