NC sees large rise in coronavirus cases as Wake changes testing, Mecklenburg stays home

North Carolina reported a big jump in coronavirus cases Tuesday, as Durham County gets ready to announce a “stay-at-home” order that starts Wednesday and Wake County introduced a new testing protocol that prioritizes seniors and those with serious symptoms.

Meanwhile, Mecklenburg County, the most populous county in the state, also announced a “stay at home” order on Tuesday, which will go into effect Thursday morning.

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio said some travel and “essential” movements will be allowed under the proclamation, which includes Charlotte and other municipalities in the county. Stores that sell groceries and medicine, and certain other businesses and nonprofit organizations will be permitted to stay open.

Durham County on Tuesday announced three new cases and evidence of community spread. The stay-at-home order comes as other counties and towns around the state have issued the same types of orders. The county will hold a news conference Wednesday announcing the order.

Do you have questions about “stay-at-home” orders? We’ll get answers.

Wake County’s new strategy encourages less testing of those with mild symptoms and more self-isolation in an effort to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed with patients when the numbers increase.

The county will reserve its tests for people 65 years old or older, people with underlying health conditions, first responders and health care workers. Wake on Tuesday said the county had an increase of seven cases since Monday.

Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, the state health director and the chief medical officer for the state Department of Health and Human Services, also encouraged those who experience mild symptoms but do not fall into an at-risk group to self-isolate for 7 days after the onset of symptoms. Once symptoms resolve, those people should remain at home without fever for three additional days.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday he has asked the federal government to declare a major disaster for North Carolina. Cooper wrote a letter to President Donald Trump on Sunday asking for the declaration, similar to what has been done for California, Washington and New York, he said. The letter says a disaster declaration would speed access to unemployment benefits, among other help.

Coronavirus cases in North Carolina

The DHHS list of North Carolina cases was at 398 on Tuesday morning — that’s an increase of 101 cases over what the state reported on Monday. Leaders expect the virus to be in all 100 counties in the state by next week.

State Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen made that prediction at a meeting of the North Carolina Council of State on Tuesday. She said the state now has 29 coronavirus hospitalizations, but that 80% of people who have COVID-19 will have mild symptoms, “feel crummy” and recover at home.

The state has completed more than 10,000 coronavirus tests, with 13,000 more in the queue, Cohen said.

The statewide total reported by DHHS is only updated once a day. Some additional cases reported by county health departments are not immediately included in the number reported by the state.

The News & Observer is keeping a real-time count of additional cases announced by counties updated throughout the day. The N&O now has the number of cases at 513. About half of North Carolina’s 50 counties now have at least one case.

Governor meets with other state leaders

The Council of State — which includes Gov. Cooper, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Attorney General Josh Stein and others — met via conference call on Tuesday morning.

Cooper said they are encouraging people in the high risk category to stay home as much as possible. He also encouraged “as many businesses as possible to have people working from home.”

Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said the food and grocery supply chain is still strong. His message to the public: “Slow down and don’t hoard.”

Sprayberry also said the state is calling up more National Guard soldiers, which will total 53, mostly to help with COVID-19 supplies, equipment and transportation.

Cooper said he knows that a lot of people are hurting because of the overall effect of the pandemic on the economy. He thanked the rest of the Council of State for what they’re doing in the crisis. This is the first time the group met, even by phone, since the pandemic started.

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Some Council of State members still have unanswered questions.

Secretary of State Elaine Marshall said state guidance is needed on how to handle person-to-person transactions important to the economy, such as real estate.

Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry said her agency has been “getting phone calls with people asking us if their jobs are critical jobs, for instance land surveyors. We need some guidance on what those critical jobs will be.”

Still no statewide ‘shelter-in-place’ for NC

On Monday, Gov. Cooper announced that the state’s public K-12 schools would be closed through May 15. Cooper issued new stricter guidelines, banning gatherings of 50 or more people while also closing theaters, gyms, barber shops and hair and nail salons. But so far, there is no “shelter-in-place” order for the state.

The N.C. Healthcare Association, which represents all 130 hospitals in the state, urged Cooper to issue a shelter-in-place order to cut down on the social interactions that help the virus spread.

In addition to Mecklenburg County, Madison County, Pitt County and the town of Beaufort have asked their residents to stay home and limit travel to only medical appointments, grocery shopping, pharmacy visits and work.

Across the state

Unemployment filings continue to rise in North Carolina. As of Tuesday morning there have been 140,000 new unemployment claims since March 16 — up by 25,000 from just a day ago.

The closure of North Carolina’s public school buildings through mid-May is forcing a change in how students are being taught, and many people have questions about grading, course materials, computers and more.

The News & Observer is trying to answer those questions. You can find our school Q&A at bit.ly/3aieLY3.

The Town of Oak Island announced it’s closing public beach accesses and parking lots beginning Tuesday. The town is also closing all parks, bathrooms, tennis, pickle ball and basketball courts until April 30.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park — America’s “most visited national park” — announced with three hours notice that it is closing Tuesday, after being overwhelmed by tens of thousands of Americans seeking respite from the coronavirus outbreak.

The abrupt closure, which started at noon Tuesday, is until April 6, the park said in an email posted shortly after 9 a.m. However, it could stay closed longer, officials warned in the release.

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