The world may be ready to say goodbye to 2020, a year defined by COVID-19. But a new page of the calendar doesn’t mean the pandemic will disappear at the stroke of midnight.
Quite the opposite: North Carolina is in a “very dangerous position” entering 2021, warned Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services, at a Dec. 30 press conference. On Dec. 28, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services had reported a record-breaking 14.3% of statewide COVID-19 tests returning positive, up from an average of 10% a month earlier.
Curbing viral spread is so critical that the White House Coronavirus Task Force issued stark new warnings for North Carolina, Cohen said. Anyone under the age of 40 who gathered with someone outside of their household over the Christmas holiday should act as if they became infected with COVID-19, even if they don’t show symptoms, and quarantine for 10 days.
“The task force warns that you are dangerous to others and must isolate away from anyone at increased risk of severe disease and get tested,” she said.
Members of the national task force also cautioned that anyone over the age of 65 or with underlying health conditions should not enter any indoor setting with people who are not wearing masks. These high-risk individuals should strongly consider having their groceries and medications delivered to their homes to avoid exposure, Cohen emphasized.
“The recommendation stresses that gatherings of people who aren’t wearing masks, public or private, simply are not safe,” echoed Gov. Roy Cooper. “That’s how prevalent this disease is right now. And we must take these recommendations seriously.”
Triangle ICUs nearing capacity
As of Dec. 30, 3,472 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in North Carolina, including 774 people in an intensive care unit. With 97% of state hospitals reporting, both figures set new hospitalization and ICU records.
The Mountain Area Healthcare Preparedness Coalition, which includes all of Western North Carolina, reported 223 COVID-19 patients across area hospitals — a new high for the region. According to data reported to NCDHHS, capacity remains steady, with 490 empty and staffed inpatient beds and 54 empty and staffed ICU beds.
But elsewhere in the state, hospital capacity is dangerously low. The Capital Region Healthcare Preparedness Coalition, which includes most of Wake County, and the Duke Health Care Preparedness Coalition, which includes Durham, only have 12 and 13 empty staffed ICU beds, respectively.
“I’m asking every North Carolinian to double down on our prevention efforts and protect each other by wearing a mask, following the protocols, being responsible and making good decisions,” Cooper said. “As our fatality numbers show starkly, this is a matter of life and death.”
State 10 p.m. curfew, local restrictions remain in place
The start of 2021 is a moment worth celebrating, but the days of ringing in the new year with a bottle of champagne at a packed bar are on pause. North Carolina’s modified stay-at-home order remains in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. nightly, Cooper reminded residents, and all on-site alcohol consumption must stop by 9 p.m.
Buncombe County’s updated local COVID-19 guidelines will go into effect 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 2. At that point, indoor restaurant dining will be allowed only at 30% capacity and indoor mass gatherings will be limited to two people outside of a household.
Following backlash from restaurant owners and food service employees, Buncombe County announced Dec. 31 that health officials would reevaluate the dining capacity limit by Friday, Jan. 22. If the county’s COVID-19 trends have improved at that point, the 30% capacity limit may be removed.
In other news
- Following an increase in regional COVID-19 cases, AdventHealth Hendersonville and all Mission Health locations have implemented stricter visitation policies. Both will allow one visitor to accompany pediatric patients and expecting mothers; AdventHealth also allows up to six visitors to see an end-of-life patient daily.
- NCDHHS has updated its COVID-19 vaccine plan to prioritize frontline health care workers, staff and residents of long-term care facilities and people aged 75 or older. Visit https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/vaccines for more information about the steps of the vaccine rollout.
- Starting Monday, Jan. 4, low-income North Carolina households can apply for two energy assistance programs, the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program and the Crisis Intervention Program. More information and eligibility requirements can be found here.