'This Is The Most Worried I Have Been': NC Phase 3 Restrictions Extended As COVID-19 Trends Worsen
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper extended Phase 3 coronavirus restrictions for three more weeks Wednesday as trends for COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to worsen in the state. Meanwhile, North Carolina's top health official issued a secretarial directive warning residents to do all that they can to prevent the spread of the virus.
The secretarial directive, which is merely recommendations to protect health, repeats the advice that has been given by health officials since the start of the coronavirus pandemic: Stay home, avoid gatherings, wear masks if you must be among people and get tested if you have symptoms.
"We all need to work hard to protect each other, our families, ourselves, and that's why we want to make sure we're laying out in very clear terms that we think folks should stay home other than for essential reasons," state Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said.
"This is the most worried I have been through this pandemic. I think our hospitals are managing, but it's going to take all our work to make sure we don't overwhelm our hospitals.
The extension of Phase 3 until Jan. 29 comes as virus cases and hospitalizations have exploded across the state following post-holiday gatherings and travel.
Restrictions include a 10 p.m. curfew, limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people, requiring restaurants to operate at 50% capacity and requiring face masks to be worn in indoor, public settings.
While no new restrictions were added, Cooper and Cohen said the secretarial directive is meant to serve as a warning that "all options remain on the table," Cooper said, if trends continue to worsen.
"Throughout this pandemic, we've known that this isn't about a police officer showing up at your home," Cohen said. "This is about us taking the individual responsibility to slow the spread of this virus."
On Wednesday, North Carolina reported 6,952 new coronavirus cases, 80 new deaths attributed to the virus and nearly 18% of tests coming back positive — a new high for the state. Over the weekend, the state reported back-to-back days of record 9,000-plus cases identified in a single day.
"In talking with health care leaders, they are managing their hospital space, their ICU space," Cooper said. "It's getting tougher and tougher, but they are working very hard to do it. They learned a lot at the first of the year when we first dealt with this pandemic."
North Carolina also is considered the sixth-worst state in administering the vaccine, according to The Associated Press, as about 110,000 initial vaccines given account for less than 1% of the state's population of 10.5 million people. Data gathered and shared by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said only Kansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Arizona ranked worse.
In an interview with the AP, Cohen attributed some of the sluggishness behind the rollout to staffing shortages, lack of familiarity with the state’s technological systems and logistical hurdles of working with dozens of hospitals and 100 different counties throughout the state.