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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Community Spread Of Coronavirus In NC Reported

N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen speaks Thursday at a press conference in Raleigh about the coronavirus.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper says the state now has “community spread” of the coronavirus.

Speaking at a press conference Thursday afternoon, Cooper said a person in Wilson County who tested positive for COVID-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus — had no known previous contact with anyone who had the virus.

The state's declaration of the first "community spread" case of the virus was at odds with what Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris said later in the day -- that community spread already is occuring in Mecklenburg County.

State Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said the state has so far been in a containment phase, but that the new case could change things.

“Confirmed community spread is a signal that we need to further accelerate to the next phase of work, which is called mitigation,” Cohen said.

She did not give specifics of what new restrictions could be on the horizon but said people at high-risk — including those 65 and older — should stay home if possible.

“The first sign of community spread means that we’re going to have many more patients,” Cooper said, adding that ramping up medical capabilities is crucial.

As of now, the state is still limiting gatherings to no more than 100 people, but several counties have limited crowd size even further. Mecklenburg County has limited crowds to 50 people.

“We don’t want to have to go further, but we will look at what is needed as we go through this unprecedented time,” Cohen said, speaking about social distancing.

The state also ordered restaurants and bars to halt dine-in services, and some individual counties have banned people from going to gyms, theaters and other places where large crowds could gather. In general, people are encouraged to stay six feet away from others if they’re out and about.

The restaurant restriction, which went into effect Tuesday evening, is having a major impact on jobs. The state says thousands of people have applied for unemployment benefits in the last two days. Cooper’s order also loosened restrictions to make it easier for people to get benefits.

The state reported 97 cases this morning, but already county health departments — including Mecklenburg with 18 new cases — have driven that number over 100.

On Saturday, the governor ordered public schools for at least two weeks, but he now says that order could be extended.

“We will likely be out of school for a longer period of time,” Cooper said.

Wilson County is southeast of Raleigh. North Carolina’s triangle area has been the hardest hit with cases.

State health officials described the Wilson case as the first instance of community spread in North Carolina, but later in the day, Mecklenburg officials said it had already happened in the Charlotte area. 

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Dash joined WFAE as a digital editor for news and engagement in 2019. Before that, he was a reporter for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia, where he covered public safety and the military, among other topics. He also covered county government in Gaston County, North Carolina, for its local newspaper, the Gazette.