shows trend lines for COVID-like illnesses in the emergency departments higher than in prior years, but decreasing overall
Data show the percent of visits to North Carolina's emergency departments for COVID-like illnesses is decreasing. Image courtesy: NC DHHS

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By North Carolina Health News staff

Wear, wait and wash in next phase

North Carolinians could have a few more places to leave home for after 5 p.m. Friday, when a modified statewide stay-at-home order signed by Gov. Roy Cooper takes effect.

Cooper announced plans to move the state into the first phase of easing social distance restrictions on Friday, with a new alliterative instruction: “Wear, wait and wash.”

People should wear face coverings when out in public during the next phase, stressed Cooper and Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, as parks and more retail options open. North Carolinians should wait six-feet apart from each other and wash their hands thoroughly and frequently.

The modification to the statewide stay-at-home order only eases open the door to more activities, rather than throwing it wide open.

There no longer is a distinction between which businesses are essential, but barbershops, bars, salons, gyms, theaters, pools and playgrounds, and other places closed during the shutdown will not be able to open in the next phase.

The new order is in place until 5 p.m. on May 22, when Cooper and the state public health team will decide whether the trends and data they have relied on show what they want.

“North Carolina’s stay-at-home order will remain in place but it will be modified to allow more reasons for people to leave home and to allow for more commercial activity,” Cooper said about the first phase of easing restrictions.

Retail and grocery stores will be allowed to open at 50 percent capacity as long as they do frequent cleanings and implement social distancing restrictions that keep people six feet apart.

The order also encourages the reopening of parks and trails closed over the past month. Restaurants will be open for take-out only with no dining inside.

The modified order continues to limit gatherings to 10 people, but allows for larger crowds outside, such as at places of worship or protests, so long as social distancing measures are followed. — Anne Blythe

More charts and graphs

Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, got her charts and graphs out again to bolster the decision to slightly ease social distancing restrictions.

Only one trend got a red mark, showing the number was going in the wrong direction. That was the increase in the number of COVID-19 lab-confirmed cases. But when that trajectory is considered with the doubling of testing that has occured in the past week, Cohen said the percent of tests returned that are positive is decreasing.

Early in the pandemic, Cohen and other public health leaders were concerned about overwhelming hospital systems.

In North Carolina, which took an aggressive stance to slow the spread of the virus, there have not been sharp spikes such as those seen in New York and other states that had to create pop-up hospitals. She said there currently are enough beds to handle a surge.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen says that the indicators in North Carolina show most trends going in the right direction, allowing for the partial re-opening of the state starting Friday evening. Image courtesy: NC DHHS

The state also is ramping up its capacity to test more people and trace any contacts that someone with the virus may have encountered.

Since announcing a partnership with the Carolina Community Tracing Collaborative a little more than a week ago, more than 4,000 applicants have put their names in for the 250 jobs available.

“If you may recall when I introduced these metrics a few weeks back I said that sustained leveling would be okay for North Carolina,” Cohen said. “We’ve never had a spike or a surge so continued stability in these trends is a real positive for our state and a testament to aggressive early action taken by the governor and your resolve to save lives.” — Anne Blythe

More child care options and summer day camps

Gov. Roy Cooper said he knows that as more businesses open up there will be a growing need for child care.

Centers can reopen under the modified order for parents who need to go back to work or for those looking for work as long as the centers follow strict cleaning requirements.

“Summer camps, day camps are allowed under this new executive order as long as they follow the CDC guidelines,” Cooper said. “There will not be overnight camps this summer due to the order, but day camps are allowed.”

The state Department of Health and Human Services has provided the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cooper said. — Anne Blythe

Coronavirus by the numbers

According to NCDHHS data, as of Tuesday morning:

  • 452 people total in North Carolina have died of coronavirus.
  • 12,256 have been diagnosed with the disease. Of those, 534 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 150,000 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 (41 percent) were in people ages 25-49. While 23 percent of the positive diagnoses were in people ages 65 and older, seniors make up 86 percent of coronavirus deaths in the state.
  • 104 outbreaks are ongoing in group facilities across the state, including nursing homes, correctional and residential care facilities.
  • There are 3,414 ventilators in hospitals across the state and 721 ventilators in use, not just for coronavirus cases but also for patients with other reasons for being in the hospital.

Report says state will release data for meat and poultry plants 

State health officials will begin reporting the names of meat and poultry processing plants with confirmed coronavirus outbreaks, along with the counties where they are located and the number of cases and deaths from each, according to a news release from Sampson County.

The state Department of Health and Human Services has not been revealing that information despite repeated requests by N.C. Health News, which has filed a formal request for the data under the state’s open records laws.

The nonprofit online publication argues that the information is essential to plant workers so it can help them decide whether it’s safe to continue working.

The state describes an outbreak as at least two cases of the coronavirus at a plant. As of Tuesday morning, DHHS reported 899 confirmed cases in 20 outbreaks at plants in the following counties: Bertie, Bladen, Chatham, Duplin, Lee, Lenoir, Robeson, Richmond, Sampson, Union, Wilkes and Wilson.

The DHHS would not confirm whether it will begin providing the data for individual plants.

“As this pandemic continues to evolve, we continually reassess the appropriateness of data reporting to balance transparency, public health and patient privacy as we also respond to this crisis,” a DHHS spokeswoman wrote in an email Tuesday afternoon. “Currently, this is not included on the dashboard.”

The DHHS dashboard allows the public to look up statewide statistics for the coronavirus, including the number of cases throughout the state, the number by ZIP code and the number at individual nursing homes, including the names and counties where they are located. – Greg Barnes

Coronavirus takes continuing toll on state’s older people in long-term care

Forty-one new cases and two deaths were reported at the Alston Brook nursing home in Davidson County, 24 new cases and three deaths at the Brian Center in Henderson County, six more deaths at the NC Veterans Home in Salisbury, and six more at the Citadel at Salisbury since the last time the Department of Health and Human Services posted information on nursing homes online.

Outbreaks and deaths from COVID-19 in North Carolina’s nursing homes keep rising, according to state health officials. Alamance, Duplin, Onslow, Pasquotank and Pitt counties appeared for the first time in the list of reported cases from the state Department of Health and Human Services, which started on April 27.

People older than 65 remain the hardest-hit age group, with 203 deaths in the federally regulated nursing homes and 37 in state-inspected assisted living facilities, known as adult care homes in DHHS terminology. The state’s aggregate number amounted to 47 percent of the deaths statewide.

Overall, people over 65 make up 86 percent of the state’s deaths, even though people in that age group are less than a quarter of the state’s confirmed cases.

The Citadel at Salisbury retains the grim position of having had the most cases at 154. Louisburg Healthcare and Rehab Center in Franklin County registered the most deaths at 18. And Autumn Care of Cornelius, which housed Korean War veteran Sanford Hummel, whose story NC Health News told Monday, saw seven additional cases to reach 60 and seven more deaths to register 17.

The totals arrive online on Tuesdays and Fridays and will show up again May 8, the day Gov. Roy Cooper has declared a reopening of the  North Carolina public and private institutions that have shut down to protect the public.

— Thomas Goldsmith

Mental Health Moment – Jelly cam

Some of the weirdest, and most beautiful, creatures in the ocean are jellyfish.

Mellow out to visions of backlit jellyfish drifting across the screen on the jellyfish webcam, broadcasting from the Monterey Bay Aquarium on the Pacific Coast (spacey music optional).

Editor

North Carolina Health News is an independent, not-for-profit, statewide news organization dedicated to covering health care in North Carolina employing the highest journalistic standards of fairness, accuracy...