Tuesday in NC: Deaths pass 100; protesters seek order’s end

Published 4:19 am Thursday, April 16, 2020

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By GARY D. ROBERTSON, Associated Press

Deaths in North Carolina linked to COVID-19 have soared above 100, state officials said Tuesday, even as the increase in the number of positive cases may be slowing.

The Department of Health and Human Services reported 108 related deaths statewide, a more than 25% jump compared to Monday. The number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations also grew by a third to about 420. But the number of laboratory-confirmed cases since the outbreak began grew day-over-day by just 4% to a little over 5,000.

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State DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen spoke somberly of the milestone in deaths on Tuesday. She said while she didn’t see a peak in deaths and hospitalizations at this time, “it doesn’t mean I see a surge, either.”

But Cohen and Gov. Roy Cooper said this week that social-distancing directives, in particular the stay-at-home order starting March 30, have helped blunt the spread of the virus and prevented hospitals from being overrun. For example, Cohen said, the number of days that it takes to double the number of cases is increasing.

“That tells us that we’re slowing the rate of acceleration and it tells us that all the hard work we’re doing to stay at home is working,” Cohen told reporters Tuesday, adding she was “mildly optimistic.” For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, and the vast majority survive. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause pneumonia or death.

Restaurants and bars still are only allowed to offer drive-through or takeout. The current stay-at-home order, which directs non-essential businesses to shut down, expires April 29.

“The better we can do right now in these two weeks, the more we can stay at home, the more we can flatten this curve, the more we would be able to ease restrictions going into the month of May,” Cooper said on Monday.

That’s not soon enough for businesses that are shuttered or can only partially operate. Many are in need of cash infusions to keep paying their bills or displaced employees.

Around 100 people who want Cooper to ease or lift the stay-at-home order held a midday rally on Tuesday in a parking lot near the Executive Mansion and Legislative Building.

They dispersed after repeated warnings by Raleigh police that they were violating the order against mass assemblies. One woman who didn’t leave was led away by officers, her wrists bound by plastic ties. Many held placards with the word “#ReopenNC,” a reference to a Facebook group that counts about 29,000 online members. They say people vulnerable to the virus can be protected without shutting down the entire state economy.

“How is it that you can buy liquor and that’s considered essential, but petitioning your government is not?” asked Dennis Burgard of Jacksonville, a real estate company owner. Alcoholic Beverage Control stores can remain open under the stay-at-home order.

Cooper said on Monday that his administration was talking to both health officials and business leaders about how to reopen the economy without allowing the virus to surge.

Almost 580,000 initial unemployment benefit claims have been filed with the state in the last four weeks, with 87% of the people who filed listing COVID-19 as their reason, the Division of Employment Security says. About $101 million in federal and state benefits have been sent out since mid-March, the division said Tuesday.

A state House subcommittee looking at economic issues recommended Tuesday that the legislature give $25 million to the North Carolina Golden LEAF Foundation to extend its small-business loan program to aid struggling owners. Golden LEAF already is putting $15 million toward the initiative. Another measure would ensure that taxpayers aren’t charged interest on payments originally due April 15 but which have been pushed back to July.

The General Assembly convenes in two weeks, and lawmakers are working through a laundry list of funding requests and law changes in response to the global pandemic.