Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency in North Carolina on March 10 because of the new novel coronavirus, COVID-19. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the virus a pandemic.
North Carolina has 15 cases, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services as of March 13. There are no confirmed cases in Orange County, but cases have been confirmed in nearby Wake, Chatham and Durham counties. Fourteen of these cases that tested positive still need to be sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for confirmation.
The special coronavirus task force Cooper assembled last month has established the ability to test patients for the coronavirus in the North Carolina State Laboratory of Public health, which is housed under the NCDHHS.
Cooper explained in a statement on March 10 that he declared the state of emergency because it will help the government take necessary precautions and will allow for more supplies and funding to be provided to the state.
“It also increases the state public health department’s role in supporting local health departments, which have been tasked with monitoring quarantines, tracing exposure and administering testing,” the statement said.
On March 12, the NCDHHS released a press release outlining further mitigation measures for coronavirus. The press release said the measures are recommendations for the next 30 days:
- If a person suspects they have coronavirus, they should call their health care provider and tell them the symptoms they are experiencing and any travel they have taken recently.
- High-risk individuals should stay home. Persons at high risk include people over the age of 65, those who have weakened immune systems, or those with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes.
- When possible, workplaces should hold larger meetings virtually, and employers should arrange the workspace to optimize the distance between employees, ideally at least six feet apart.
- Mass gatherings of 100 or more people should be canceled.
NCDHHS outlined measures citizens can take to reduce the risk of spreading the disease.
“At this time there are no approved treatments and no vaccine to prevent it. However, there are known methods to reduce and slow the spread of infection," the release said. "Individuals can practice everyday prevention measures like frequent hand washing, staying home when sick, and covering coughs and sneezes."
On a local level, while there are no confirmed cases in Orange County, both local school districts are transitioning to online learning, and local boards are canceling their meetings for the next week and in some cases, until the end of the month. The Chapel Hill Public Library will close on Friday, March 13, along with Parks and Recreation facilities and programs.
Starting Friday, all Orange County Recreation programs are postponed until March 27.
The Orange County Department of Health is in the process of planning what measures it would take if the disease were to spread to Orange County. Quintana Stewart, the county health director, said if the coronavirus were to spread to Orange County, the department would look at the number of cases before making any decisions.
Stewart said since options for getting tested for COVID-19 are still limited, it would make it harder for the county health department to get an accurate count of how many cases were in the county.
Stewart emphasized that if the coronavirus spread to Orange County, the health department would work with other organizations in the community to make the best decisions possible.
“We have a really robust network of partners who would respond to COVID-19 in our community, so we are all committed to working together to ensure the wellbeing and safety of the community," Stewart said. "If this becomes widespread in Orange County, we may have to do some social organizing to limit activity, but we will try to do so in a way that has as little negative impact as possible.”
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