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10 more counties found with ‘critical’ spread as Gov. Cooper tightens mask-wearing restrictions

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY —  Just as an additional 10 counties have reached a “critical” level of viral spread, Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday issued an executive order aimed at extending and building upon the current statewide mask mandate and phase three COVID-19 restrictions.

Executive Order 180 goes into effect on Wednesday and will remain in effect until Dec. 11. The order tightens the existing statewide mask mandate by emphasizing everyone needs to wear a mask when they’re around someone not from the same household. It also adds the mask requirement to additional settings such as any public indoor space even when maintaining 6 feet of distance apart, gyms, all public and private schools and all public and private transportation when traveling with people outside of the household.

Previously, face coverings were required indoors only if people were within 6 feet.

Executive Order 180 also allows the face covering requirement to be enforced by law enforcement against individuals. Previously, those requirements were enforceable only against businesses or organizations that failed to enforce the requirement.

The governor, along with the state health department secretary, Dr. Mandy Cohen, told North Carolinians on Monday that the next 7-14 days will determine whether the state will need to implement stricter measures to control the spread.

“I have a stark warning for North Carolinians today: We are in danger,” Cooper said during a news conference. “This is a pivotal moment in our fight against the coronavirus. Our actions now will determine the fate of many.”

The order also requires large retail businesses with more than 15,000 square feet to have an employee stationed near entrances to enforce occupancy limits and ensure visitors who enter wear masks. Additionally, the order requires face coverings be worn at all times in an indoor fitness facility, even while strenuously exercising. The only exception is when an individual is eating or drinking. It’s advised for an individual to evaluate whether they’re able to exercise while wearing a face covering.

The executive order comes as the state reported 2,419 additional cases on Monday, totaling 339,194 cases and 4.97 million tests since March. That amounts to a 6.6% daily positive rate, and a 6.8% rate overall. Currently, 1,601 people are being hospitalized and 5,039 people have died.

Of those positive cases, the state estimates 293,555, or 86.5%, of cases have recovered.

Classification system update

Also on Monday, state officials announced 10 additional counties are now categorized as “red” in the new color-coded system used to categorize the level of viral spread. Red indicates a “critical” level of viral spread, while orange indicates “substantial” spread and yellow indicates “significant” spread.

The system uses three metrics to determine a county’s spread and assign a color, including the case rate, percent of positive tests and the impact on hospitals.

To make it into the “critical,” or red, category, counties must have:

• More than 200 cases per 100,000 people in the previous 14 days, with at least 42 cases in the previous 14 days.
• A percent positive rate greater than 10%.
• A high impact on hospitals that serve the county or those in the county.

Rowan County is one of 42 counties in the intermediate category, because it currently meets just one of the criteria as 494.1 cases have been reported per 100,000 people in the last 14 days. Additionally, the percent positive rate over the last 14 days is 9.9%, but the impact on hospitals remains low.

Currently, Davie County is the only county adjacent to Rowan that’s designated “critical.” Iredell, Davidson and Cabarrus counties are in the intermediate category with Rowan. Mecklenburg and Stanly counties are currently designated yellow, or the lowest level of viral spread.

“The coming weeks will be a true test of our resolve to do what it takes to keep people from getting sick, to save lives and to make sure that if you need hospital care whether it’s for a heart attack or a car accident or COVID-19, you can get it,” Cohen said on Monday.

State officials have encouraged local governments to take action to require compliance and help lower COVID-19 numbers.

COVID-19 case trends

On Monday, Cohen also provided an update on North Carolina’s data and trends over the last 14 days, which show increases in the trajectory of confirmed cases, trajectory in percent of tests returning positive and hospitalizations. Additionally, testing capacity is currently high, particularly as the holiday season approaches.

Cohen also said the state’s current supply of personal protective equipment is stable, but Cooper said the state continues to urge the federal government to provide another stimulus/relief package to ensure those resources are available and provided. He added that the possibility of calling on the General Assembly for a special session to allocate additional funds is not ruled out.

Local health officials reported 57 additional cases in Rowan County on Sunday and 65 additional cases on Monday, totaling 5,248 cases since March. The number of currently positive cases continues to rise, with roughly 18% of total cases being currently active. A total of 4,191 people have recovered, and 20 are currently being hospitalized.

In Rowan County, local health officials report an increase in the percentage of tests that are positive, the number of positive cases and the number of hospitalized patients over the last few weeks. However, the level of people hospitalized coincides with the expected seasonal increase in the number of patients seeking care for other health concerns, said Novant Health spokesperson Robin Baltimore.

“We currently have the capacity to handle the additional hospital admissions in terms of beds, personal protective equipment and staff,” Baltimore said.” While these most recent trends are concerning, we did predict an increase in cases with cooler weather and expanded reopening. That said, if we all are very diligent and practice social distancing and wear a mask while avoiding riskier environments where people are not, then we can help limit community spread and begin to reverse the trends.”

Last week’s update on hospital bed and ventilator capacity indicated 73 of the 106 available beds and one of the 61 available ventilators are currently in use in the county.

Baltimore added that people should “absolutely seek care when they need it,” even if that care is not related to COVID-19. But while visiting the emergency room for a true medical emergency is encouraged, someone experiencing mild to moderate flu or COVID-19 symptoms should instead first call their primary care doctor or visit one of the county’s testing sites.

“Our message is to get the care you need, right when you need it, and where is most appropriate,” Baltimore said. “It’s important no one delay any care. The consequences of that could be dire.”

Testing will not take place this week at the health department, but locals can still be tested at the following locations:

• FastMed Clinic, located at 1361 Klumac Road in Salisbury
Will bill insurance; for non-insured individuals, the cost is $199 for both COVID-19 and antibody testing. No appointment needed.

• CVS, located at 1924 Statesville Blvd. in Salisbury
No testing on Thursday, Nov. 26. Must schedule appointment online at https://www.cvs.com/minuteclinic/covid-assessment 

• Novant Health Rowan, located at 1904 W Jake Alexander Boulevard in Salisbury
No testing Thursday, Nov. 26 and Friday, Nov. 27. Call 704-210-7845 for an appointment. Testing criteria may apply.

• W.G. Hefner VA Medical Center, located at 1601 Brenner Ave. in Salisbury
No testing on Thursday, Nov. 26. Testing criteria may apply; will only test veterans.

Baltimore, along with Cohen during Monday’s news conference, reminds locals that testing prior to traveling for the holidays is encouraged, but a negative test doesn’t necessarily mean one is no longer at risk of having or spreading the virus.

“Tests can have a false negative result, and depending on when a test is taken, accuracy may vary,” Baltimore said. “In addition, a negative test does not ensure you will not be exposed while traveling, for instance, or once you arrive at your destination. It’s important to practice all safety guidelines regardless of test results.”

No new COVID-19 deaths in Rowan County were reported over the weekend or on Monday. Currently, 51 of the 127 deaths have been among those outside of a congregate care facility, with an average age of 80 among the deaths.

Nationally, the CDC reports 147,840 additional cases, which totals 12.12 million cases in the U.S. since January. And after reporting 882 new deaths, COVID-19 has now claimed the lives of 255,958 Americans.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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