North Carolina deaths pass 100 due to COVID-19

Governor Roy Cooper at the Emergency Operations Center. Photo by Robert Clark, North State Journal

RALEIGH — Deaths in North Carolina linked to COVID-19 have soared above 100, state officials said Tuesday, even as the increase in the number of positive cases may be slowing.

The Department of Health and Human Services reported 108 related deaths statewide, a more than 25% jump compared to Monday. The number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations also grew by a third to about 420. But the number of laboratory-confirmed cases since the outbreak began grew day-over-day by just 4% to a little over 5,000.

State DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen spoke somberly of the milestone in deaths on Tuesday. She said while she didn’t see a peak in deaths and hospitalizations at this time, “it doesn’t mean I see a surge, either.”

But Cohen and Gov. Roy Cooper said this week that social-distancing directives, in particular the stay-at-home order starting March 30, have helped blunt the spread of the virus and prevented hospitals from being overrun. For example, Cohen said, the number of days that it takes to double the number of cases is increasing.

“That tells us that we’re slowing the rate of acceleration and it tells us that all the hard work we’re doing to stay at home is working,” Cohen told reporters Tuesday, adding she was “mildly optimistic.” For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, and the vast majority survive. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause pneumonia or death.

Restaurants and bars still are only allowed to offer drive-thru or takeout. The current stay-at-home order, which directs non-essential businesses to shut down, expires April 29.

“The better we can do right now in these two weeks, the more we can stay at home, the more we can flatten this curve, the more we would be able to ease restrictions going into the month of May,” Cooper said on Monday.

A state House subcommittee looking at economic issues recommended Tuesday that the legislature give $25 million to the North Carolina Golden LEAF Foundation to extend its small-business loan program to aid struggling owners. Golden LEAF already is putting $15 million toward the initiative. Another measure would ensure that taxpayers aren’t charged interest on payments originally due April 15 but which have been pushed back to July.

The General Assembly convenes in two weeks, and lawmakers are working through a laundry list of funding requests and law changes in response to the global pandemic.