RALEIGH (WTVD) -- North Carolina's governor and top health official issued their most pointed warnings on Wednesday as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continued to surge to levels not seen before during the pandemic.
At a news conference from the Emergency Operations Center, Governor Roy Cooper extended his current modified Stay-at-Home order for at least three weeks.
WATCH THE OPENING OF THE NEWS CONFERENCE:
Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen also encouraged North Carolinians to stay at home unless it's absolutely necessary to leave.
The Stay-at-Home restrictions, in place since Dec. 11, closes non-essential businesses like gyms, restaurants and retail at 10 p.m. nightly, and allow them to reopen at 5 a.m. The new restrictions also include moving the alcohol curfew to 9 p.m. -- two hours earlier than a previous curfew of 11 p.m.
Is there a lag in COVID-19 vaccinations in NC? NCDHHS' Dr. Mandy Cohen explains
In explaining the extension, Cooper praised hospitals for managing the crisis amid growing capacity issues, but warned if and when hospitals get stretched even more, a stricter Stay-At-Home order akin to earlier lockdowns could be put in place.
Echoing those warnings, Cohen for the first time issued her own order, a Secretarial Directive against leaving home for any reason other than work, school, exercise, health care needs or groceries.
"Simply put, don't go places indoors where people aren't wearing masks," Cooper said.
Though the directive doesn't have the force of law or enforcement, Cohen said she hopes this formal action reinforces the "Three Ws" and adds on admonitions consistent with the White House Coronavirus Task Force. That includes a warning that if people do gather with people outside of their household to "presume" you have the virus and get tested.
WATCH DR. COHEN'S REMARKS
The directive comes as the state reported 84 counties as red in the COVID-19 County Alert System released Wednesday, meaning most of the state has critical levels of viral spread.
"There is an alarming amount of virus everywhere in our state. We are in a very dangerous position," Cohen said. "Every single North Carolinian needs to take immediate action to save lives and protect themselves and each other."
Cooper and Cohen also gave updates on vaccination efforts, including the recent mobilization of the North Carolina National Guard.
On Wednesday, North Carolina saw another record high number of hospitalization with 3,893.
The percent of positive tests in the state also hit a record high of 17.8 percent.