North Carolina reaches 100 coronavirus cases, first community spread

RALEIGH – North Carolina has officially reached 100 cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) today. The case count from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services last updated at 10:44 A.M. on Thursday showing 97 cases reported.

Their case count does not include newly reported cases in Davidson, New Hanover, and Orange Counties.

“While this is the first case of the novel coronavirus in our community, it is something we’ve been preparing to respond to with our state and local partners,” said New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman. “Our Public Health team is working closely with this individual to monitor their wellbeing and to make contact with anyone they have had close contact with over the last two weeks to mitigate any potential spread of the virus.”

NCDHHS says the state has completed 2,505 tests as of this morning at both the state lab and reports from commercial labs.

At a media availability today, NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen confirmed the first case of community spread. The individual is located in Wilson County. Cohen said the state’s strategy to handle to virus has moved into a second phase from containment to mitigation.

“Confirmed community spread is a signal that we need to further accelerate the next phase of the work – mitigation,” said Cohen. “As I have shared previously, we have already been taking actions as if we already had community spread to get ahead of the virus.”

Both Cohen and Governor Cooper strongly encouraged the public to heed recommendations for social distancing.

Joining Cohen and Cooper at the press event on COVID-19 was Director of Emergency Management Mike Sprayberry and Assistant Secretary for Employment Security Lockhart Taylor.

Gov. Cooper also indicated that N.C. public schools would be out longer than the ordered two weeks.

“We’re going to be out of schools for a while,” said Cooper.  “The [executive] order was for March 30, but I think people know that with community spread and the crisis increasing, we will likely be out for longer.”

We are working closely with the Dept. Public Instruction and other leaders in education across the state. We do know that we are providing food to children that need it outside of school,” Cooper said.

“Our goal is protecting you. And as we move into this new phase, we need to continue to reduce the chances for further spread and exposure and protect our health care system so it is there when you need it,” Cohen said.

In her remarks, Cohen said that hospitals will “need to stop doing elective surgeries” and she thanked hospitals that have already moved in this direction.

Cohen also said that testing for people with mild illness will also become less important as the state transitions to the next phase of COVID-19 responses.

“We will begin to deploy other surveillance methods to understand the spread of the virus and drive our decision-making,” said Cohen.

In terms of unemployment benefit concerns, the governor said that unemployment benefits 1-week requirement has been waived as has the requirement to be looking for a job.

“Everything right now to help employees and employers is on the table,” said Cooper. “We are asking employers to allow teleworking or stagger work schedules, but we know some people have to work. We are encouraging that those can take measures to be safe and cautious at work.”

Lockhart Taylor said that the Department of Commerce is trying to get the information about unemployment benefits and payments out to those who need it.

“Individuals are panicked and they are out of work,” said Lockhart. “We set up a system to handle 3,000 applicants a week, and in the past day and a half we’ve seen 18,000 claims.”  Lockhart added that he believes payments will start going within two weeks.