By NC Health News Staff

North Carolina has been in a state of emergency for nearly a week in response to the novel coronavirus, and with the declaration came novel lifestyle changes for many across the state.

The new normal for everyday life is very abnormal, instilling child care headaches for many families, ramped up anxiety and public panic about who should get tested for the novel contagious pathogen, and uncertainty about what constitutes a crowd.

Last week, North Carolinians were urged, then ordered not to gather in crowds with more than 100 people. On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines reducing that number to 50 people. North Carolina followed suit issuing similar guidelines. Later in the afternoon, President Donald Trump suggested the limit should be 10 or 15 people, but it was not clear whether those were official guidelines.

graphic including an image of coronavirusAs of midday Monday, North Carolina had 33 COVID-19 cases confirmed in 14 counties, according to Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, the state health director. One person was hospitalized.

North Carolina had conducted 329 tests in the state lab with supplies to test 1,300 people. Private labs and universities have been testing, too, and not all their results are reported to the state.

Tilson said Monday that she knew of no positive results at this time that had come from the virus spreading through community contact, but added that she would not be surprised to learn of any.

Child care for health care workers

School Superintendent Mark Johnson said on Monday afternoon that his team is prioritizing work on opening up child care centers in schools for the children of health care workers who are needed at the front lines of coronavirus treatment.

He said it will take time as it’s “not just something you can do quickly.”

More testing capacity at UNC

The UNC Medical Center and UNC School of Medicine have received clearance to use a diagnostic test developed there based on a World Health Organization assay.

Initially, the test will be available only for inpatients at UNC Health main and affiliate hospitals across North Carolina as well as a select number of UNC Health clinic locations.

The additional test, UNC Health officials say, will help increase the capacity for testing at the state lab and LabCorp, a Burlington-based company, that has stepped up to help fill a void in testing ability across the country.

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“Quickly creating and validating tests for emerging pathogens has always been part of my passion and commitment, ever since I was a fellow here during SARS,” Melissa Miller, PhD, director of the Clinical Microbiology and Molecular Microbiology Labs at the UNC Medical Center, said in a statement. “We have developed a high-quality test, we have the infrastructure to roll it out, and are ready to help the people of our state.”

Help coming for small businesses?

Children are home from school across the state, and no one can say for certain how long that will last. Universities and college campuses have moved to online classes. Many parents are working from home while workers in the service, retail and gig economies are finding their schedules upended and income disrupted.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s call to work from home and stay away from crowds has put a crimp on small businesses across the state. With that in mind, Cooper announced Monday that he has asked the U.S. Small Business Administration for a disaster declaration so federal financial assistance is available to those affected.

“This state is currently sustaining severe economic impacts from this pandemic,” Cooper stated in a March 13 letter to Kem R. Fleming, director of the U.S. SBA Office of Disaster Relief in the Field Operations Center East. “Many of our schools and universities have limited operations and major events have been canceled. These economic injuries and losses to businesses have just begun and will continue through this crisis.”

Based on what is already known about the losses, Cooper added, the businesses will “need financial assistance not otherwise available, on reasonable terms.”

shows a smiling little girl at a table with flowers, a little boy is in the background, just out of focus. they're both at a summer school lunches program
Children on Fr. Bragg partake in summertime meals, 2017. Photo courtesy: NC Department of Instruction.

Feeding kids without schools in session

The state’s 115 public school systems worked to get plans in place of how to remotely teach children and then also feed them given Gov. Roy Cooper’s decision this weekend to close public schools for at least the next two weeks.

Nearly 60 percent of North Carolina’s students live in low-income households qualifying them for free or reduced lunches. In Dare County, on the Outer Banks, the school system received a waiver from federal authorities to serve breakfast and lunch to all children, from babies to 18-year-olds, according to the Outer Banks Voice. The meals will be available at elementary schools in Manteo, Kill Devil Hill and Buxton.  In Chapel Hill, meals for children will be delivered by school bus to several locations throughout the area. Guilford County is also tapping its yellow buses to deliver meals to the 2,000 children in the district who are homeless or living in temporary housing such as motels. 

Ronald McDonald House in need of help

It’s not just schoolchildren in need of help getting food. The Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill typically serves a home-cooked meal every night for those staying at the 53-room facility while their children receive care at the nearby N.C. Children’s Hospital.

The nonprofit typically depends on groups of volunteers to provide those meals, including many UNC student groups. The global organization that runs Ronald McDonald Homes decided to stop volunteer visits at its locations during the coronavirus pandemic in order to keep families and their hospitalized children safe from the virus, according to Heather Shanahan, the executive director of the Chapel Hill Ronald McDonald House. The group is asking for financial contributions to cover the cost of meals as well as cleaning supplies such as Lysol spray, disinfectant wipes and paper towels. Anyone interested in donating can do so here  

Duke graduate students test positive

Three graduate students attending Durham’s Duke University contracted COVID-19 on an overseas university trip to an unnamed country, according to a message sent to Duke staff from Duke’s Vice President for Administration and Emergency Coordinator Kyle Cavanaugh.

The three had been traveling overseas as part of a group and are now receiving treatment outside the U.S. They’ll remain overseas until they have recovered. Other students from that group are back in Durham and will self-isolate off-campus for at least 14 days while staying in touch with Durham’s public health department, according to the message.

Banks ask customers to socially distance themselves

North Carolina banks are now making changes to adjust to social distancing guidance to avoid coronavirus infections for both customers and workers. In a press release Monday morning, the NC Bankers Association released information about changes people may see at local branches:

  • Banks would prefer customers use drive-through services, ATMs, internet and mobile banking rather than walking in. (Either clean keypads before using or your hands immediately after using!)
  • If you need to come into a bank, make an appointment.
  • Banks are stepping up their cleaning regimens.
  • Wherever possible, people should use debit and credit cards, which can be cleaned off, rather than coins or cash. (And take the time to clean your cards!)

Finally, the NCBA noted: “Customers facing financial hardships as a result of COVID-19 should contact their bank to discuss their situation.”

Charlotte now affected

For more than a week after the state’s first case was confirmed in Wake County, Charlotte seemed to be out of the line of fire. But health officials who predicted it was only a matter of time were soon proven right when on Thursday, two people in the Charlotte-area tested positive for COVID-19 — one in Mecklenburg and another in Cabarrus county.

On Sunday, Mecklenburg County declared a state of emergency after two more residents tested “presumptively positive for COVID-19,” bringing the number of county residents infected to four.

Prison visitation suspended for 30 days

The N.C. Department of Public Safety has suspended all inmate visitation for 30 days, starting Monday, March 16. However, state officials said there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the correctional system at this time.

The 30-day suspension includes all volunteer activities inside and outside the facility, but legal and pastoral visits are exempt for right now.

Inmates will not be charged a copay for medical visits due to fever or respiratory issues, according to a DPS memo issued on Monday. Inmates will also be allowed two free five-minute phone calls each week while the visitation suspension is in place.

DPS’ Corrections Enterprises is making hand sanitizer for the prison facilities and placing educational posters about personal hygiene and sanitation during coronavirus in inmate housing.

More restaurant closings

A line of cars wrapped around a Chick-Fil-A restaurant on Ramsey Street in Fayetteville on Monday. The day before, the national restaurant chain announced that it was closing inside dining at all of its restaurants.

Cars line up at a Chick-Fil-A drive-thru in Fayetteville. The restaurant is among the first to close inside dining as a precaution because of the coronavirus
Cars wrap around a Chick-Fil-A on Ramsey Street in Fayetteville. The restaurant is among the first to close inside dining in Fayetteville as a precaution against the coronavirus.

“As we navigate the evolving impact of coronavirus on our communities, we are temporarily closing our dining room seating to help limit person-to-person contact,” the company said in a news release.

Starbucks, another popular national chain, also announced that its stores in high-risk areas will temporarily close or provide only to-go orders. McDonald’s is also restricting its business.

North Carolina has yet to follow other states, including New York, Michigan, California, Connecticut, Washington, Illinois and Ohio, that have required restaurants and bars to close as a prevention against the coronavirus.

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