The coronavirus pandemic continued its rapid spread across North Carolina on Thursday, shooting up by more than 300 cases and topping 5,600 statewide.
But leaders at two of the Triangle’s largest hospitals say that while they don’t think the coronavirus outbreak has crested in the region, they are confident they have the beds, equipment and staffing to handle the peak when it arrives.
Janet Hadar, president of UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, and Ernie Bovio, president of UNC Rex Healthcare in Raleigh, said on Thursday that they don’t know when hospitals will see the full surge of COVID-19 patients. The oft-cited University of Washington model says North Carolina is experiencing the worst of it now, but other models, including ones done for the state Department of Health and Human Services, suggest the peak won’t come until mid to late May.
“There’s so many different models out there that have peaks at different times in the next few weeks,” Bovio said. “We’re prepared for it but not sure when it’s going to be here.”
NC DHHS reported 5,465 confirmed cases of COVID-19, up 342 from Wednesday’s total. The state’s tally showed a brief dip Wednesday, adding only 99 cases, but quickly resumed its triple-digit growth.
The state reported 14 new deaths from the epidemic, bringing the total to 131. Of the people infected, 452 remain hospitalized, up 21 from Wednesday.
The News & Observer is keeping a separate tally based on reports from the state and county health departments, which is higher than the DHHS count because that one is only updated once daily. As of Thursday the N&O total was 5,630 cases and 150 deaths.
The updated totals arrived as Wake County announced it would extend its stay-home order until the end of April.
Under the new guidelines, Wake businesses can open if they offer curbside pickup or delivery, and churches can offer drive-up services. The county’s order is also more strict than the state order when it comes to gatherings; the state allows gatherings of 10 or fewer, but the Wake order limits gatherings to those in a household.
Wake also announced its first death from COVID-19 on Wednesday, an 81-year-old man, and two more deaths on Thursday. No information on the two latest deaths was immediately provided by county officials.
The pandemic has now spread to 93 of North Carolina’s 100 counties.
SEASONAL FARMWORKER TESTS POSITIVE
The first presumptive positive case of coronavirus in a seasonal agricultural farmworker was confirmed by a health clinic in Dunn on Thursday. The date of the diagnosis, first reported by NC Policy Watch and Enlace Latino NC, was not provided.
The patient, a male Latino immigrant farmworker with an H-2A visa, is currently in isolation in farmer-provided housing, CommWell Health told The News & Observer. The farmworker, according to the clinic’s statement, is already “on the road to recovery” to start work again soon.
The state remains under Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order limiting crowd size to 10 and shutting all but essential businesses. Cooper said Wednesday the state could consider easing those restrictions at the end of April if testing and tracking improve and when the state shows a declining trend in case and death numbers.
“A new normal can get us back to work, back to school, and back to play, but in a new way for a while,” Cooper said in a tweet. “Experts tell us it would be dangerous to lift our restrictions all at once.”
But some counties are pushing for the chance to make their own decisions, and a group calling itself Reopen NC has rallied to let businesses operate and avoid economic collapse statewide.
On Thursday, Gov. Cooper joined other governors on a call with President Donald Trump, in which the president shared guidelines for the re-opening of states.
“Yesterday I laid out what’s required for North Carolina’s path to gradual re-opening, and it’s good the White House has shared similar guidance, but we still need the federal government to help with testing and personal protective equipment.” Cooper said in an email statement to The News & Observer. “We will continue working with our federal and local partners to beat this virus, protect people’s health and recover our economy.”
NC SCHOOLS TO GET FEDERAL MONEY
North Carolina’s public schools could get at least $389 million from the federal government to help them deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The $2 trillion federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes money that can be used to help K-12 schools deal with challenges such as feeding and educating students while schools are closed. North Carolina education leaders said Thursday that the state’s share of the money is welcomed but likely less than what the needs will be.
HOSPITAL AND ART FUNDRAISERS IMPACTED
More major local events are being canceled or postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Rex Hospital Open golf tournament, UNC Rex Healthcare’s largest fundraiser of the year, has been canceled for the year.
The cancellation comes as the PGA Tour has been forced to adjust its schedule and as UNC Rex staff members (who joined the 400 volunteers needed to run the event each year) are now needed to deal with the pandemic.
The Rex Hospital Open had been scheduled for May 28-31 at The Country Club at Wakefield Plantation.
Also announced Wednesday is the postponement of Artsplosure, the namesake festival of the Raleigh Arts Festival.
The group announced in a news release that the 41st Artsplosure festival, originally scheduled for May 16-17 in downtown Raleigh, has been postponed to October 10-11, 2020.
A CHICKEN RUN AT THE FARMERS MARKET
A massive chicken sale caused a traffic jam at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh on Thursday, backing up cars along Lake Wheeler Road to the ramps of Interstate 40.
The Eastern North Carolina chicken farm House of Raeford brought a refrigerated truck full of chicken to the farmers market, selling boneless breasts and thighs and chicken wings in bulk. The minimum order is 40 pounds.
The demand for chicken at the moment is heightened by shortages in many grocery stores, as stores and stressed supply chains struggle to meet consumer demand. The chicken was available for curbside pickup, a safer shopping method gaining popularity during the coronavirus pandemic.
The farm promoted the chicken sale on Facebook, drawing lines of cars to the farmers market and disrupting the business of other vendors, including Raleigh seafood company, Locals Seafood.
The Raleigh sale is the first in a tour of chicken sales planned by Raeford, including stops in Eastern North Carolina and South Carolina.
RDU REPORTS ON MARCH TRAFFIC
RDU Airport reported its traffic fell by 52 percent in March compared to the total from the same month in 2019. In 2020 overall, passengers are traveling at roughly 96 percent below 2019 levels.
“The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on passenger traffic has reduced revenue for airports to levels that are unprecedented and unsustainable,” said Michael J. Landguth, president & CEO of the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority. “RDU continues to identify cost savings to help the airport remain financially stable.”
Airlines have scaled back flights for June but their summer and fall schedules remain mostly untouched.
The Trump administration announced grants earlier this week to help make up for the loss of revenue at the nation’s airports. Charlotte Douglas International Airport will receive the largest amount, more than $135.5 million, followed by Raleigh-Durham International Airport with $49.6 million. Altogether, 72 airports in the state will receive some federal assistance.