Mecklenburg Health Director Gibbie Harris (QCity Metro screenshot)

Even as North Carolina moves toward allowing more businesses to reopen, Mecklenburg health officials are warning of a potential uptick in coronavirus (Covid-19) infections as summer gives way to fall and winter.

Mecklenburg Health Director Gibbie Harris said her office is uncertain what will happen as the state’s stay-at-home order is gradually lifted, adding that a “large majority” of county residents remain susceptible to the virus.

“As long as we have Covid-19 in our community, we’re going to see cases; we’re going to see people get infected,” Harris told reporters on Thursday. “It’s up to all of us to make sure we are protecting those who are most vulnerable.

The county’s warning came on the same day that a federal whistleblower told members of Congress that the United States could face “the darkest winter in modern history” if the virus rebounds.

Despite the risks, Harris said that a measured reopening of the economy is necessary, and she emphasized the need for residents to continue social distancing, including the use of protective masks when social distancing is not possible.

“We are social beings, and being able to get out and about a little bit is important, and being able to work is important,” she said. “So we’re trying to balance all those things together in a way that doesn’t threaten the health of our community any more than it has to.”

Phase 2 nears

Under a plan outlined by Gov. Roy Cooper, North Carolina will reopen under a three-phase process. Phase 2 is set to begin on May 22, allowing restaurants and bars to reopen their dining areas, but with reduced capacity. The state’s state-at home order also would be lifted.

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio said her office has been meeting with local business owners to develop health and sanitation guidelines specific to various industries. She said separate guidelines will be developed for houses of worship, which will be allowed to accommodate larger gatherings under the governor’s three-phase plan.

Even as restrictions are lifted, Diorio said she does not anticipate a swift return to pre-Covid economic conditions. 

“I don’t think you’re going to see on May 22 that we’re going to flip the switch and everything is going to reopen,” she said. “It’s going to take some time, so we have to wait and see.”

As of Thursday, Mecklenburg had seen a total of 2,342 coronavirus infections and 63 related deaths. Many of those infected by the virus have recovered and are no longer in isolation.

Harris said that local health networks, in the previous seven days, had tested nearly 10,000 people for coronavirus — about 76% of the county’s goal. Since the first infection was reported in March, more than 46,000 county residents have been tested.

Founder and publisher of Qcitymetro, Glenn has worked at newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Wall Street Journal and The Charlotte Observer.

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