By North Carolina Health News staff

North Carolinians will be staying at home into May 

Gov. Roy Cooper has extended his statewide stay-at-home order through May 8, while also outlining a three-phase plan for North Carolinians about when and how he will ease social distancing restrictions.

“After a thorough analysis of the details of testing, tracing and trends, it’s clear that we are flattening the curve, but our state is not ready to lift restrictions yet,” Cooper said. “We need more time to slow the spread of the virus before we can begin easing those restrictions.”

graphic including an image of coronavirus

Cooper acknowledged the mounting pressure to get the economy moving again by reopening businesses and moving hundreds of thousands of newly unemployed workers back into a healthy workforce.

“I will not risk the health of our people or our hospitals,” Cooper said. “Easing these restrictions now would do that. This decision is based on data that we can see in our critical categories. I know people want their lives and their livelihoods back, and I have a plan to do that, but first we need to hit certain metrics.”

Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen used graphs and charts to show where the state is on some of those metrics. She stressed the need for ramped up testing, perhaps as many as 5,000 to 7,000 per day, doubling the contact tracing workforce to 500 tracers, as well as the need to get more protective gowns and N95 masks so the state has a 30-day supply.

“What I want to leave you with is a hopeful note,” Cohen said. “I want to make sure you know that the hard work you’ve been doing has meant that North Carolina is in a very good place. We have flattened the curve, but we’re not there quite yet.

“So hang in with us as we continue to look at these metrics, we look at building our capacity and with working together as a state, we’re going to get there and we’re going to be able to move into some phased re-openings.”— Anne Blythe

North Carolina Health News will have a fuller report on the plan, the benchmarks and metrics.

Coronavirus by the numbers

According to NC DHHS data, as of Thursday morning:

  • 253 people total in North Carolina have died of coronavirus.
  • 7,608 have been diagnosed with the disease. Of those, 486 are in the hospital. The hospitalization figure is a snapshot of people with coronavirus on a given day and does not represent all of the North Carolinians who may have been in the hospital throughout the course of the epidemic.
  • More than 96,000 tests have been completed thus far, though not all labs report their negative results to the state, so the actual number of completed coronavirus tests is likely higher.
  • Most of the cases (39 percent) were in people ages 25-49. While 25 percent of the positive diagnoses were in people ages 65 and older, seniors make up 84 percent of coronavirus deaths in the state.
  • 68 outbreaks are ongoing in group facilities across the state, including nursing homes, correctional and residential care facilities.
  • There are 3,039 ventilators in hospitals across the state and 693 ventilators in use, not just for coronavirus cases but also for patients with other reasons for being in the hospital.

Polling pharmacists about COVID-19 testing

The state Board of Pharmacy is polling its pharmacist-managers across the state to see how many would be willing to do rapid testing for COVID-19 at their sites.

The board also wants to know how many would be willing to collect COVID-19 specimens for subsequent lab testing at drive-through sites or some other venue that could limit cross-contagion.

The query comes as the state Department of Health and Human Services works to ramp up its testing in conjunction with plans to get some businesses back to operations when existing social distancing restrictions are eased.

Jay Campbell, executive director of the pharmacy board, said a survey went out to some 1,900 community pharmacies across the state. Four hundred pharmacies already have Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments that will allow them to do some of the testing.

What the board wants to know is what pharmacies are willing to do and if they have the personal protective equipment to make that happen.

“What the survey asks is: Tell us what you’re willing to do,” Campbell said. “Tell us what you need.” — Anne Blythe

House COVID-19 committee eases malpractice risk for duration of state of emergency

Members of the North Carolina House’s COVID-19 health care working group marked up a pair of bills to be presented next week once lawmakers return to Raleigh.

The group has drafted a pair of bills: one that addresses public health policy and one that addresses costs of responding to the health care crisis generated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The policy bill formalizes many changes asked for by the state Department of Health and Human Services, including easing regulatory restrictions on telehealth and making it easier for providers to bill for those services.

One of the amendments, proposed by physician Rep. Perrin Jones (R-Greenville) would give more indemnity from civil or criminal prosecution to health care providers who are caring for COVID-19 patients.

“You really have a situation where you have health care providers who at their own personal risk are in facilities taking care of patients, and not really knowing exactly the best way to do that,” Jones said. “That obviously opens the door for a tremendous amount of liability concerns.

“I think you’re in there doing the best that you can.”

While Jones said the amendment had been vetted by provider organizations, Rep. Lee Zachary (R-Yadkinville) said he’d been hearing from others, such as the state’s trial lawyers’ group, that they had not had enough advance notice.

Nonetheless, Jones found support across the aisle from Rep. Gayle Adcock (D-Cary), who is a nurse practitioner.

“You’re always measuring someone’s performance against the standard of care,” Adcock said. “And when it comes to COVID-19, the standard of care is a moving target.” – Rose Hoban

NC Health News will have a fuller report on the new legislation Friday morning.

Novant to resume non-emergency surgeries next month

After suspending elective surgeries and non-urgent appointments last month, Novant Health announced on Thursday it will resume operations starting May 4.

“Since the onset of the coronavirus in our communities, some of our patients have delayed seeking care out of an abundance of caution,” Carl Armato, president and CEO of Novant Health, said in a press release, “Putting off care indefinitely, is simply not good for our patients – and in some cases, deadly.”

Clinics will have in-person appointments again as well. Virtual care continues to be an option for patients, according to the press release.

Patients whose appointments were canceled because of the pandemic will receive priority rescheduling with their appointments and procedures. To provide these services safely, Novant has added measures such as screenings, masks and additional cleaning and disinfection. The health system will also limit the number of patients in each clinic at one time and will take steps to reduce waiting room use. -Liora Engel-Smith

Mental Health Moment: safari indoor and a tasty cat

So your kids are stuck inside? How about they go on a wildlife safari? There’s plenty wild under your sink or in the attic. NC State University’s Rob Dunn explains in National Geographic.

And just for fun, that must be one tasty cat!

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