North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper says tighter social restrictions could be issued soon in the wake of the state's first two coronavirus-related deaths.
Two people — a Cabarrus County resident in their late 70s and a traveler from Virginia in their 60s — died Tuesday from complications of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, North Carolina Health and Human Services announced Wednesday. The second person died in Cabarrus County.
"It is with a heavy heart that I tell you these will not be our last," Cooper said of the two people, calling Wednesday "a day of mourning in North Carolina."
State officials didn't release many other details about the people who died but said the Cabarrus resident had several underlying conditions.
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina surpassed 500 across 53 counties on Wednesday, with 170 of them in Mecklenburg County. The state's daily tallies tend to lag behind numbers reported by individual county health departments.
Wednesday's state-level report is up from 398 confirmed cases Tuesday. Neighboring South Carolina has reporting 342 cases as of Tuesday evening, including seven fatal ones.
North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said that as of Tuesday evening 29 people had been hospitalized for COVID-19 in the state.
"We know today that a number of patients who are currently hospitalized are seriously ill and some are in critical condition," Cooper said. "They are fighting for their lives, and it's awful for their families who know their loved ones are suffering, but because of this cruel and contagious sickness, they cannot be with them. Today is a stark reminder we must take this disease seriously. All of us."
Cooper has already issued executive orders closing schools through May 15, stopping dine-in services at restaurants, limiting crowd sizes to 50 people and, starting Thursday, shuttering other high-contact businesses like barbershops, gyms and theaters. North Carolina has also moved to make it easier for people to get unemployment benefits for coronavirus-related job losses. More than 140,000 people have applied since March 16.
Some counties have taken stricter measures, including Mecklenburg, which is putting a stay-home order into effect Thursday morning. Cabarrus County has a stay-at-home order that will go into effect at 5 p.m. Thursday. Cooper on Wednesday didn't say whether such an order was in the works on the state level, but he did say new restrictions are coming.
"We want people to stay home," Cooper said. "Local communities are doing what they think is right, and I understand that. It's important for us to make sure that we are deliberate and that we get this right. ... We will be issuing additional orders soon."
State officials said efforts are underway to get more supplies to health care workers and that testing capacity is expanding. Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said the state has so far ordered nearly $70 million worth of personal protective equipment for health care workers and encouraged people to reach out to his department about donations.
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