North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced Wednesday afternoon (June 24th) that residents are now required to wear face masks in public; and that Phase Two of his reopening plan will continue for three more weeks as coronavirus cases continue to rise.
North Carolina is one of 26 states in which the number of cases has grown in the last week. Cooper opened the Wednesday briefing by noting that the state had 906 people hospitalized with COVID-19 on Wednesday and 1721 new confirmed cases since Tuesday--both the second highest figures on record.
Unless they have a valid medical or other permitted reason, everyone must wear face coverings when in public places, indoors or outdoors, when physical distancing of 6 feet from other people who aren’t in the same household or residence isn’t possible. Permitted exceptions include while exercising outdoors--walking, hiking or otherwise engage in physical activity and not within six feet of another person; children under 11 years old; and those with a medical exception.
Masks are now required for all employees and customers of retail businesses including restaurants as well as workers in manufacturing, construction, meat processing and agriculture.
Cooper said law enforcement won't cite individuals who aren't wearing masks, but since businesses must require them for both employees and customers, any business that does not require them could be cited. If told to leave because they are not wearing a mask, customers could be cited for trespassing.
Cooper's move to the mask requirement comes on the same day that the state of Washington joined Virginia, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island in adopting a mask requirement. Two North Carolina counties--Orange & Durham, and cities including Raleigh and Boone had already begun requiring masks.
Cooper said Phase Two will continue for three more weeks and he hopes that with the mask requirement, the numbers will improve. "Dr. Fauci told Congress that the next two weeks will be critical," Cooper said. "We want to take the steps necessary so we can move on come July 17th."
At least 56,174 people have tested positive for the virus in North Carolina since March 3rd. Since May 19th, when the announcement was made that the state would move from Phase One into Phase Two of reopening, the number of people hospitalized has increased from an average around 500 to over 900 in just a little over a month.
One thing that was noticeably different at Wednesday's briefing: Cooper and all the other speakers were wearing masks which they took off while speaking, then put back on.
Cooper used the occasion to bolster his decision by introducing Dennis Taylor, president of the North Carolina Nurses Association, and Eugene Woods, president and CEO of Atrium Health, both of whom agreed that wearing masks is the best way to slow the spread of the disease.
Woods also used the briefing to announce that Atrium Health, with support from Lowe's, the Carolina Panthers, Blue Cross & Blue Shield, Bank of America, Honeywell and other large employers, would be donating one million masks for distribution in selected neighborhoods.
NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen went over the figures as usual--and they weren't good. The trajectory of COVID-like syndromic cases and the total number of cases were both much higher. Cohen added that increased testing alone doesn't account for the increase in positive cases, the trajectory of positive cases as a percentage of total tests continues to be near 10%, nearly double what had been the target. The trajectory of hospitalizations was also a major concern. Cohen did say that the availability of hospital beds including intensive care beds continues to be satisfactory--for now--and that there appears to be ample personal protective equipment.
Lincoln County has now recorded a second death from COVID-19. No details were released by the Health Department, but the number of deaths on the Wednesday report was two. The county's number of active cases is still lower than surrounding counties: 68 on Wednesday. 134 people are said to have recovered and 19 are awaiting test results.
24 new cases Wednesday brings Catawba County's number of active cases to 323. The county has had 639 confirmed cases; 303 of those have since recovered and 13 died.
Gaston County has 332 active cases as of Wednesday afternoon. 498 people there have recovered and there have been 12 deaths.
Cleveland County now has 71 active cases including eight people hospitalized with COVID-19 complications. The county has recorded 236 positive tests, had 163 people recover, and has had two deaths.
Mecklenburg County has had 8,801 cases diagnosed and 144 related deaths.
Nationwide, 2.4 million people have tested positive for COVID-19; the death toll is pushing toward 125,000. Worldwide, 482,000 deaths have been reported.