RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper announced that six days into Phase 2, on May 28, the state experienced its highest days of reported deaths and hospitalizations since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
According to Cooper, North Carolina had a total of 25,412 confirmed cases, 708 people in the hospital and 827 people who have died as of that day.
“These aren’t just numbers, they’re people who have died,” Cooper said.
Cooper maintained that the rise in cases was partly due to the significant increase in testing. He added that there are now more than 300 places across the state where people can be administered a COVID-19 test. He also announced that CVS Pharmacy will have 55 new drive-thru testing locations across North Carolina — including the Boone location, according to media reports.
More than 30 private companies and hospitals are conducting the lab work to get test results, and Community Care of North Carolina has now hired almost 250 staff members to help with contact tracing at N.C. health departments, according to Cooper.
“We know contact tracing is more effective when the contact tracers are diverse and representative of people that they serve,” Cooper said. “This is critical work that’ll help people know whether they have been exposed to the virus and whether to monitor for symptoms or quarantine themselves to protect their loved ones and others.”
While there is an increase in testing, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said that the data shows that the state has to be modest and slow in the activities it’s allowing because officials are seeing more of a viral spread.
“The virus is here; it’s in our communities,” Cohen said. “Our work is to keep the viral spread low and keep that curve flat.”
AppHealthCare confirmed on May 27 that three cases of COVID-19 were identified among subcontractors working on Appalachian State University’s campus. Two individuals were Watauga County residents whose last days on campus were May 16 and May 22, respectively. The third individual, whose last day on campus was May 20, was not a resident of Watauga County.
AppHealthCare stated that the three individuals had fully cooperated with isolation instructions and were recovering at home. Public health staff had identified close contacts who were in quarantine and will be provided access to testing during their quarantine period.
The total confirmed case count for Watauga residents was 15 as of May 29 with six individuals who had active cases and were in isolation, and 18 others who were in quarantine due to risk of exposure. Additional data can be found on the AppHealthCare website dashboard at www.apphealthcare.com/covid-19-information/covid-19-data-dashboard.
Jennifer Greene, the health director of AppHealthCare, encouraged community members to “show your care for others” by practicing the 3Ws — wear a cloth face covering, wait six feet from others and wash hands frequently or use hand sanitizer.
“We continue to work diligently to protect our community and quickly adapt as we respond to this rapidly evolving situation,” Greene stated. “We appreciate the community’s effort in doing their part in slowing the spread of COVID-19. We know this remains a stressful and anxious time for each of us and appreciate each person’s sacrifice and willingness to take action as we respond to this challenge. This virus will be with us for a while, so I encourage everyone to take action to slow the spread.”
Additionally, AppHealthCare and App State are partnering together with all construction contractors working at the university to conduct broader testing at worksites, including those that have not experienced a positive case to date.
Cooper said most people and businesses across North Carolina are complying with orders and even “going the extra mile” to protect against people potentially contracting COVID-19. He said that if there are events being held or others who are not complying with the executive orders, the hope is that local officials will handle the situation.
“We’ll continue to work with local officials and businesses to find the best ways to slow the spread,” Cooper said. “If we have repeated violations that local officials won’t take any action on, we’ll have to review all of our options and consider further action that we might take.”
Cooper and Cohen both discussed funding to help families and workers during the pandemic. Cooper mentioned a $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to support job training and temporary employment opportunities. He said the funds can help pay for on-the-job training, temporary positions focused on COVID-19 or short-term training for new skills that are now in demand.
Cohen discussed the Pandemic Electronic Benefits (P-EBT) for those families whose children have access to free and reduced lunch at school. According to Cohen, families who are eligible are receiving about $350 in PEBT per child to buy groceries and put food on the table. This program was originally authorized through the end of the traditional school year calendar, but Cohen recognized that the need for children won’t end at that point.
Cohen has sent a letter to the congressional delegation to urge them to support an extension of the P-EBT program through summer months. She said that extending P-EBT benefits through the summer would help provide families of nearly half of NC’s school children with about $250 in additional support per child.
For more information on the state’s response to COVID-19 or state data, visit covid19.ncdhhs.gov/dashboard.