Cooper says he plans to make announcement next week on reopening NC’s public schools.
Hey Tar Heels, keep those masks on and stop spreading “false science.”
That was the message Gov. Roy Cooper had Thursday as he and his top health official, N.C. Department of Health Services Sec. Mandy Cohen, gave an update on the state’s response to COVID-19.
“This is the best way to get our economy going full speed again,” Cooper said, referring to prevention methods like wearing masks and limiting close contact in indoor spaces. “We need to get buy-in from the people here.”
He also expressed frustration with the politicization of the public health crisis. “Pandemic response cannot be partisan,” he said.
Don’t miss a story. Sign up for the Cardinal & Pine newsletter here.
Cooper’s opponent in the November general election, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, falsely said “masks do not work with viruses” this past weekend. But recent studies and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say masks have reduced the spread of coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Cooper said he would make an official statement about how, or if, the state’s 1.5 million schoolchildren will return to classrooms this fall. He also plans to say whether the state is ready to move on to the next stage of reopening, which could include bringing bars, gyms and movie theaters back online.
NC Hospital Capacity is Tight
The state, however, is not in great shape when it comes to COVID-19 spread.
“Our trends are not where we want them to be right now,” Cooper said.
Thursday came with 2,039 additional COVID-19 cases, the second highest single-day tally in the state since the pandemic began, according to NC DHHS data. And hospitals, though not overwhelmed, had their highest numbers of patients yet, with 1,034 people sick enough from the virus that they need inpatient care.
The toll of COVID-19 has been especially harsh on Latino and Black communities. Latinos make up 45% of the state’s cases, despite making up less than a tenth of the state’s populations. And while Black North Carolinians account for 24% of cases overall, they have made up 33% of the known deaths from COVID-19. Roughly 22% of the state’s residents identify as Black.
Hospital capacity is tight, with only 21% of hospital beds in the state open and 22% of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds available.
Cooper and Cohen cautioned that could change quickly, as it has in recent days in Arizona and Texas.
“We’ve seen how quickly this virus has jumped in other states,” Cooper said. “We don’t want that here.”
The Charlotte area is a particular concern, and state officials are speaking regularly with hospital administrators there to gauge whether they will need to intervene and bring more hospital beds online or take other measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Cohen has been using four main metrics to assess how the state is coping with COVID-19: the rate of people showing up in hospital emergency rooms with COVID-like symptoms, daily positive COVID-19 test counts, numbers of people in hospital beds and the percentage of positive cases as a whole.
The state is struggling in all four of these areas, according to data shared on Thursday.
Another headache has been delays in COVID-19 test results, with commercial and hospitals labs facing problems buying the pipettes and chemical reagents needed to run tests. That’s left people waiting six to seven days for results in some cases and slowing the ability of contact tracers to reach out to others who might have been exposed to infected people.
No word on school plans yet
And still unanswered is the question that is perhaps top on the minds of parents, schoolteachers and others: Will the state’s public schools open in a few weeks’ time?
Cooper said he’d make an announcement on that next week. He emphasized that he’s trying to balance the needs for students to be in classrooms for learning, social and developmental reasons with the health worries of teachers, school staff and students.
“This is a tough call,” Cooper said. “How to open up schools is something that every single state, every single government is struggling with.”
State law currently requires students to be in classroom seats for the first five days of the school year, but the state legislature declined to make a pandemic-related exception to that provision when they were in session last week.
When asked Thursday if he had the ability or the intention of waiving that requirement, Cooper said he’d be addressing that when he makes an announcement on schools next week.