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Governor Roy Cooper today signed a stay at home order for the entire state.

Enforcement of the order begins at 5 p.m. Monday. “But we urge you to start as soon as you possibly can,” the governor said during a livestream of the latest order concerning COVID-19. “It’s what we have to do to save lives. It has the force of law.”

The order directs North Carolinians to stay at home unless they have to leave for essentials such as jobs, food, medicine, outdoor exercise or to help someone.

Cooper said the executive order bans gatherings of more than 10 people and directs everyone to stay at least 6 feet away from each other. “This is known as social distancing … But it’s really physical distancing.”

(PDFs of the order and FAQ may found by clicking the respective links)

The order does allow essential services to continue, the governor said, and directs those businesses that need to remain open to use a strong social distancing policy. “These are tough directives but I need you to take them seriously. Although we are physically apart, we must take these steps together in spirit. Even if you don’t think you have to worry about yourself, consider our nurses and hospital staff, doctors, people who will be stretched beyond their capacity if we’re unable to slow the spread of this disease. 

“Consider your families, consider your friends, people that you might infect if you’re carrying the virus. We need to keep them safe.”

Cooper said North Carolina is now considered by the CDC to have widespread transmission, which he said means “some people who tested positive don’t know how they got it. They didn’t travel anywhere, they weren’t in contact with a known positive person, but now they find themselves sick with the virus.”

Because no one is immune, because there is no vaccination, the governor said, “The best scientifically proven tool we have to slow the spread is keeping our physical distance and staying at home.”

Cooper said he realizes the order may lead to further hardships and heartache. “Many of you are already doing what you’re supposed to do even though it means that you are isolated or that you might have lost your job. That’s a difficult situation. So thank you for doing the right thing and I’ll do everything in my power to try and cushion the economic blow because I’ve made benefits easier to get with my executive order. we’ve had more than 200,000 unemployment claims filed with most of them citing this pandemic.”

The first COVID-19 unemployment benefits will be paid next week, he said, “And I am fighting for federal and state help for workers, their families and businesses. We will not forget those who have lost their livelihoods in this crisis.”

Cooper said despite the hardships, the state has to “act now in the safest, smartest way while we have the chance to save lives. It is truly a matter of life and death. Even with the uncertainty of these times and the new pace of our lifestyles, we know that the good part of our lives as North Carolinians will return. We fight this disease now so that we’re better able to defeat it in the future.”

Cohen comments

Mandy Cohen, state secretary of health and human services, said during the feed, “One only has to look around the world to see the devastating consequences of the virus.”

She said the data coming out of Italy and China is sobering. In Italy, 29 percent of people who tested positive had severe or critical illness. In China, it was 19 percent.

The early data from the United States, she said, “paints a similar concerning picture. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate between February 12 and March 16 somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of people who tested positive were hospitalized with 4 to 11 percent needing intensive care. “While these studies don’t give us the complete picture of the virus, they are certainly extremely worrisome. We are aggressively working to learn as much as possible about the virus across the country and here in North Carolina.”

No luxury of time

Cohen said, however, the state doesn’t have the luxury of time. “We must act quickly based on what we do know to slow the spread of the virus. If we do not act preemptively to slow the virus right now, many people will get sick at the same time which could overwhelm our medical system and compromise their ability to provide care.”

One of the ways to prevent the spread is for fewer people to get sick at the same time, Cohen said. “Our best weapon is social distancing. What we can do today will save lives in the weeks and months to come. The more social distancing actions we can take and stick to the more likely our healthcare system will be there for everyone who needs it. Your actions can save lives. Staying home saves lives.”

Underlying health issues

Cohen said those with underlying lung disease or uncontrolled chronic disease like diabetes or heart disease can increase the risk for severe symptoms from the virus. “If you have high blood pressure, work with your doctor to make sure it’s controlled now. If you have diabetes, make sure you’re managing your blood sugar now. If you were thinking about quitting smoking, there’s never been a better time. Do it now and, importantly, don’t vape.”

She said make sure you’re getting exercise and are eating healthy. “Let’s give ourselves and loved ones the extra care they need. Take a walk outside, give yourself a break from the news, check in with neighbors and friends and family by phone or by video and ask for help if you need it.”

State emergency management

Mike Sprayberry, state director of emergency management, said, there are 51 counties with their emergency operations centers activated. “I want to stress that businesses that are allowed to remain open under the executive order will not need to have any extra credentials or permits to continue operations. Businesses should review the executive order and FAQ document carefully to determine whether they may continue operations. In cases where the local order and state may differ, the more restrictive requirement will apply.”

Sprayberry said there is an expanded team at the state EOC which continues to work aggressively to locate and acquire needed personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and first responders including masks, gloves and gowns. “National Guardsmen are receiving inventory and shipping supplies out quickly after they arrive at our warehouses.”

The state is working to prepare for the surge of patients expected at hospitals. “We’re identifying facilities to serve as overflow for our hospitals and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is helping to prepare facilities.”  

Tillis statement 

In a statement this afternoon, Senator Thom Tillis said, “We are all in this together, and in order to protect the health of North Carolinians and get through this crisis as quickly as possible, we must all do our part to contain community spread over the next several weeks. 

“I’ve had discussions with Governor Cooper about the challenge of protecting both the physical and economic health of the state, and the governor made the difficult, but correct decision to issue a statewide stay-at-home order.”

Said Tillis: “I’m glad this order allows essential industries to continue their important work while also providing flexibility to North Carolina businesses that are able to practice social distancing and maintain a safe and healthy work environment to protect their employees and the general public.”