North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper says the state needs to make progress in the fight against the coronavirus before he lifts a stay-at-home order and other restrictions. But even then, Cooper said Wednesday, a "new normal" will likely be different than what North Carolinians have known for years.
"Our efforts to flatten the curve are working ... but we know our current situation is not sustainable in the long run," Cooper said. "We can't stay home forever."
The governor said he wanted to see improvements in three key areas before easing restrictions: testing capacity, contact tracing and the overall trends of infection. That's an effort he said will require more resources, including partnerships between the state Health and Human Services department, universities and hospitals.
"When a new positive case pops up, the tracing efforts will work to identify people who've been in contact so that they can get tested and take the right precautions," Cooper said.
In recent weeks, Cooper has told residents to stay home unless for essential purposes, closed schools, banned dine-in service at restaurants, prohibited mass gatherings, ordered high-contact businesses to shut their doors and limited capacity at supermarkets and other stores.
Cooper said those restrictions have helped keep hospital beds and ventilators available for patients suffering from extreme cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. But nearly 580,000 North Carolinians have filed for unemployment since March 15 — a little over 500,000 of them for reasons related to the coronavirus pandemic.
"We want to get back to work while at the same time preventing that spike that will overwhelm our hospitals with COVID-19 patients," Cooper said.
Cooper said a vaccine is likely at least a year away, so some restrictions may need to stay in place in order to lower the chances that high-risk people – like those who are older than 65 and those with underlying medical conditions – are infected.
"In our new normal, you may see more people wearing masks or having their temperature checked," Cooper said. "A restaurant you go into may have tables that are only partially full. The only sporting events or concerts you may be able to watch for a while will have no in-person crowds."
Cooper's current stay-at-home order runs through April. He didn't say Wednesday whether he planned to extend it. Leaders in two counties near Charlotte — Lincoln and Gaston — are calling for restrictions to be eased before May. He did say, though, that restrictions wouldn't all be eased at once.
As of Wednesday morning, North Carolina Health and Human Services had confirmed 5,123 cases of the coronavirus by testing. At least 117 people in the state have died from complications of COVID-19. South Carolina, as of Wednesday, was reporting 107 deaths and 3,656 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.
The Charlotte region has more confirmed cases than any other area in the Carolinas, with Mecklenburg County alone reporting 1,052 cases and 19 related deaths as of Wednesday evening.
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