State health director on why gyms shouldn't use loophole to reopen

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- As Gov, Roy Cooper announced a statewide face-covering requirement and an extension of the Phase 2 "Safer-at-Home" Executive Order, we asked Dr. Betsey Tilson, the state health director, a few questions about virus transmission, hospital capacity and some gyms and fitness centers are that reopening citing a legal loophole.

A partial transcript follows. Watch the video in the media player above for her full responses.

We shouldn't be surprised by Gov. Roy Cooper's order today, given the trends in recent weeks, right?

We've been trying to be really transparent about the trends that we've been following to really guide our decisions. And we have been saying our trends have been going in the wrong direction, so we really felt the best thing to do is to hold where we are and then put in extra activities to hopefully be able to change those dynamics. So, the mandate for the face covering, we felt like that was one of the best things that we could do to continue to try to decrease transmissions.

ALSO SEE: Tracking North Carolina COVID-19 cases

Are these consistently higher numbers in hospitalizations at all tied to hospitals welcoming back patients for elective procedures or other ailments?

From the beginning, we've been saying we need to slow the spread of the virus so that we don't overwhelm our healthcare system. Hospitalizations are a key metric, and right, we've seen them increase. When you think about the role of elective procedures, a lot of our health systems are doing "pre-screenings" ... so, it may be playing a small role, but I don't think it's playing the majority of the role.

Are hospitals still in good shape to manage their capacities before hitting a tipping point?

The trick with COVID-19 ... is it can accelerate really quickly and get away from you. So, right now, we are OK, we just want to be sure we're not in a place where we quickly don't become OK. And there is a chance of having to go back and delay the elective procedures, but of course we don't want to do that because people need those elective procedures.

What about gyms and fitness centers? Some are reopening with a loophole that allows them to operate if members have a medical purpose. How big a risk is it as far as community spread?

So, the exception to be able to use indoor gyms was really supposed to be an exception ... for people who really had a medical or healthcare directive to use a gym. So, say, someone who was maybe in rehab from an injury or physical therapy. So, it's meant to be an exception and the expectation is to be a small number of people using this exception and therefore not a big concern in terms of community transmission or spread. We do know that gyms and fitness are a high-risk activity, for that reason we've been slow and cautious in reopening them. We have people together, it's a indoor space, you have that increased aspiratory effort through exercise, a lot of people can't wear masks while exercising and so it is a higher-risk setting ... I do worry that people will take advantage of the loophole.

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