Gov. Roy Cooper today (April 23) extended the statewide Stay At Home order to May 8. Photo courtesy of the Raleigh News & Observer

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Raleigh–Gov. Roy Cooper today extended North Carolina’s Stay At Home order through May 8.

Executive Order No. 135  applies to restaurants for dine-in service and bars and other close-contact businesses. 

“After a thorough analysis of the details of testing, tracing and trends, it’s clear that we are flattening the curve,” Cooper said in a televised briefing today.

But the state is not yet ready to lift restrictions.

Noting that the health and safety of citizens is the top priority, the Stay At Home and other orders are extended because North Carolina has not yet seen a downward trend of the metrics needed to begin gradually lifting restrictions.

“We need more time to slow the spread of the virus before we can begin easing those restrictions,” he said. “I know that this pandemic has made life difficult for many people in our state and I am focused on keeping our communities safe while planning to slowly lift restrictions to help cushion the blow to our economy.”

He acknowledged that people can’t stay at home indefinitely and that people have to get back to work, but the decision to continue the Stay At Home order is “based on the public health data and White House guidance.”

Once the data show that key metrics are headed downward, the state has a three-phase plan to lift restrictions.

Testing, tracing and trends are the key indicators, both he and Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of NC Department of Health and Human Services, said.

“Data has driven our decisions, starting with the aggressive measures Governor Cooper took early on to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Cohen said. “Those actions combined with North Carolinians’ resolve to stay home to protect their loved ones have put our state on the right path.  If we stick to these efforts right now, we will continue to see a slowing of virus spread and we can slowly begin easing restrictions.”

Cohen outlined the progress North Carolina needs to see before beginning to lift restrictions:

  • Sustained Leveling or Decreased Trajectory in COVID-Like Illness (CLI) Surveillance Over 14 Days
  • Currently, North Carolina’s syndromic surveillance trend for COVID-like illness is decreasing over the last 14 days. 
  • Sustained Leveling or Decreased Trajectory of Lab-Confirmed Cases Over 14 Days
  • Currently, North Carolina’s trajectory of lab-confirmed cases over the last 14 days cases is still increasing, although at a slower rate.
  • Sustained Leveling or Decreased Trajectory in Percent of Tests Returning Positive Over 14 Days
  • Currently, North Carolina’s trajectory in percent of tests returning positive over the last 14 days is increasing at a slow rate. 
  • Sustained Leveling or Decreased Trajectory in Hospitalizations Over 14 Days
  • Currently, North Carolina’s trajectory of hospitalizations over the last 14 days is largely level with a slight trend upward. 

In addition to these metrics, the state will continue building capacity to be able to adequately respond to an increase in virus spread. These include:

  • Increase in Laboratory Testing 
  • Currently, North Carolina is testing approximately 2,500 to 3,000 people per day and is working to increase to at least 5,000 to 7,000 per day.
  • Increase in Tracing Capability
  • Currently, North Carolina has approximately 250 people doing contact tracing across its local health departments and is working to double this workforce to 500. 
  • Availability of Personal Protective Equipment 
  • The state is working to ensure there are adequate supplies to fulfill requests for critical PPE for at least 30 days. This includes face shields, gloves, gowns, N95 masks, and surgical and procedural masks. Currently the state has a less than 30 days’ supply of gowns and N95 masks. Availability of PPE is calculated based on the average number of requests for the last 14 days compared to the supply that the state has on hand.

Governor Cooper also shared information about how North Carolina can gradually re-open over three phases to prevent hot spots of viral spread while also beginning to bring our economy back. These phases are based on the best information available now but could be altered as new information emerges. 

In Phase 1:

  • Modify the Stay At Home order allow travel not currently defined as essential allowing people to leave home for commercial activity at any business that is allowed to be open, such as clothing stores, sporting goods stores, book shops, houseware stores and other retailers. 
  • Ensure that any open stores implement appropriate employee and consumer social distancing, enhanced hygiene and cleaning protocols, symptom screening of employees, accommodations for vulnerable workers, and provide education to employees and workers to combat misinformation 
  • Continue to limit gatherings to no more than 10 people
  • Reopen parks that have been closed subject to the same gathering limitation. Outdoor exercise will continue to be encouraged. 
  • Continue to recommend face coverings in public spaces when 6 feet of distancing isn’t possible
  • Encourage employers to continue teleworking policies
  • Continue rigorous restrictions on nursing homes and other congregant care settings 
  • Local emergency orders with more restrictive measures may remain in place. 

Phase 2

At least 2-3 weeks after Phase 1

  • Lift Stay At Home order with strong encouragement for vulnerable populations to continue staying at home to stay safe
  • Allow limited opening of restaurants, bars, fitness centers, personal care services, and other businesses that can follow safety protocols including the potential need to reduce capacity
  • Allow gathering at places such as houses of worship and entertainment venues at reduced capacity
  • Increase in number of people allowed at gatherings
  • Open public playgrounds
  • Continue rigorous restrictions on nursing homes and other congregant care settings 

Phase 3

At least 4-6 weeks after Phase 2

  • Lessen restrictions for vulnerable populations with encouragement to continue practicing physical distancing and minimizing exposure to settings where distancing isn’t possible
  • Allow increased capacity at restaurants, bars, other businesses, houses of worships, and entertainment venues
  • Further increase the number of people allowed at gatherings
  • Continue rigorous restrictions on nursing homes and other congregant care settings 

Governor Cooper and Dr. Cohen both underscored the need for the testing, tracing and trends to move in the right direction for each of these phases to move forward. If there is a spike in infections, tightening of restrictions may be needed temporarily.

Information about K-12 public schools will follow later this week.  

Congressman Greg Murphy, M.D. (R-Pitt), who represents North Carolina’s third district, said in a press release that, looking at the same data as a physician and a scientist, “As pendulums swing, this one did appropriately to one side. I think we have a wealth of indicators that tell us we can begin using safe measures to slowly reopen segments of our economy.”

Today’s unemployment rate measured 20 percent compared to the Great Depression in 1929, he said. “Unemployment creates poverty and poverty creates despair,” he said “I fear if we continually push reopening down the road, we may pass a point extremely difficult to return from. 

“I had hoped the governor would implement a plan that would have loosened some restrictions. To be clear, however, I am not in favor of an aggressive reopening of the economy. COVID-19 remains a serious threat to high-risk North Carolinians like those with underlying conditions and those over 65. But if we all put our heads together and think of innovative ways to limit human contact at places like restaurants, barber shops and other small businesses, we can slowly and progressively reopen the economy.”

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