RALEIGH — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state emergency Tuesday due to the coronavirus and his administration urged people over age 65 and medically fragile residents to avoid large gatherings.
Cooper’s declaration gives state government broader powers and monetary flexibility. The governor’s statewide health recommendations also include limiting visitors to nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.
Seven North Carolina residents have tested positive for COVID-19 since the first was announced last week. Six are from Wake County, leading state officials to make more restrictive recommendations for the county that includes Raleigh, the state capital.
Wake County employers, which include state agencies, should favor technology so employees can work from home, generous sick-leave policies and staggered arrival and departure times. Organizers of large events for Wake County also should consider canceling or postponing them, state health department Secretary Mandy Cohen said.
“These recommendations can mean inconvenience, loss of income or disappointment,” Cooper told reporters. “But they are based on the best medical advice and they will be lifesaving. We do want people to take this seriously.”
The most high-profile event this week in North Carolina, the Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament, began Tuesday in Greensboro. This event is still on, but the new isolation recommendations could discourage attendance. State health officials said they’ve been talking to conference Commissioner John Swofford.
Five of the seven Wake County patients had traveled to Boston to attend a BioGen conference, state officials said.
Cohen said the number of positive tests is expected to grow. Cohen said the state is expanding a COVID-19 task force to include representatives of hospitals, long-term care facilities and business.
“This is serious, but we have been preparing,” Cohen told legislators in a committee earlier Tuesday.
Access to testing kits remains a challenge, she said. The state health lab currently has enough supplies to test another 300 people.
Burlington-based Laboratory Corp. of America received FDA approval last week to test using a different method, but the company’s nationwide service area means North Carolina’s testing supplies won’t be available right away, according to Cohen.
According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered.
The virus has infected 600 people in the United States, and at least 26 have died, most in Washington state.