By Anne Blythe
Gov. Roy Cooper said on Tuesday that he will be glad once the elections are over so the partisan politics and the White House messaging that has affected how some people react to the coronavirus pandemic can subside and perhaps bring a sharper focus on public health and proven science.
The governor’s comments came the day after President Donald Trump stood on a White House balcony after returning from a 72-hour stint at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and took off his mask for a photo opportunity with two thumbs up.
Throughout the pandemic, Trump has downplayed the severity of COVID-19, eschewing mask wearing, mocking former Vice President Joe Biden for masking up, and contradicting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Trump, who announced on Twitter early Friday morning that he and his wife Melania had tested positive for COVID-19, has been treated with supportive oxygen several times, according to his physician. He’s also been given remdisiver, a drug shown to reduce the length of hospital stays, dexamethasone, a steroid that can reduce the body’s inflammatory response, and Regeneron, an experimental antibody cocktail that is not widely available.
Shortly after returning to the White House on Monday, Trump uploaded a video to Twitter that caused an uproar among public health and health care workers across the country, along with family members and loved ones of the more than 210,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19.
“I learned so much about coronavirus,” Trump said in the video. “One thing that’s for certain, don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment, we have the best medicines, all developed recently. And you’re going to beat it.”
‘This thing is not over’
At a briefing with reporters on Tuesday, Cooper was asked whether he worried about the signal Trump sent from the White House balcony when he removed his mask.
“I care deeply about the people of North Carolina, and I feel a responsibility for their health and safety,” Cooper said. “It’s why we work hard to inform people about scientifically proven ways to protect other people and themselves. It’s frustrating to see and hear the opposite coming out of Washington.”
On Tuesday, Twitter blocked a tweet in which Trump falsely claimed the flu is more deadly than COVID-19.
“I am so looking forward to when we can have public health issues away from this election and taken out of the context of this election because we all need to come together as a state and as a country to defeat this virus,” Cooper said.
“This thing is not over. We have a potential, particularly this fall and winter, for things to get worse,” the governor continued. “We want to boost our economy. We want to get our children back into the classroom and you don’t do that by pretending that the pandemic doesn’t exist. And you don’t do it by acting like it’s not going to hurt anybody when in actuality we know that it has killed over 3,600 North Carolinians and over 210,000 Americans.”
Troubling increase in hospitalizations and cases
North Carolina’s trends and metrics are moving in the wrong direction again, Cooper said Tuesday.
The COVID-19 dashboard on the state Department of Health and Human Services website shows that 1,013 are hospitalized with illness related to COVID-19 and 3,670 people have died.
Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said the troublesome trends began to show up late last week before North Carolina entered Phase 3 of its reopening plan.
Since Friday, bars, movie theaters, sports arenas and music venues have been allowed to reopen partially with limitations and social distancing requirements.
“What we’re seeing generally is a rise in cases across the state,” Cohen said. “There’s no one hotspot. There’s no thing that I could tell you right now, as opposed to back in August where we said ‘you know, look this is really being driven by what we’re seeing in viral spread across our university and college settings.”
Cohen stressed the importance of mask wearing, waiting a safe distance apart from each other and frequent hand washing.
“So what I would say and remind everyone is that as we move around more, as there’s more opportunities as we’ve eased restrictions for the virus to move, we have to double down on the efforts related to the three Ws,” Cohen said.
After ASU student’s death, Cooper calls for three Ws ‘double down’
Universities and colleges continue to have outbreaks from COVID-19 with the death of an Appalachian State University student serving as a sad and poignant reminder that the illness many people suffer is not just like a case of the flu.
Chad Dorrill, a sophomore at the university in Boone from Davidson County, died from COVID-19 complications last week despite being a healthy former high school basketball player with no known underlying conditions.
After experiencing mild flu-like symptoms and being seemingly on the mend in early September, Dorrill experienced a rare complication in which the virus attacked his neurological system.
“Chad’s death was tragic at Appalachian State University,” Cooper said. “It shows us the seriousness of this virus that can strike anyone at any time. It should also lead us to redouble our efforts. Each and every one of us should look at this, mourn with the family and then say, ‘Ok, I’m going to do something about this. I’m going to do my part to slow the spread and if I’m not doing the three Ws like I should, then I’m going to do that and use my common sense and I’m going to try to help slow the spread for everybody’ because we want to prevent deaths and we want to slow the spread of this virus.”
Appalachian State has since reported clusters of cases on athletic teams, in dorms and fraternities, but has yet to close its campus to in-person classroom instruction, though many students are taking online classes only.
UNC-Chapel Hill was the first to reverse course on in-person instruction and other campuses have followed suit.
UNC-Wilmington, which continues to hold in-person classes, reported three different clusters among the men’s soccer team and the women’s volleyball and softball teams.
DHHS defines clusters as five or more related cases, either because of their proximity or their timing to a specific event.
“We’ve been working hard with all of our institutions of higher ed, our university settings, our college settings, public and private,” Cohen said.
If the public health team sees that they are having an increase in cases they call to see whether the campuses have everything they need. If not, the department helps set up testing events and provides masks for distribution.
“We want this to be a collaborative process,” Cohen said. “Our team is taking a very active role in making sure we are able to assist the local health departments and the universities and anything they might need to respond to those outbreaks.”
Pandemic relief for licensed child care
As the state continues to fight the pandemic, Cooper said, education and child care must remain priorities.
Child care programs that were open to care for the children of the many parents who are not working from home or need help caring for their children could get financial relief.
In recognition that many of the centers that provided care during the pandemic suffered financial hardships because of the additional safety measures put in place while also caring for fewer children, DHHS is providing $35 million in operational grants to licensed programs that were open from August to October.
The grant program was created with federal relief aid.
All eligible programs will receive grants, but depending on the size and quality of the program, as well as whether they cared for infants and toddlers, those amounts could differ from center to center.
“Our child care programs have been on the front lines since the start of this pandemic, keeping their doors open so other workers could keep our economy running and our public safe,” Cooper said. “A strong and safe child care system is essential to our recovery.”
DHHS already has provided $80 million since the start of the pandemic to licensed centers so child care could be available to more than 100,000 children.
“I really want to thank our early childhood teachers for all they do every day for young children and our families across the state,” Cooper added.
A hotline is available for people searching for child care for children up to age 12. Call 1-888-600-1685 for help Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Coronavirus by the numbers
According to NCDHHS data, as of Tuesday afternoon:
- 3,670 people total in North Carolina have died of coronavirus.
- 221,258 have been diagnosed with the disease. Of those, 1,013 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.
- 192,644 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. Nor does it reflect the number of so-called “long-haul” survivors of COVID who continue to feel the effects of the disease beyond the defined “recovery” period.
- To date, 3,210,905 tests have been completed in North Carolina. As of July 7, all labs in the state are required to report both their positive and negative test results to the lab, so that figure includes all of the COVID-19 tests performed in the state.
- People ages 25-49 make up the largest group of cases (41 percent). While 13 percent of the positive diagnoses were in people ages 65 and older, seniors make up 81 percent of coronavirus deaths in the state.
- 350 outbreaks are ongoing in group facilities across the state, including nursing homes and correctional and residential care facilities.
- There are 3,391 ventilators in hospitals across the state and 946 ventilators in use, not just for coronavirus cases but also for patients with other reasons for being in the hospital.