Waldrum Stacy

Mike Walrum and Mark Stacy

Two more people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Pitt County as the number of cases continues to grow across the state, prompting local health care leaders to recommend that everyone shelter in place.

Pitt County reported the new cases on its coronavirus web page Sunday afternoon with no details. Officials said last week they would release information about new cases only during Tuesday and Thursday afternoon news conferences, although Public Health Director John Silvernail is scheduled to speak at a 6 p.m. meeting of the county Board of Commissioners today.

The new cases bring the county total to four, with the first cases of the virus being reported on Thursday and Friday. Statewide, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ 11 a.m. update reported 255 confirmed cases on Sunday, up 71 from Saturday. The numbers do not reflect more recent confirmations, which reportedly have climbed past 300.

“This pandemic has turned into a wave that is rolling across our country, hitting our state and threatening eastern North Carolina,” Vidant Health CEO Michael Waldrum and Brody School of Medicine Dean Mark Stacy wrote in an op ed released Sunday night. “The data are clear: it has started to impact our region and the problem continues to grow.”

Stacy and Waldrum urged residents to practice social distancing, stay home as much as possible and take other measures to help slow the spread of the virus so health care providers could respond to it more successfully. They said state and local officials should issue shelter-in-place directives.

“We are calling on local officials throughout eastern North Carolina and the state to take more decisive action in response to this crisis to include making the bold and right decision to ask North Carolinians to shelter in place,” their commentary said. “This means staying close to home as much as possible and only going out if absolutely necessary, such as buying groceries or picking up medications. This is the right thing to do to save lives and is the right thing for our long-term economic interests. Community members must encourage the political bodies to be decisive, take action now and then support them.”

Officials in Wake County, where more than 50 cases have been confirmed, moved in that direction on Sunday, the Associated Press reported, announcing strict prohibitions on gatherings and movement.

Officials said all hair and nail salons, spas, gyms and fitness centers and tattoo parlors must close. Assemblies of 50 or more people must be canceled, although the ban doesn’t apply to retailers such as grocery and hardware stores and banks, as well as hospitals.

“This is a challenging time, and it requires us to make difficult decisions to keep Wake County residents safe,” Wake commissioner Chairman Greg Ford said in a release about the order, which lasts until April 30. Mecklenburg County, the state’s largest county, already has its own supplemental restrictions. The state counted 66 positive cases in Mecklenburg.

While Gov. Roy Cooper’s current executive order makes gatherings of more than 100 people a criminal violation, state health officials have urged residents to comply with lower thresholds. Cooper also has prohibited dining-in at restaurants and bars.

Playground equipment in public and private parks in Wake County can’t be used, according to the county’s emergency order, which also recommends retailers screen employees and customers for illness before they enter.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The number of completed tests in North Carolina at public and private labs, now over 6,400, has doubled since Friday. No virus-related deaths in the state have been reported.

Worldwide, more than 329,000 people have been infected and more than 14,600 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Sunday there have been 201 deaths in the U.S. with 15,219 cases.

Starting today, the city of Greenville has closed all playgrounds, shelters, and park restrooms. Greenways and green spaces remain open at this time, but officials continue to stress appropriate social distancing.

Pitt County Schools will enter its second week of forced closure as educators prepare to deliver courses remotely using the internet and other means. The schools system is continuing its effort to deliver and distribute breakfast and lunch to students who normally would eat at school.

East Carolina University and Pitt Community College are scheduled to resume classes via alternative methods today. The institutions reported they were contacting students on an individual basis with instructions.

ECU is largely closed to students. Those who live in campus residence halls have until Wednesday to retrieve their belongings before May.

Contact Bobby Burns at baburns@reflector.com and 329.9572.