N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper said he is urging Congress to extend federal unemployment benefits and he urged North Carolinians to make their voices heard.

Gov. Roy Cooper stayed on message Tuesday with continued calls for North Carolinians to wear face coverings, while also announcing an initiative to distribute more than 900,000 masks and other supplies to farm workers in a bid to halt the spread of Covid-19.

“Agriculture is vital to our economy and our food supply, and it’s a tough job you can’t do from home,” Cooper said in a news conference. “We must keep food in our grocery stores and on our tables. To do that, we must help protect the farmers and their families from this virus.”

Cooper thanked retailers — large and small — for mandating face coverings in their stores and he had harsh words for those who refuse to comply.

“For those who continue to defy basic decency and common sense because they refuse to wear a mask — either wear one or don’t go in the store,” Cooper said. “The refusal to wear a mask is selfish. It infringes on the life and liberty of everyone else in the store.”

“Not only is wearing a mask the decent, neighborly thing to do, it’s the best way to boost our economy,” he said.

As of Tuesday, there were a total 102,861 confirmed cases with 1,815 new cases, 1,668 deaths and a record-high 1,179 hospitalizations.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state department of health and human services, said North Carolina’s Covid-19 numbers remain at “a simmer, not a boil” like the surges in some states, but she pointed to a record for new cases on Saturday — 2,481 — as proof that vigilance is still needed.

“We can and must avoid becoming the next Arizona or the next Florida. Flattening the curve and keeping it flat requires daily ongoing actions,” she said.

“There are three simple steps that everyone in North Carolina can take to reduce viral transmission  and ultimately get North Carolina back to work, back to school, support our local business, and reignite our economy,” Cohen said: face coverings, frequent hand-washing and social distancing.

Jobless benefits

Cooper also addressed the ending of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which provides an extra $600 a week to unemployed workers, and its impact on workers and the state economy.

“This program has been a lifeline for families and their communities, giving people the ability to pay their rent or utilities, to put food on the table, and to make ends meet,” Cooper said about the program that expires at the end of July.

Some workers can’t safely go back to their jobs and some don’t have jobs to go back to, he said. 

The extra federal benefits are especially important in North Carolina where jobless benefits were slashed to among the lowest in the nation by the legislature several years ago, Cooper said, and are only available for 12 weeks. 

Cooper said he is urging Congress to act quickly to extend these benefits and he urged North Carolinians to make their voices heard.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state department of health and human services

Testing backlog

Cohen said health officials are working on solutions to “relieve pressure on the testing infrastructure,” which has contributed to longer waiting times for test results, between five to seven days, and up to 10 days in Mecklenburg County.

In addition to finding more testing sites and identifying capacity in smaller testing labs, Cohen said they are also looking at other modalities of testing, such as antigen testing. Help from federal officials is needed for such efforts and for fixing problems with the supply chain of reagents used for testing, she said. 

Cohen also said new CDC guidelines for patients who are isolating at home with non-severe Covid-19 illness will help relieve some testing pressure. Per new “symptom-based” guidelines, a negative test after 10 days of self-isolation is no longer necessary if: 

  • it has been at least 24 hours since your last fever without the use of fever-reducing medications, and
  • there has been improvement in symptoms.

Mecklenburg County Covid-19 numbers

  • 17,800 confirmed cases, 177 deaths as of today
  • An average of 190 patients with Covid-19 were hospitalized over the past week ending July 19
  • An average of 10.9 percent of tests were positive over the past week ending July 19.

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