RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Gov. Roy Cooper declared a State of Emergency for North Carolina as the state continues to uncover more cases of novel coronavirus, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Cooper said the state currently has seven presumptive positive cases--including six in Wake County--and more of those are expected in the coming days.
COVID-19 Cases Related to North Carolina:
According to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, a State of Emergency means government officials can take extra steps to protect residents, anti-price gouging laws will go into effect and additional funding may be offered to help officials respond to the situation.
"While we do expect more cases, we can limit the number of people who get sick," Cooper said in a news conference Tuesday.
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Timeline of 5 New Cases
According to a news release from Wake County, the five patients started showing COVID-19 symptoms between February 29 and March 3.
Officials said one of the five patients identified Monday voted early in the North Carolina Primary Election at Millbrook Exchange Community Center in Raleigh on Feb. 29. Wake County Public Health said officials are working with election officials to assess the risk of exposure at the polling place.
On March 4, one of the patients ate at Zest Cafe & Home Art on Six Forks Road in Raleigh.
Zest Cafe later issued a statement on its website:
We were informed today that on March 4 a person who was later confirmed to have coronavirus dined with us. We immediately closed and are busy cleaning and sanitizing every inch of our cafe and shop. In addition, we have a professional cleaning company coming out to deep clean and disinfect the premise. At this time we have no further information or details, but are in contact with (appropriate) state and local officials. We promise to remain transparent and greatly appreciate our wonderful customers and community support.
Many went to work at the Biogen offices in Research Triangle Park while showing symptoms between March 2 and March 5.
Additionally, several of the patients traveled between Raleigh-Durham Airport and Boston Logan International Airport between March 2 and March 6. Anyone on a flight determined to be at risk will be contacted by a public health official.
Health officials believe there is little risk to anyone who came into contact with the patients at any other locations.
North Carolina's State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo-Tilson said officials have tested a total of 44 people as of 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, with another 45 people waiting to be tested at the state lab.
However, the number of testing kits in North Carolina is limited due to a nationwide test kit shortage due to a defective chemical included in testing kits. Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen said the chemical is currently on back-order through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but private lab companies like LabCorp are able to provide state health officials with some supplies.
Currently, health officials have 300 coronavirus test kits for the state. However, pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said officials may get up to 1,500 additional tests next week from private laboratory companies.
"The more productive way forward for us in the state is that we are actually bringing up a second testing methodology," Cohen said. "We're waiting for the FDA to give us final approval on that but we want to be ready to go as soon as that's approved. I think that is a way we can get around the supply issue because that other testing mechanism does not have us rely on this original supply."
"I ask all North Carolinians to take this seriously," Cooper said.
During Tuesday's news conference, Cohen said residents in high-risk groups--including people over 65 years old and those with underlying health conditions--should avoid large gatherings, including sporting events and concerts. In addition, Cohen said assisted living facilities, retirement communities and and facilities that care for children with health conditions should restrict visitors.
In addition, Cohen said the health department is making additional recommendations for Wake County residents.
"Employers and employees in the Triangle should use teleworking technologies to the greatest extent possible," Cohen said.
She also encouraged residents to stay home when sick, and employers to stagger start and end times for workers to discourage large numbers of people from coming together at one time.
Cohen also recommended that organizers of large gatherings in Wake County should consider canceling or postponing events that might appeal to high risk groups. This recommendation reverses a previous statement from officials that encouraged organizers not to postpone events in the wake of the outbreak.
However the state is not requiring the cancellation of anything.
"People have to make their own decisions about that and remember that these recommendations are evolving," Cooper said. "We're making no recommendations about cancelling anything. We're just talking to the public at large, the steps that we want to take at a mass gathering that you may have--having hand santitizer, making sure that you try to separate people as much as you possibly can. But no we're not making any recommendations about cancelling."
Schools and Children
A State of Emergency does not mean that schools or government offices are automatically closed, however, some schools may have their own policies about closing during a State of Emergency.
Cohen said health officials are not recommending that schools close preemptively. However, she said some schools may need to close for a public health investigation or for cleaning after an exposure.
Trinity Academy of Raleigh closed Tuesday after a parent tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Classes will resume Wednesday
Thales Academy Raleigh said a parent tested positive for the virus, but classes will continue as scheduled after the building is thoroughly sanitized Tuesday night.
Health officials said children are not in a high risk group for COVID-19 symptoms.
Will warmer temperatures help?
Many people have asked if the warmer temperatures associated with spring and summer will help slow the spread of COVID-19. North Carolina's State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo-Tilson said the answer to that question is unknown.
"There is the flu and cold season--it is a real thing, because most viruses survive better when the air is cool and dry and there is less sunlight...It's hard to know if that will effect the spread of the novel coronavirus. We don't know yet. We hope that maybe it's the warmer and more humid air that allows it to circulate less easily. Maybe that will help decrease the spread of the novel coronavirus. We don't know yet. We're hoping, but we don't know yet. The other piece is with the novel coronavirus--unlike the other circulating viruses--nobody has an underlying immunity to it."
ABC News confirmed Tuesday that more than 70 cases across the country have been linked to a Biogen conference in Boston. North Carolina reported two earlier, unrelated cases: one in Wake County and another in Chatham County.
Cohen said the spread of accurate information is important as the outbreak continues.
"I'm worried about the misinformation spreading across social media," Cohen said. "It's harmful."
COVID-19 has infected more than 100,000 people around the world, including nearly 500 in the United States.
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