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Gov. Cooper announces modified stay-at-home order; Rowan among ‘critical spread’ counties

SALISBURY — Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday announced a statewide, COVID-19-related curfew and modified stay-at-home order that will start Friday and be in place until Jan. 8.

The curfew requires people to stay at home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

People are exempt if they’re traveling to and from work, to obtain food or get medical care, fuel or social services as well as if they’re taking care of a family member.

Cooper’s order also requires restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, personal care businesses and others to close for on-premise dining at 10 p.m. The sale of alcoholic beverages is prohibited for on-site consumption between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. Restaurants, however, are allowed to offer take-out and delivery services after the curfew.

The order does not close any businesses completely. Businesses can allow employees to remain on the premises to work after the curfew as long as no clients or customers are permitted.

Events or gatherings outside of a person’s home must end by 10 p.m., but people will be allowed to be out later if they are traveling home or to the place where they will stay that night.

Cooper said the order was intended to turn the tide of a growing spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations across the state. He said additional action could be taken if trends to not improve. The order was necessary now because of new records in COVID-19 metrics, he said.

“Our new modified Stay-At-Home order aims to limit gatherings and get people home where they are safer, especially during the holidays,” Cooper said during a news conference. “It’s also a reminder that we must be vigilant the rest of the day — wearing a face mask when we are with people we don’t live with, keeping a safe distance from others and washing our hands a lot.”

Local law enforcement will continue to be tasked with implementing the order, but Cooper said his intent was not “to get people in trouble.”

“We have to be more careful. We have to do more to help those frontline health care workers, to prevent people from dying alone in a hospital bed, to help slow the spread of the virus,” he said.

His new executive order does not change rules about gathering limits of 10 people indoors and 50 outdoors as well as a face covering or mask being required in all public indoor settings and some outdoor settings. Retail businesses with more than 15,000 square-feet of space being are still required to station a worker at the entrance to count people entering the store and enforce mask rules.

Cooper’s announcement came as the state more than doubled its number of counties experiencing critical spread. The number jumped from 20 to 48, nearly half of the state’s counties, with Rowan County among those critical spread areas.

The state’s county alert system says Rowan County’s case positive rate is 711.5 per 100,000 people over the previous two weeks. The percent of tests returning positive during the same period is 11.4%. Coronavirus, however, is still listed as having a low impact on local hospitals.

Three of the five counties that border Rowan — Iredell, Cabarrus and Davidson — are also experiencing critical spread. Stanly and Davie counties are both experiencing “substantial” spread. That’s notable, in part, because Davie County moved down a tier from two weeks ago when it was experiencing critical spread.

To be placed in the critical spread category, a county must have more than 200 cases per 100,000 people in the previous 14 days and at least 42 cases in the previous 14 days. Additionally, the county must either have a percent positive rate of more than 10% or see a high impact from COVID-19 on county hospitals.

In the previous week, North Carolina’s case count has broken single-day records on three separate days, including crossing more than 6,000 cases per day on two of those days. Just a month ago, cases were under 3,000 per day.

In Rowan County, meanwhile, case counts have also broken records for daily increases and topped 100 four times in the previous week. The last daily increase lower than 50 was the day before Thanksgiving.

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said the state has not yet seen the full impact of spread that likely occurred during Thanksgiving gatherings.

Cohen said positive tests late last week were people who were already infected. Tests are now coming back from people who were exposed at those gatherings. Cohen said she expects numbers to increase further in the coming weeks.

People in critical or significant spread counties should limit going out and avoid contact with people they don’t live with. Health officials also ask North Carolinians to stay physically distant from others when they must go out, wash their hands regularly and wear a mask or face covering. Cohen on Tuesday said that people should avoid traveling and gathering with others for Christmas.

“Your actions can save lives,” Cohen said.

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