N.C. heads toward Phase 1 of restriction loosening as precautions still stressed

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 5/4/20

Gov. Roy Cooper indicated Monday that North Carolina was headed in the right direction toward loosening some of the restrictions put in place to attempt to halt the spread of COVID-19. But in Chatham County, public health officials indicated that no end is in sight for the virus — and that perhaps the peak of infections in Chatham has not been reached yet.

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N.C. heads toward Phase 1 of restriction loosening as precautions still stressed

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Gov. Roy Cooper indicated Monday that North Carolina was headed in the right direction toward loosening some of the restrictions put in place to attempt to halt the spread of COVID-19.

But in Chatham County, public health officials indicated that no end is in sight for the virus — and that perhaps the peak of infections in Chatham has not been reached yet.

“We cannot predict when the spread of the virus will peak in the community,” said Layton Long, the county’s public health director. “We can only continue to press on doing what we can to slow and contain the virus as we and our many partners work with the public, congregate living facilities, healthcare providers, essential employers and other high-risk groups to prevent infection, sickness and death.”

Chatham County reached double digits in deaths Monday and has seen more than 300 reported positive COVID-19 cases since the county was home to the second positive test in the state in early March. County officials declared a state of emergency later in the month.

Cooper said Monday that statewide, there had been positive steps in the areas of tracing, testing and trends — three places where state officials said there must be progress before the state’s stay-at-home order and various business closures could be lifted.

“We’re hoping to enter Phase 1 this weekend,” Cooper said Monday. “Very soon, we’ll be announcing the specifics on Phase 1. We’re still analyzing our indicators talking with healthcare experts. We’re getting a lot of advice from businesses.”

Phase 1, as presented by state officials on April 23, would keep things mostly normal with a couple exceptions: re-opening parks that had been closed due to mass gathering limitations and modifying the state’s stay-at-home order to “allow travel not currently defined as essential allowing people to leave home for commercial activity at any business that is allowed to be open, such as clothing stores, sporting goods stores, book shops, houseware stores and other retailers.”

An update on April 30, showed the state’s percentage of tests returning positive were decreasing and a leveling of hospitalizations occurring, and that the state had created a collaborative to improve contact tracing ability.

“North Carolinians have made tremendous sacrifices and it is making a difference,” Cooper said at that update. “We remain hopeful that the trends will be stable enough to move into Phase 1 next week.” 

Mandy Cohen, the state secretary of health and human services, said it was vital to keep social distancing guidelines and other preventative measures in place.

“We need keep up the actions that will slow the spread of the virus,” Cohen said April 30. “The good news is that we know we can do this. If we stay home now to protect our loved ones and our communities, we can put ourselves on a path to begin easing restrictions and moving forward as planned.”

Long shared the same message in a long statement last week. He said each resident “holds the key...in our own limited way” to limiting the spread and keeping people healthy.

“We plead for the public to stay home, avoid close contact with anyone outside of their household, wear a face covering when you must go out and practice social distancing,” Long said. “We realize these measures are inconvenient and a nuisance but they are also one of the keys to stopping this virus.”

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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