North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced on Monday tighter assembly and business restrictions in an attempt to dull the spread of the new coronavirus, including the extended shuttering of K-12 schools until mid-May.
Cooper said he would issue a new executive order that would make it a misdemeanor for assemblies of more than 50 people, compared to the current prohibition of over 100. The 50-person limit is in keeping with the guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cooper's order also will direct all hair salons and barber shops, gyms, movie theaters and similar businesses offering activities that run counter to social distancing to close by 5 p.m. Wednesday.
And public schools statewide will now remain closed for in-person instruction until May 15. He had already ordered closings of at least two weeks beginning March 16.
"I know that these actions cause hardship and heartache for a lot of people, but are necessary to save lives," Cooper said at a news conference. Cooper said he wasn't giving up yet on the public school year, and education officials are working on online instructional assistance.
Restaurants and bars can remain open, but only for delivery or take-out meals. Universities have shifted to online instruction.
State health officials counted as of Monday morning nearly 300 positive COVID-19 cases, an increase of over 40 compared to Sunday. No deaths have been reported. Mecklenburg, Wake and Durham cases are over half of the total. Sunrise of Raleigh, an assisted living center, announced COVID-19 has been found there but provided no further details in a news release. A case was reported at a senior living community in Cary last week.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. But for older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
In the effort to ensure children in low-income families have enough to eat during the closures, the state's 115 school districts, helped by food banks, churches and volunteers, had served 1.2 million meals and 6,500 snacks through Sunday, Cooper's office said.
State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis said there's now a statewide daily capacity to distribute 571,000 meals. The board agreed earlier Monday to seek an exception to federal K-12 testing and accountability requirements this year. President Donald Trump's administration announced last week that states could ask for a waiver to cancel the federally mandated school testing.
Davis said he was talking with state legislative leaders about how to eliminate public school accountability mandates specific to North Carolina. The legislature convenes in late April.
Limits on commerce, including the prohibition on dining in at eateries and bars, has led to a massive number of unemployment claims in North Carolina. More than 83,000 claims had been filed as between March 16 and Saturday morning in North Carolina, of which 85% were related to COVID-19 displacement, the Division of Employment Security said.
While state and local movement restrictions haven't halted outdoor exercising for individuals, access to dedicated places to recreate continue to diminish.
A half-dozen state parks are now completely closed, including Hanging Rock in Stokes County and Crowders Mountain west of Charlotte. Campgrounds in all North Carolina national forests closed on Monday though at least mid-May.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the North Carolina-Tennessee border shut down campgrounds, picnic areas and restrooms through the end of April.
Pitt County implementing new restrictions
Just as Cooper was announcing the state's new restrictions, Pitt County government released a similar set of restrictions that will go in effect at 5 p.m. today in unincorporated areas of Pitt County.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin McLawhorn signed a state of emergency declaration to put the new restrictions in place.
The declaration includes requirements for some types of businesses to close, prohibits gatherings of 50 people or more and restricts the use of playground equipment at parks while maintaining access to open-air spaces and greenways.
These restrictions are set to last for approximately two weeks, at which time a re-evaluation will take place.
Full restrictions of the new declaration include closing fitness clubs, gyms, hair and nail salons, barbershops, spas, tanning, massage, and tattoo salons and other professional grooming services. Mass gatherings of 50 or more people, including both staff and patrons, also are canceled.
It does not include organizations that provide critical services like hospitals, day cares, government operations, financial institutions; or retailers of essential goods like grocery stores, pharmacies, pet stores and hardware stores.
It also does not include businesses located within the city limits of the county's 10 municipalities. Those entities must adopt their own states of emergency.
“These proactive steps are being made in an effort to minimize the need for more elevated response measures, such as a full ‘stay-at-home’ order as seen in other areas of the nation," Pitt County Manager Scott Elliott said. "With the cooperation of our municipal partners, community agencies, businesses, and our friends and neighbors, together we can achieve the goals of limiting the spread of COVID-19, and ensuring the sustained services for our community.”
Pitt County health director urges people to stay home
Pitt County’s public health director is urging people to stay home after announcing the county had 6 COVID-19 cases as of Monday.
Dr. John Silvernail released a letter to the public urging them to only leave home to attend essential work, purchase food, medicine and other crucial items or to exercise.
“Although these cases are all associated with travel, I am certain that community transmission is likely and additional Pitt County cases will be identified,” Silvernail said. “If individuals will take staying home seriously and continue to do a great job of practicing social distancing when it is absolutely necessary to leave home, the impact of this virus will be lessened.”
People who are sick should call their healthcare provider for guidance, Silvernail said.
People who mild symptoms should rest, eat well, wash and sanitize their hands often, and stay home. People caring for sick individuals should follow the same recommendations. “Leaving home, unless directed to visit a healthcare provider, is not a good idea as it exposes other high-risk individuals.,” Silvernail said. “It also exposes healthcare providers, who need to stay well to care for those who are seriously ill.”
Silvernail said people should exercise because it is a stress reliever but should avoid community areas such as gyms.
“Residents can utilize the numerous trails and green spaces within Pitt County, but should continue to practice social distancing, keeping at least six feet between themselves and others,” he said.
The City of Greenville on Sunday announced that starting Monday it was closing playgrounds and shelters but is keeping park green spaces and greenways home for now.
Silvernail said people should be wary of information circulating throughout social media because much of it is inaccurate.
People should seek guidance from reliable sources such as the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There are links to those sites through Pitt County’s Coronavirus Information Page: www.PittCountyNC.gov/Coronavirus.