In light of increasing coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and positive test rates, North Carolina will remain in Phase 3 of its COVID-19 reopening for an additional three weeks, Gov. Roy Cooper announced at an Oct. 21 press conference.
The state entered Phase 3 on Oct. 2, a move that allowed bars to open for restricted outside service and permitted movie theaters, outdoor entertainment venues and conference centers to reopen at limited capacity. The Phase 3 order had been set to expire on Friday, Oct. 23; it will now remain in effect until Friday, Nov. 13, at 5 p.m.
Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services, suggested that the initial move to Phase 3 may be partly responsible for a recent increase in COVID-19 cases. But state trends, she continued, were beginning to rise even before additional restrictions were relaxed.
“Largely, what I think we’re seeing is a combination of people that are fatigued and are not doing the 3Ws, especially in social gatherings,” Cohen said, referring to the precautions of washing hands, wearing a face covering and waiting 6 feet apart. “There’s not one thing or one geography, and it’s why we have to work hard together.”
Instead of reimposing additional statewide restrictions — something Cooper has repeatedly said he wants to avoid unless absolutely necessary — the governor asked local law enforcement agencies to “enhance prevention efforts.”
On Oct. 20, Cohen and Secretary Erik Hooks of the N.C. Department of Public Safety sent letters to leaders in 36 North Carolina counties, encouraging them to take local action to improve compliance with existing executive orders. Suggestions included imposing civil penalties or fines on individuals found in violation of state orders and establishing stricter limits on mass gatherings.
Graham and Avery counties were the only Western North Carolina jurisdictions to receive a letter. Counties were contacted if they exceeded certain thresholds of viral spread or were among the state’s three most populous.
Cooper again urged residents to stay committed to the 3Ws and other proven public health measures. “We hope that greater enforcement, strong community leadership and more people doing the right things can lower these numbers,” he said.
Cluster information added to NCDHHS dashboard
As of Oct. 21, data tracking the cumulative number of COVID-19 clusters is available on the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services coronavirus dashboard. A cluster is defined as five or more linked cases.
Congregate living facilities, schools and childcare centers are the only settings that must report all clusters to NCDHHS. The data included on the dashboard is thus limited to clusters that have been voluntarily shared with local health departments or identified through contact tracing efforts, meaning the number is likely an undercount, Cohen said. The dashboard report will be updated every Monday by 4 p.m.
As of Oct. 21, 671 clusters ranging from social events to workplace outbreaks have resulted in 10,663 cases and 63 deaths, per NCDHHS data. Top drivers include outbreaks at meat and poultry processing plants, colleges and universities and religious gatherings; in response, NCDHHS has released additional guidance for places of worship and private social gatherings.
“There are steps you can take to lower that risk, and of course, it starts with the 3Ws,” Cohen said. “When you are with someone you don’t live with, wear a mask over your face and nose to reduce the risk of exposing someone to COVID-19.”
In other news
- Haywood County Health and Human Services will host a drive-through flu shot clinic at the Smoky Mountain Event Center on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 1-3 p.m. Vaccines will be available for anyone age 18 and older; high-dose flu shots are available for individuals age 65 or older. Attendees are asked to bring insurance information and a photo ID.
- Western Carolina Rescue Ministries’ annual Coats for the Cold event will be held Saturday, Nov. 7, noon-3 p.m. Community members in need of winter clothing are invited to the WCRM building at 225 Patton Avenue to pick out items. Gently used donations will be accepted at WCRM thrift stores or at any Swannanoa Cleaners locations.
- A detainee at the Buncombe County Detention Center tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 19, according to reports from the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office. The individual has been in quarantine since entering the facility and is currently asymptomatic.