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By North Carolina Health News staff
Cooper, Trump and the RNC Convention
Gov. Roy Cooper was on the phone with President Donald Trump on Friday evening, having a back and forth about the president’s demands for a no-holds-barred Republican National Convention in Charlotte this summer, despite COVID-19.
North Carolina public health officials report they’ve been working with members of the Republican National Committee during the past month on how a convention could be held in August amid the pandemic. They had discussed developing a plan with safety measures meant not only to protect attendants from COVID-19 spread but Charlotte residents and workers who would encounter convention-goers.
Then Trump called out Cooper in a series of tweets on Memorial Day, threatening to move the event from Charlotte unless the governor would guarantee full attendance in the Spectrum Center, an arena that can hold as many as 19,000 people when the Charlotte Hornets play there.
Since then, letters have flown back and forth with RNC leaders relaying Trump’s demands, and Cooper and public health leaders seeking a plan for a scaled-down convention, if the state of the pandemic warrants it.
Cooper questioned at a media briefing on Tuesday whether the RNC would receive as much enthusiasm in other states, where politicians have expressed interest in welcoming the convention if N.C. does not go along with Trump.
“I’m concerned about anywhere in the country where you would have that many people all in one place,” Cooper said. “As I mentioned to the president in my conversation with him on Friday night, I commended him for not holding those crowded rallies that he likes to hold. He has not held them since March, and that’s a positive thing.
“The reason for that is the concern for the health and safety for people who might come to these kinds of rallies. So I would hope they would talk to Charlotte about a scaled-down convention. I think that’s the prudent thing to do.”
Cooper sent a letter dated June 2 to Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, and Marcia Lee Kelly, president and CEO of the Republican National Convention, in response to a May 30 letter in which the two demanded a “full convention” with 19,000 delegates, alternate delegates, staff, volunteers, elected officials and guests. The letter also demanded “full hotels and restaurants and bars at capacity.”
“We had appreciated your earlier acknowledgements that a successful and safe convention would need to be scaled back to protect the health of participants as well as North Carolinians,” Cooper said in the letter. “As much as we want the conditions surrounding COVID-19 to be favorable enough for you to hold the Convention you describe in late August, it is very unlikely.”
Cooper, a Democrat running for re-election this year, was asked by reporters on Tuesday whether he had an attendance capacity that he and public health officials would agree to in order to hold the convention.
“It would depend upon their plan and what they want to do as to the number of people that would be coming,” Cooper said, stressing that convention events would be for more than one night.
“There are a lot of other events that would be occurring and tens of thousands of people would be coming to Charlotte. There are a lot of logistics that have to be worked out. I know that there has been a lot of work that has gone into it by a lot of people, but in order to be able to have a scaled-down convention, we need to talk about that now and begin that process.
“We would look forward to hearing from them,” Cooper said. On whether the convention would be in Charlotte this summer, Cooper pushed the focus back on the RNC.“That’s going to be their decision,” he said. — Anne Blythe
‘It’s graph day’
Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen updated North Carolinians on the metrics and data that her public health team has used to guide decisions on reopening or closing the state during the COVID-19 pandemic.
North Carolina scored two green checks, one red X and a cautionary yellow line in her summary of the trends.
The number of people showing up at emergency rooms across the state with symptoms of COVID-19 has decreased, bringing a green checkmark.
The number of people who have tested positive for the virus continues to increase, bringing the only red X this week from Cohen during her graphs and charts update.
“Our day-over-day new cases are increasing,” Cohen said. “Notably, we’ve seen in the past week, this increase has even accelerated slightly. In the last 10 days, we have had three days with over 1,000 new cases reported on those days. I would have liked to have seen this trend starting to level.”
The increase comes, in part, because North Carolina has ramped up testing across the state, averaging nearly 10,000 tests per day over the past week.
When weighing the increase in tests against the percent of overall tests, the state has remained fairly level, however, seeing six to seven percent of all tests coming back positive for COVID-19, earning the state another green check.
The number of hospitalizations in North Carolina over the past week has slightly ticked up, but not enough for Cohen and her team to be concerned about overwhelming the health care system with people so sick from the virus that they need ICU or hospital beds. Nonetheless, the increase in people being hospitalized for COVID-19 infection earned a yellow cautionary line.
“This all tells us that we need to remain vigilant in our actions to keep viral spread low,” Cohen said. “Everyone needs to do their part. What you do to protect your loved ones and your neighbors matters.” — Anne Blythe
NC lags in nursing-home inspections; long-term care deaths climb 15 percent in week
North Carolina has inspected fewer than two in five of the state’s nursing homes, federal regulators said Tuesday, missing a two-week deadline for inspecting all such centers set by the Trump administration on May 18.
Meanwhile, a total of 555 older and vulnerable people, including residents of state-regulated assisted living centers, had died in the state’s long-term care homes as of Tuesday. That’s nearly a 15 percent increase in the week since May 26.
The announcement of the state’s 37.3 percent nursing-home inspection rate came as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said that at least 25,923 people have died of Covid-19 in nursing homes nationally, noting that only 80 percent of nursing homes have reported totals.
“While many nursing homes have performed well and demonstrated that it’s entirely possible to keep nursing homes patients safe, we are outlining new instructions for state survey agencies and enforcement actions for nursing homes that are not following federal safety requirements,” CMS administrator Seema Verma said in a statement.
States with 100 percent of nursing homes inspected were Colorado, Nevada, North Dakota and Wyoming.
CMS’s figures reflected 218 COVID-19-related deaths in North Carolina skilled nursing facilities, less than half the number presented by state DHHS Tuesday. That report said that 485 people have died in North Carolina nursing homes of COVID-related causes.
As the state’s and nation’s attention turned to protests against police brutality, fragile older Tar Heels continued to die by the dozens because of the virus. Eight nursing homes across the state have seen 20 or more of their residents die. Those residences are White Oak Manor – Burlington, Alamance County, 23 deaths; Aston Park Health Care Center, Buncombe County, 23 deaths; The Laurels of Chatham, Chatham County, 21 deaths; Treyburn Rehabilitation Center, Durham County, 21 deaths; Louisburg Healthcare & Rehabilitation, Franklin County, 20 deaths; Laurels of Henderson, Henderson County, 26 deaths; Pruitt Health – Carolina Point, Orange County, 20 deaths; and Signature HealthCARE, Orange County, 20 deaths. — Thomas Goldsmith
Cooper gets Biblical in response to Trump
On a conference call with governors across the country on Monday, President Donald Trump told his audience “most of you are weak.”
Trump spoke for at least seven minutes uninterrupted, railing at the governors for their responses to protesters in the wake of the George Floyd killing in Minnesota.
Trump urged governors to crack down on protesters, calling some anarchists and more. He told the governors “you have to arrest people, you have to track people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again,” according to audio of the call posted on news sites such as The New York Times.
When asked about that call at a briefing with the media on Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper spoke about a different image.
Amid a peaceful protest in Washington, D.C., on Monday, law enforcement officers shot tear gas into the crowd to clear a path for Trump to walk across Lafayette Park from the White House to St. John’s Church, where he posed with a Bible in his hand.
“In that Bible that he was holding in front of the church is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew,” said Cooper, a Sunday school teacher and church elder who has spoken during the pandemic about how he misses in-person services. “In that sermon, he said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ I think it takes leaders of strength to be peacemakers, and right now we need leaders of strength who can hear everybody and who can be peacemakers in this state and in this country.”
Cooper spoke on Sunday about the wounds of systemic racism that have been rubbed raw again by the way in which Floyd, 46, breathed his last breaths in Minneapolis with a police officer’s knee on his neck.
On Monday, Cooper did a brief walk around the Executive Mansion with protesters calling for justice and systemic change. He has spoken out against the damaging of buildings and property, while also promising the sister of Floyd, a Raeford resident, that he will work to bring change.
Both Cooper and Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, have used the Floyd death and outrage following it to discuss the longstanding racial disparities and health care. They both have talked about how COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color.
They have created programs to set up testing and tracing in such communities in an effort to reverse some of those trends.
“Our state and our country need healing,” Cooper said Tuesday. “We have a lot going on and a lot of frustration. We need strength, moving us forward, trying to bring us together.” — Anne Blythe
Coronavirus by the numbers
According to NCDHHS data, as of Tuesday morning:
- 921 people total in North Carolina have died of coronavirus.
- 29,889 have been diagnosed with the disease. Of those, 716 are in the hospital. The hospitalization figure is a snapshot of people hospitalized with COVID-19 infections 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.
- 18,860 people who had COVID-19 are presumed to have recovered. This weekly estimate does not denote how many of the diagnosed cases in the state are still infectious.
- More than 434,000 tests have been completed thus far, though not all labs report their negative results to the state, so the actual number of completed COVID-19 tests is likely higher.
- Most of the cases (44 percent) were in people ages 25-49. While 17 percent of the positive diagnoses were in people ages 65 and older, seniors make up 83 percent of coronavirus deaths in the state.
- 163 outbreaks are ongoing in group facilities across the state, including nursing homes, correctional and residential care facilities.
- There are 3,344 ventilators in hospitals across the state and 775 ventilators in use, not just for coronavirus cases but also for patients with other reasons for being in the hospital.
Health care hospitality houses begin to reopen
In a state as sprawling as North Carolina often families seeking health care treatment end up far away from home to get care at large hospitals such as UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill, Duke University Medical Center in Durham or Carolinas Medical Center/ Atrium in Charlotte. Often, when those families need places to stay while a loved one is receiving care, hospitality houses nearby provide those restful spaces.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, those facilities have closed as a caution to bringing together patients, some of whom may have suppressed immune systems.
“We adjusted our operations to protect not only our immune-compromised guests, but also our hundreds of volunteers, staff, and the larger community, all vulnerable to COVID-19,” wrote Janice McAdams, who heads the SECU Family House in Chapel Hill.
Now, most of those places of respite are re-opening, but cautiously. All of them are operating at limited capacity, with enhanced cleaning regimens and health screenings, requirements to wear masks and fewer volunteers.
At Duke’s Caring House, the kitchen used by patient residents will be closed and the organization is asking for donations of individually packaged restaurant meals.
McAdams noted that if there’s not enough space at the SECU house the organization will secure nearby hotel rooms for patients and their families. And at the Hospitality House of Charlotte near Atrium’s flagship hospital, the facility will provide antimicrobial bedding supplies and hand sanitizer stations.