With a decision looming next week on loosening stay-at-home restrictions, Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday that there are some encouraging signs in the state’s fight to halt the spread of Covid-19. But not every indicator is moving in the right direction yet. 

“North Carolinians have made tremendous sacrifices, and it is making a difference,” Cooper said in a news release. “We remain hopeful that the trends will be stable enough to move into Phase 1 next week.”

The number of Covid-19 cases increased this week, but two other important indicators — the number of tests conducted and the percentage of those that are positive — were encouraging. 

“We need to keep up the actions that will slow the spread of the virus. The good news is that we know we can do this,” said Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state department of health and human services.

Benchmarks and progress

Last week, N.C. officials laid out a three-phase plan to begin reopening the state after May 8, but positive trends toward several benchmarks must happen first.

  • A leveling of new cases: The total Thursday stood at 10,509, with 561 new cases. The number of deaths rose to 378. Hospitalizations have largely leveled off over 14 days but there has been a slight uptick in Covid-like illnesses.
  • Increase testing from 2,500-3,000 people per day to 5,000-7,000 people per day: North Carolina has surpassed 4,000 tests for the last 6 of 9 days with 6,000 tests reported Wednesday.
  • Hire 250 additional people to trace the social contacts of individuals infected with Covid-19: A new partnership with Community Care of North Carolina and the North Carolina Area Health Education Centers will double the state’s current contact tracing capabilities.
  • Have at least a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment for medical staff and front-line workers: The state has a 30-day supply of most personal protective equipment, except for gowns and N95 masks.

Cooper encouraged North Carolinians to stay the course and remain vigilant.

“We need everyone to continue following the stay-at-home order right now, so that we can move to the next phases of easing restrictions”, he said. “Complacency could risk lives and undo these plans.”

Three-phase plan

Phase I: The stay-at-home order would remain in place, but residents would be allowed more reasons to leave home. Social distancing and face masks still would be encouraged in public places. Mass gatherings still would be limited to 10 people or fewer. Nursing homes would continue operating under severe restrictions. And telework would be encouraged.

Phase II: The stay-at-home-order would be lifted a minimum of two to three weeks following Phase I. Residents with underlying health conditions would be encouraged to remain at home. Bars and restaurants would open, but with reduced capacity. The number of people allowed at mass gatherings would be increased.

Phase III: Four to six weeks after Phase II, capacity would be increased for bars, restaurants and churches. Strict rules would still apply to nursing homes and “congregate living facilities.”

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