If North Carolina lifts its social distancing policy at the end of April without taking further action to slow the spread of COVID-19, the state will be taking less than even money on a bet that its health care system won’t be overwhelmed. That’s the conclusion from a new research brief prepared by a team of North Carolina scientists and released to the public on April 6.
After adjusting several statistical models with state-specific demographic and epidemiological information, the experts predicted that an end to social distancing at the start of May would lead to approximately 750,000 COVID-19 cases in North Carolina by June. In contrast, keeping social distancing in place through the next month would keep the number of cases by the same date to just 250,000.
“Our current best estimate is that if, after April 29, we immediately return to the rates of viral transmission occurring prior to widespread social distancing, stress on hospitals to cope with rising demand from COVID-19 patients could begin as soon as Memorial Day,” says the report. Under that scenario, demand for hospital intensive care beds has a more than 50% chance of exceeding supply by Monday, June 1.
The report acknowledges the “many challenges” of prolonged social distancing and suggests that “other policies with equal assumed effectiveness to reduce transmission” could replace the current stay-at-home order. However, its authors do not provide examples of what those policies might be.
Buncombe prepares to extend stay-home order
Buncombe County is playing catch-up with Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order, which placed the entire state under stay-home restrictions until Wednesday, April 29. At an April 6 press conference, Fletcher Tove, Buncombe’s emergency preparedness coordinator, said he and other county staff members were drafting a new mandate that would go into effect as the county’s previous order expired on Thursday, April 9.
Tove said that the updated order would “put us in closer alignment” with Cooper’s directive; however, he remarked that it would maintain “some notable exceptions” where the county’s rules would remain more restrictive. He said further details would be shared at a public press conference Wednesday, April 8, at 4 p.m.
During a previous press event, Tove had explained several areas where the county’s current rules were stricter than those of the state order. Divergences included the size of allowable mass gatherings, lodging operations and which businesses can be considered as essential.
In other news
- Cheri Beasley, chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, extended the postponement of most superior and district court cases from Monday, April 13, to Monday, June 1. The order also postpones the due dates for all outstanding traffic and criminal fines for 90 days.
- The Asheville Fire Department permitted 15 new recruits to enter active service prior to their previously scheduled May graduation, which has been postponed until further notice. All personnel had already completed their state firefighting and EMT certifications.
- The Buncombe County Partnership for Children is requesting donations of diapers and cleaning supplies to help child care centers remain open to serve the children of health care and emergency workers. Items such as hand sanitizer, baby wipes and toilet paper can be dropped off in the bed of a black Ford F-150 pickup truck at 119 Norwood Ave. through 7 p.m. April 6 and 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday, April 7.
- HCA Healthcare, the parent company of Mission Health, announced that its senior leadership would take a 30% pay cut “until the pandemic passes” to support the financial security of frontline caregivers. Sam Hazen, HCA’s CEO, will donate his entire salary for the next eight weeks to the charitable HCA Hope Fund. The Nashville Post reports that Hazen’s base salary was $1.425 million in 2019; Modern Healthcare notes that his total compensation for that year, including stock awards, bonuses and pension benefits, was nearly $27 million.