With COVID-19 cases spiking, Gov. Roy Cooper struck a grim tone in Friday's press conference. Gov. Roy Cooper
With COVID-19 cases spiking, Gov. Roy Cooper struck a grim tone in Friday's press conference.

Despite troubling trends, Cooper says he still believes NC schools will reopen in August.

On NC’s highest day yet of new lab-confirmed coronavirus cases, Gov. Roy Cooper said Friday that “concern is growing” about the state’s worsening trends. 

“These numbers are showing the disease is spreading,” Cooper said. “And more people need hospital care. We have to take this seriously.”

RELATED: NC’s Worst-Case COVID Plan Could Be Devastating for People with Pre-Existing Conditions

Cooper addressed reporters with COVID-19 infections spiking in the state. The state confirmed 1,768 new cases Friday. New cases have been on a worryingly steep incline since mid-May, with a confirmed 41,239 total infections. The virus has killed 1,092. 

Source: NC Department of Health and Human Services

Testing has been on the rise in the state, but state officials emphasized Friday that the new testing alone cannot account for NC’s precipitous rise since Memorial Day. 

Cooper said, however, that his administration has yet to make a decision on whether NC will move into Phase 3 of his reopening plan in late June. He also declined to elaborate when asked by multiple reporters if the state would consider rolling back the marginally reduced social distancing orders Cooper put in place May 22

Cooper did not rule out the next phase though, saying North Carolinians should focus on social distancing, wearing facial coverings and washing their hands frequently. 

“Just because we can leave home doesn’t mean we always should,” he said.

RELATED: Hospitalizations Are Up 30%. Should NC Be Worried About Hospital Capacity?

Cooper also urged people to avoid large crowds, even as the state, like others in the US, has been home to numerous demonstrations following George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis. The governor said anyone who has been in a large crowd should be tested for the virus, even if they are not showing symptoms.

Percent Positive in NC Among the Highest in the Nation

NC Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen noted that the percentage of those tests coming back positive has risen from around 7-8% to about 10% today. That percentage would be one of the highest in the nation, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. 

“This virus is still a serious threat,” Cohen said. “We‘ve seen in other states how a stable situation quickly can become anything but.” 

Source: NC DHHS

North Carolina touted its early success in “flattening the curve” this spring, avoiding some of the stark upswings recorded in states like Louisiana and New York. But an increasing number of medical leaders say the new data should be worrisome. 

Indeed, Cohen said that, while testing is up, the increase in the state’s percentage of positive cases is a sign of viral spread.

Still, Cohen said the state and the residents have the chance, by following social distancing recommendations, to slow the virus and flatten the growth curve.

“We’ve done it before,” Cohen said. “We can do it again.”  

Hospitalizations were up 30% since Memorial Day, Cardinal & Pine reported Thursday, and less than a quarter of the state’s hospital beds were still available. 

Cooper’s office ordered the state into Phase 2 of his reopening plan May 22, easing some of the social distancing orders deployed in the early spring when coronavirus first began its march across the state.

Some, particularly Cooper’s Republican nemeses in the legislature, have been critical of the governor’s approach, noting surrounding states that have moved more quickly than NC. 

But NC’s troubles with the highly contagious virus have been among the most pronounced in the nation in terms of its spread in recent weeks. 

Additionally, the state has been vexed by racial disparities in the virus’ spread, with Black and Latinx residents bearing a disproportionate share of COVID infections and deaths. 

Cooper and Cohen said that, while ramping up testing in the state, they have also attempted to focus testing on various hotspots.

“I know people are tired of this virus,” Cooper said. “It’s been hard on everyone. But it’s still deadly, we have to be careful.”

‘I Expect to Have Our Children Back in the Classroom’

Meanwhile, the virus closed schools in the state in March, shuttering classrooms for 1.5 million students. The pandemic also forced schools and colleges to eschew the graduation ceremonies that are so typical this time of year. 

NC education leaders have been adamant in their statements about reconvening public schools in August, however, even as the state’s coronavirus trends headed in the wrong direction.

Cooper and Cohen continued their relative optimism Friday, with Cooper calling it the “first priority.”

“I expect to have our children back in the classroom in just a few months,” Cooper said.