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North Carolinians will stay in Phase 2 for three more weeks, until July 17, and also will have to wear face coverings in public because of the continued rise in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Roy Cooper announced today.

The announcement comes on a day when the U.S. broke its record for the highest coronavirus cases recorded in a single day, with 36,358 new positives reported on Wednesday, according to a tally by NBC News.

The coronavirus pandemic has sickened more than 9,385,200 people, according to official counts, the New York Times reported. As of Wednesday evening, at least 481,600 people have died, and the virus has been detected in nearly every country.

Cooper said in the press conference today that he is ordering mandatory face coverings in public places as officials seek to stabilize concerning trends of increasing viral spread.  Phase 2, also called “Safer at Home,” was scheduled to possibly be lifted June 26.

“The next couple of weeks will be critical in the fight against COVID-19,” he said, noting that health experts need the time to analyze the data to determine if the state is heading in the right direction.

Growing evidence shows that cloth face coverings, when worn consistently, can decrease the spread of COVID-19, especially among people who are not yet showing symptoms of the virus. Until now, face coverings had been strongly recommended. Under today’s executive order, people must wear face coverings when in public places where physical distancing is not possible. 

“North Carolina is relying on the data and the science to lift restrictions responsibly, and right now our increasing numbers show we need to hit the pause button while we work to stabilize our trends,” Cooper said. “We need to all work together so we can protect our families and neighbors, restore our economy, and get people back to work and our children back to school.” 

Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of Health & Human Services

Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health & Human Services, stressed that wearing face coverings in public during this pandemic is the best way to control it and that scientific data confirms this.

“The increase in more cases indicates the virus is still prevalent,” she said. “Left unchecked, this virus will continue to spread. If we each do our part, we can get back to the people and places we love.”

When asked why face coverings weren’t required before this, Cohen said a study done by UNC released last week confirmed that wearing face coverings slows the spread.

The executive order requires certain businesses to have employees and customers wear face coverings, including retail businesses, restaurants, personal care and grooming; employees of child care centers and camps; state government agencies under the governor’s cabinet; workers and riders of transportation; and workers in construction/trades, manufacturing, agriculture, meat processing and healthcare and long-term care settings.

“Wearing a face covering is an easy thing to do that can make a huge impact for all of us,” said Dennis Taylor, a nurse, and President of the North Carolina Nurses Association. “A major spike in cases would be catastrophic to the system, and without your cooperation, nurses and our fellow healthcare providers will have a harder time caring for sick patients for weeks and months to come,” 

“As the leader of the state’s largest health system, I am pro-health and also 100 percent pro-business,” said Eugene A. Woods, President and CEO of Atrium Health. “Medical science says to reduce the spread of COVID-19 masking works, and my sincere hope is that all the people of North Carolina can join forces to make wearing a mask not something we feel we have to do – but something that we want to do to keep each other, our neighbors, our children and our loved ones healthy and safe”

Based on the metrics laid out in April by Cooper and Cohen, North Carolina is evaluating a combination of the data from the following categories that shows the indicators moving in the wrong direction, causing officials to implement today’s pause in Phase 2.
Trajectory in COVID-Like Illness (CLI) Surveillance Over 14 Days
  North Carolina’s syndromic surveillance trend for COVID-like illness is increasing.
Trajectory of Lab-Confirmed Cases Over 14 Days
  North Carolina’s trajectory of lab-confirmed cases starting to level but is still increasing.

Trajectory in Percent of Tests Returning Positive Over 14 Days
  North Carolina’s trajectory in percent of tests returning positive remains elevated. 

Trajectory in Hospitalizations Over 14 Days
  North Carolina’s trajectory of hospitalizations are increasing, though we have capacity in our healthcare system.

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

Laboratory Testing
North Carolina is averaging more than 17,000 tests a day for the past week and there are more than 500 sites listed on online plus additional pop-up sites.
North Carolina labs and labs around the country are seeing supply shortages for laboratory chemicals needed to process tests.

Tracing Capability
 There are over 1,500 full-time and part-time staff supporting contact tracing efforts at the local health department level, including the 309 Carolina Community Tracing Collaborative contact tracers. These new hires reflect the diversity of the communities they serve, and 44% are bilingual.  

Personal Protective Equipment
 Our personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies are stable.

Businesses can download templates for signs on face coverings here. Downloadable social media graphics are also available for use. 

Read Executive Order No. 147 that implements today’s announcement. 

Read Frequently Asked Questions about today’s executive order and mandatory face coverings. 

Read NCDHHS guidance on face coverings.

View the slide presentation from today’s briefing. 

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