North Carolinians are flattening the curve of coronavirus transmission, confirmed Gov. Roy Cooper at an April 23 press conference. But even after nearly a month of life under his stay-at-home order, the governor continued, residents need to remain patient to protect the state’s public health: The mandate is now effective through Friday, May 8, more than a week beyond its previous expiration of Wednesday, April 29.
“It’s important to get our economy moving forward. We’re helping with unemployment payments, stimulus money and the businesses that continue to be open,” Cooper said. “But I won’t risk the health of our people or our hospitals. And easing these restrictions now would do that.”
But Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services, did outline a detailed plan for how North Carolina might reopen once May 8 had passed. Restrictions would be progressively lifted over three phases, each lasting multiple weeks, dependent on a scorecard of COVID-19 trends.
Cohen explained that North Carolina’s percentage of emergency room visits with COVID-19 symptoms, number of cases, hospitalization rate and percentage of disease tests that come back positive would all have to be declining or holding steady for at least 14 days for the state to enter the first phase of eased restrictions. Testing would also have to be sustained at a level of 5,000-7,000 per day, and the number of public health employees tracing the contacts of known cases would have to double from 250 to 500.
Once the state meets those benchmarks, Cooper said, he would permit a wider array of retail to operate, including sporting goods shops and bookstores. Parks would also be opened, but the stay-at-home order would continue and mass gatherings would remain limited to no more than 10 people. Subsequent phases would lift the stay-at-home order, allow the limited opening of restaurants and bars, and permit places of worship to operate under social distancing rules.
Buncombe rolls out COVID-19 symptom checker
As part of its own effort to track COVID-19 trends, Buncombe County has created an online symptom checker for county residents. At an April 23 press conference, Fletcher Tove, the county’s emergency preparedness coordinator, said the tool would be available on the county website starting Monday, April 27.
Developed in partnership with Jennifer Runkle, an infectious disease expert with the Asheville-based N.C. Institute for Climate Studies, the tool analyses a user’s self-reported symptoms to determine the likelihood of COVID-19 infection. The tool can then recommend next steps, including self-isolation and contacting a health provider, and direct a county public health nurse to follow up with the user about how symptoms improve or worsen over time.
The checker will also gather demographic and zip code information to help Buncombe officials gain a better picture of the disease’s prevalence in the community. “It’s going to help us develop data so we can start looking at those trends and anticipate possible hospital surges,” Tove told the county Board of Commissioners during their April 21 regular meeting. “It’s really a short and simple tool, but it’s going to carry a lot of water for us as we move forward to combating COVID-19 and getting us in place where we can reopen our community.”
Tove noted that the tool would be available in English, Spanish and Russian through Buncombe’s COVID-19 portal. Residents without internet access, he said, could call the county’s Ready Team call center at 828-419-0095 to be guided through the symptom checker by phone.
In other news
- Asheville law firm Fisher Stark P.A. is offering a free living will to all essential workers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The advance directive form allows those workers to establish their preferences for end-of-life choices such as feeding tubes and artificial hydration.
- Asheville-based Vaya Health, which manages mental health, substance use disorder and developmental disability services for Medicaid and uninsured patients throughout Western North Carolina, is supporting the statewide Hope4NC crisis counseling hotline. Those in need can call 855-587-3463 at any time to be connected with no-cost behavioral health support.
- On April 21, the Asheville Regional Airport announced that it would receive a bailout of more than $14.4 million as part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. According a press release, the money will be used for operational expenses such as salaries and to support the continuation of “critical capital projects already underway.”
- The Asheville Independent Restaurant Association launched a new online portal, FoodInAsheville.com, with updated listings of area eateries offering takeout or delivery service. Businesses looking to be added to the list should email Jane Anderson at email@example.com.
- The Creation Care Alliance of WNC is hosting a virtual Earth Day Vigil at 6 p.m. on Sunday, April 26, in honor of the holiday’s 50th anniversary. A virtual reception for discussion and reflection will directly follow the event.