North Carolina now has 137 confirmed cases in the novel coronavirus in 38 counties, according to the Thursday morning update by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Those include two cases of community spread, meaning cases where a person came down with COVID-19 with no known contact with an infected individual. Four people are hospitalized with the disease caused by the coronavirus, said Elizabeth Tilson, N.C. DHHS’ state health director and chief medical officer. She expects those numbers to rise and said the importance of testing will go down as North Carolina sees more cases and begins to switch to caring for the estimated 10 percent of people who contract the coronavirus and end up with severe complications.

Some members of the N.C. National Guard were also called up to help with warehousing and transportation, said Mike Sprayberry, the N.C. Emergency Management director.

And, again, Sprayberry urged people to stop clearing off grocery shelves.

“Please resist the urge to buy in excess,” Sprayberry said. “Grocery stores will remain open and there is not a food shortage.”

State officials also outlined some resources for members of the public looking for more information: 
  • Those in need of food can call 2-1-1 for help.
  • Get regular updates on COVID-19 from the state emergency officials: Text “COVIDNC” to 898211.
  • Want to volunteer? Go to the “Disaster relief” section on volunteernc.org.

NC needs you, health care workers

To prepare for the coming impact of COVID-19, North Carolina needs more people with medical backgrounds to help handle the expected influx of severely ill individuals, state officials said Friday.

N.C. DHHS Sec. Mandy Cohen sent out a letter asking for volunteers to deploy to affected areas to help with patient care. Cohen asked for volunteers with clinical backgrounds (physicians, advanced care providers, nurses, EMS); clinical supports (pharmacy, imaging and respiratory care); and non-clinical support (administration and facility management). Volunteers can register through the NC Training, Exercise, and Response Management System (NC TERMS), available here.

NC manufacturers to make protective equipment for health workers? 

One of the major challenges facing North Carolina, and the United States as a whole, is finding enough personal protection equipment, called PPE, to protect front-line workers from the novel coronavirus. Supplies across the nation are down, after runs on N-95 respirator face masks and more depleted supplies. North Carolina is trying to buy more, Sprayberry said, even talking to neighboring states about splitting up any large orders they might be able to jump on.

Meanwhile, state leaders are talking with manufacturers and others in the state about retrofitting existing factories to begin making in-state supplies of products such as N-95 masks and more.

“We are in those discussions right now,” Sprayberry said.

New Hanover Regional pauses its advisory group

As New Hanover County contends with its first COVID-19 case, the county hospital announced Friday it will temporarily stop its meetings surrounding the hospital’s future. New Hanover Regional Medical Center created an advisory group to study options for its future, which could include a sale or an affiliation to a larger hospital system.

“Our intent is to resume the public review process as soon as we are able,” Spence Broadhurst, Partnership Advisory Group co-chair, said in the press release.

The county plans to hold meetings at a future date before a decision on the future of the hospital has been made.

UNC drive-thru testing sites 

The FDA is now allowing UNC Clinical and Molecular Biology to use its COVID-19 testing capability on UNC Health patients, a UNC spokesman said Friday. UNC is now seeking approval from the FDA to extend use of the test, which is based on a World Health Organization method. The health system has set up drive-thru testing sites across the system’s 13 campuses and at various satellite clinics this week, but patients need a doctor’s note to get tested.

More information about testing locations is available at UNC’s COVID-19 helpline, 888-850-2684.

LabCorp says it’s ramping up testing 

In a press release, Burlington-based LabCorp announced that starting today, it will be able to perform more than 20,000 COVID-19 tests per day.

A company spokeswoman said this “represents a significant increase in capacity since the company released its COVID-19 test two weeks ago,” and expects testing capacity to increase in the coming weeks.

The company is intently focused on making coronavirus laboratory testing available to patients who are symptomatic and should be tested.

A bacteriology researcher at the Institute of Medical Research swabs an isolated sample of streptococcus pneumonia. Image courtesy: U.S. Air Force/ Staff Sgt. Marcus Morris

In the release, a company vice-president said LabCorp has added staff, equipment and is able to do more high-throughput testing as a result of approved emergency use authorization (EUA).

COVID-19 testing is being done at labs in Phoenix, Ariz., Burlington, N.C., and Raritan, N.J.

Patients still need to see a health care provider, such as a doctor, advanced practice nurse or physician assistant, for them to collect the sample (usually with a swab into the nose or the back of the throat), patients should not be sent to a LabCorp location to have a specimen collected, the company requested.

It will take three to four days from the pickup of the specimen to release of the test result.

Nursing licensure exams postponed

Now there’s another glitch for nursing students graduating this spring besides the cancellation of ceremonies, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing has postponed all nursing licensure exams scheduled from this week until at least April 16.

Prospective nurses usually congregate at a testing site where several dozen at a time sit at computer consoles to complete the exam, known as the N-CLEX.

For exams scheduled to be administered between March 17 and April 16, the testing administrator Pearson VUE is unscheduling appointments and extending students’  Authorization to Test for six months.

Better hold off on that beach trip

Now that spring is here and many schools are on break, a day trip to one of North Carolina’s many beckoning beaches might have allure.

But hold off on throwing a beach towel in a bag and heading straight to the coast.

Some beaches are being closed to visitors and residents as the coronavirus pandemic lingers as the unwelcome traveler it has become.

As news feeds showed Florida beaches packed with spring break revelers violating recommended social distancing rules almost every way they could, North Carolina beach towns put limits in place to prevent similar occurrences here.

The Town of Wrightsville Beach declared a state of emergency on Friday and closed the oceanfront beach strand and sound-side beaches to residents and visitors until March 31. Restroom facilities will be closed, too.

Surf City also closed all public beach access on Friday for the unforeseeable future.

The Carolina Beach Town Council also approved a state of emergency and closed beach accesses, town parking lots and Freeman Park.

Bald Head Island declared a state of emergency on Thursday, which limits who can get onto the island, but not who can leave it.

Emerald Isle and Carteret County also have closed off many public beach accesses and parking lots.

UNC graduation ceremonies postponed

Many of the University of North Carolina’s 17 system schools have decided to cancel May graduation ceremonies and solicit advice from their degree-earners for how to celebrate the milestone.

UNC System President Bill Roper left the decision on how to proceed with alternate commencement ceremonies to individual campuses.

Crowd-size limits and social distancing guidelines in place now discourage any gatherings with more than 50 people and even frown on smaller ones. As COVID-19 begins to spread through unknown community contacts, Gov. Roy Cooper and public health officials caution that things are likely to get worse before they get better.

So campuses are holding off on bringing students and their families to North Carolina to celebrate graduations.

“In accordance with the latest public health guidelines regarding travel and interpersonal contact, the University is postponing the doctoral hooding ceremony on May 9 and Commencement in Kenan Stadium on May 10,” the UNC-Chapel Hill commencement web page states. “Carolina will send a survey to all members of the Class of 2020 to ask their opinions about alternative dates and other options.”

Philip Dubois, the UNC-Charlotte chancellor, sent out a message to Niner Nation on Friday, too.

“Around the world and here in Niner Nation, the unprecedented disruption and increasing impact of this pandemic are unfolding at a precious time for our University —  graduation, final examinations, and major events,” Dubois said in the statement. “At the same time, we know that our priority remains preserving and protecting the health and safety of our Niner family and continuing to support the ongoing education of our students.”

Check with the administration university at each of the other 15 UNC-system schools, to see what they have in the works.

 Gyms, hair and nail salons, theaters shuttered in Charlotte 

Mecklenburg County’s public health director ordered gyms, health clubs and theaters to close as the number of coronavirus cases inches up. “The main focus here is to protect our community and to continue to reduce the amount of people who are exposed to this virus,” health director Gibbie Harris told county commissioners Tuesday night.

The owner of three major Charlotte-area shopping centers, SouthPark mall, Concord Mills and Charlotte Premium Outlets, said they would voluntarily close through March 29.

Ohio and Minnesota announced closures of hair salons, nail salons and barbershops in executive orders. They follow states such as Washington, Kentucky and Nevada already putting a stop to businesses considered to be nonessential. In Mecklenburg County, hair salons are still allowed to operate as long as there are not more than 50 people there at the same time.

Coronavirus affecting cancer treatment at Atrium

Atrium Health is further tightening restrictions on visitors at Carolinas Medical Center, Levine Children’s Hospital and its 17 other Charlotte-area hospitals and care centers to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Starting Thursday, only essential patient visitors will be allowed, including visitors to patients in intensive care or who are at the end of life.

The Levine Cancer Center is moving many consultations and visits to telemedicine, a step to protect vulnerable patients with compromised immune systems.

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