Special to Iredell Free News
Gov. Roy Cooper today on Wednesday charted a path forward for eventually easing certain COVID-19 restrictions while still protecting North Carolinians from a dangerous second wave of the virus.
“This virus is going to be with us until there is a vaccine, which may be a year or more away,” Cooper explained. “That means that as we ease restrictions, we are going to enter a new normal. We want to get back to work while at the same time preventing a spike that will overwhelm our hospitals with COVID-19 cases.”
Across North Carolina, there have been 5,123 laboratory-confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Some 117 deaths in the state have been attributed to COVID-19 and 431 people remain hospitalized across N.C.
In Iredell County, local health officials have reported 71 cases and two deaths.
Expert modeling has shown it would be dangerous to lift the restrictions all at once because it would increase the chances that hospitals become overwhelmed and unable to care for severely ill patients, according to N.C. public health officials.
Cooper emphasized that changes in restrictions must protect public health, especially those who are most vulnerable to severe illness, including people over age 65, those with underlying health conditions and people living in congregate settings.
“Experts tell us it would be dangerous to lift our restrictions all at once. Rather than an on/off light switch, we are viewing this as a dimmer switch that can be adjusted incrementally,” Cooper said.
In order to ease restrictions, the state needs to make more progress in three areas: testing, tracing and trends.
State planning relies on an increase in testing capabilities to identify, isolate and track new cases of COVID-19. This means having the supplies and lab capacity to do more testing across the state. Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, has brought together laboratory partners from the public and private sectors to coordinate efforts to ensure that testing – diagnostic and antibody — is widely available across the state while also conserving protective equipment.
Tracing requires the state to boost the public health workforce and the ability to trace contacts of new cases of COVID-19. Contact tracing can be effective at containing new outbreaks, but it requires more personnel. When a person tests positive, the tracing efforts will help identify who that individual may have been in contact with so those people can get tested and take the right precautions. NC DHHS is working with its partners to increase this critical piece of our public health workforce. New digital tools can also help scale this effort.
In order to ease restrictions, the state needs to understand how COVID-19 is impacting the state and impacting specific populations and regions of the state to determine when to strengthen or ease social-distancing policies. Trends that will influence policy decisions will be based on data like the new positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths, as well as available supply of personal protective equipment, hospital capacity.
“Because we acted early and because we acted together, we have averted the devastating scenarios we have seen playing out in other parts of our country and across the globe. We now need to look ahead at how we stay ahead of the curve. Widespread testing, aggressive contact tracing, and data-informed policy decisions are our best tools to keep our communities safe and protect our frontline workers,” said NCDHSS Secretary Cohen.