Jun 24, 2020

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper Press Conference Transcript June 24

NC Governor Roy Cooper Press Conference June 24
RevBlogTranscriptsCOVID-19 Briefing & Press Conference TranscriptsNorth Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper Press Conference Transcript June 24

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper held a press conference on coronavirus on June 24. Cooper is keeping NC in Phase 2 reopening until July 17, and requiring face coverings/face masks.


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Roy Cooper: (00:09)
Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining today’s update on COVID-19 in North Carolina. As of today, we have 1,721 new cases reported and 906 people in the hospital. And today is the second highest day in both of those categories since the pandemic started. We also have 1,271 people who have died, and we continue to pray for those we’ve lost and their families. North Carolina has been careful in lifting COVID-19 restrictions, and it’s because public health experts warn that removing restrictions too fast or all at once can cause a dangerous spike in the virus that would overwhelm our medical system. That would not only harm people with COVID-19, but also those needing treatment for other conditions. Our cautious approach here is like the dimmer switch rather than the on-off switch.

Roy Cooper: (01:14)
Over the past weeks and months, even as we’ve slowly turned the dimmer switch up and eased restrictions, we’ve seen community spread of the virus increase in North Carolina. Daily case counts have gone up. The percent of tests returning positive has stayed high. Since May 19th, the number of people hospitalized is increased 56% from being in the 500s to now over 900 in just a little over a month. Doctors and healthcare experts have warned that hospital capacity can be overwhelmed in the blink of an eye. And once we see that capacity is gone, it can be too late to reverse the tide.

Roy Cooper: (01:59)
Testifying before Congress yesterday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that North Carolina could see an “insidious increase in community spread, which will be much more difficult to contain as community spread amplifies itself.” He cautioned that leaders in our state have to act to blunt the surge of cases. He also testified that the next couple of weeks are critical for our country and the fight against COVID-19. Before we talk about today’s actions, I’ll ask Dr. Mandy Cohen, our Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, to walk us through the same data that has been driving our decision-making in this pandemic. Dr. Cohen.

Mandy Cohen: (02:52)
Thank you, Governor, and thank you for your ongoing leadership and for the decisive actions that you continue to take to help protect North Carolinians during this pandemic. I’ll now walk us through our latest trends. As a reminder, we look at a combination of trends that guide our decision-making. They include COVID-like syndromic cases, lab-confirmed cases, positive tests as a percentage of total tests, and hospitalizations. These were chosen based on public health data and White House guidance. And remember, we cannot look at any one of these metrics in isolation. We really need to see them as a whole package when making decisions. And remember, each of these data points has its own limitations.

Mandy Cohen: (03:37)
In our first graph, we look at people who come to the emergency department with what’s called COVID-like symptoms. This metric serves as an early warning indication mechanism for us. Looking at the yellow line, you can see there has been an increase in this metric over the past few weeks. This upward trend is concerning. Now, moving on to laboratory-confirmed tests. Again, as you look at the yellow line, you’ll see that the seven-day average shows that last week started to level, and that’s some good news.

Mandy Cohen: (04:13)
However, this trend has continued to be elevated through most of our Phase 2 opening. And today, we saw the second highest number of cases at 1,721. We really want to see this trend stabilize. Now, this next graph shows the exact same data that we were just seeing, the lab confirmed cases, but now we’re zooming in for a closer look. This graph, again, shows data since May 15th and not all the way back to March, so you can see it in more detail. Looking at the yellow line, again, shows that slight leveling in the last week, but today, also shows that second highest day of new cases today.

Mandy Cohen: (04:57)
Moving on now to the percent of tests that are positive. This metric provides important context to our number of cases. I want to draw your attention to the yellow line, and what you can see is that the percent of total tests that are positive continues to be elevated. Unfortunately, we would like to see those numbers be closer to 5%. This metric helps us understand that our increase in cases is not just due to more testing. It indicates that the virus is still very prevalent in our state. On this next metric is day over day hospitalizations, and the yellow line shows that North Carolina’s trajectory of hospitalizations is rising, as the governor said. Yesterday was our highest day of hospitalizations with 915 people in the hospital. Now, our hospitals still have capacity to meet increased demands if more people become seriously ill, which is good. But the fact that this metric has continued to climb for more than a month is concerning.

Mandy Cohen: (06:05)
We would like to see this at least level or certainly decline. If this upward trend continues or worse, accelerates, we could face capacity challenge within our healthcare system. Okay. So, here’s where we are. Surveillance data shows an upward trend. That gets a red X. North Carolina’s trajectory of lab-confirmed cases is starting to level, but it’s still climbing. It gets a red X. North Carolina’s trajectory in positive tests returning positive remains elevated, and it’s much higher than we would like to see. So, this gets a yellow line. North Carolina’s trajectory of hospitalizations is rising, though we still have capacity in our healthcare system, so this trend gets a yellow line. As far as our capacities that are critical to allow us to respond to this pandemic, here, we continue to see positive trends. Testing has an upward arrow. We’re averaging more than 17,000 tests per day now for the past week. And we have more than 500 sites listed on our websites, plus additional testing popup sites.

Mandy Cohen: (07:11)
However, North Carolina labs and labs around the country are starting to see supply shortages again for laboratory chemicals called reagents, a key component needed to process tests. We need the suppliers and the federal government to work with us to resolve these issues. This is a concern. There are over 1,500 full-time and part-time staff supporting our contact tracing efforts, and our PPE supplies are stable. We have enough critical supplies on hand to fill requests for at least the next 30 days.

Mandy Cohen: (07:47)
So, these concerning trends remind us that if left unchecked, the virus will continue to spread. But we have the power to get these trends moving back in the right direction, but we need your help. Wearing a face covering in public settings is a simple but powerful action to slow the spread of this virus. The scientific evidence is compelling. However, face coverings only fully work when we all do it. If each person commits to wearing a face covering, we can stabilize our COVID-19 trends. We all have a role to play, and it starts with the three W’s. If each of us commits to these simple actions, we can fight back against this virus. We can protect our families, our friends, and our neighbors, and get back to the people and the places we love. Thank you, Governor.

Roy Cooper: (08:45)
Thank you, Dr. Cohen. The numbers we see are a stark warning, and we must pay attention. I’m concerned. As we’ve watched, and studied, and deselected these numbers in recent weeks, that concern has grown. Since the beginning of this pandemic, I’ve been clear that data and science would lead the way. In following that standard, it’s clear that our numbers will keep us from moving ahead into the next phase of easing restrictions. So today, I’m announcing that North Carolina will pause and continue our Safer at Home Phase 2 for another three weeks. This is not where we planned to be or wanted to be, but it is one of two important decisions that we need to make to effectively fight this disease. The other important decision is requiring face coverings when people are out in public. People must wear a face covering when in public places, indoors or outdoors, where physical distancing of six feet from other people, who are not members of the same household or residence, is not possible.

Roy Cooper: (09:59)
They will be required for all employees and customers of retail, businesses and restaurants, as well as workers in manufacturing, construction, meat processing, and agriculture settings. There are exceptions, including people with medical conditions and children under 11, people who are at home, and people who are walking and otherwise exercising outside when not within six feet of others.

Roy Cooper: (10:27)
Overwhelming evidence that is growing by the week shows that wearing a face covering can greatly reduce the spread of COVID-19, especially from people who have it and don’t know it yet. Face coverings are a simple way to control this virus while protecting ourselves, our families, and the other people around us. One important point here. Required face coverings not only cause zero harm to our economy, they in fact help our economy by making it safer to shop, do business, and keep our small businesses running. We’re adding this new requirement because we don’t want to go backward. We want to stabilize our numbers so we can continue to safely ease restrictions, and most importantly, get our children back in school.

Roy Cooper: (11:21)
I urge everyone to be a leader in wearing face coverings. I encourage businesses to be strong in enforcing it. Slowing the spread helps our economy, and these face coverings do that. And as we watch the trends during this pause, we hope to be able to ease restrictions on playgrounds, museums, and gyms on July the 17th, three weeks from Friday when this order expires. Now, I know this virus has been very difficult for business owners still under restrictions who are anxious to open their doors. We want them to open safely. The safety and health of our people is the top priority as we navigate this unprecedented challenge.

Roy Cooper: (12:12)
Already, North Carolinians have come together to get us through this, supporting healthcare workers, small business owners, frontline workers, reaching out to those most in need of a helping hand, looking out for our neighbors who may be having a hard time right now. This virus has changed our day-to-day lives, but it won’t change who we are. Today, I’m pleased to be joined by Dennis Taylor, the President of the North Carolina Nurses Association and Gene Woods, President and CEO of Atrium Health. I’d like to introduce Dennis Taylor to say a few words for us. Mr. Taylor?

Dennis Taylor: (13:02)
Thank you, Governor Cooper.

Dennis: (13:03)
Thank you, Governor Cooper and Secretary Cohen for the opportunity to be here and to represent the most trusted profession in the United States, the over 141,000 registered nurses that serve the citizens of our great state. We all crave to return to normalcy, but due to COVID-19, we’re living in and experiencing a time that is unprecedented in modern history. Our lives have changed from the fear of contracting the virus to the fear of supply chain shortages, to the fear of economic survivorship, life for all of us is more stressful and complex and nurses are no exception. We applaud the governor and the secretary for keeping the best interests of the health and welfare of our citizens at the very top of their priority list.

Dennis: (14:02)
As a frontline advanced practice nurse and someone representing other frontline nurses, I feel the emotional and welfare concerns of my patients, their families, and our nurses and their families. The COVID-19 virus is still here and very active. As many North Carolinians have increased activity in recent weeks, our jobs as nurses have been getting even harder as the number of cases in hospitals and clinics have continued to climb. The North Carolina Nurses Association endorses and fully supports the wearing of face coverings, social distancing, and frequent hand hygiene. We support these methods because they are scientifically proven and evidence-based. Nurses know these strategies will slow the spread of the virus. Please trust this advice. It’s not political. It’s not an exaggeration. Even if you are in the low risk category, in fact, especially if you are in the low risk category, everyone, please heed our warning. Wearing a face covering is an easy thing to do that can make a huge impact for all of us. You may feel confident that you will survive coronavirus, but the mask is to protect others you come in contact with and they might not be so lucky. A major spike in cases would be catastrophic to our healthcare system. And without your cooperation, nurses and fellow healthcare providers will have a harder time caring for sick patients for weeks and months to come.

Dennis: (16:12)
We strongly encourage our citizens to avoid gatherings of large crowds, but when that’s not a possibility, help your fellow North Carolinians and help nurses like me by practicing social distancing, wearing a face mask, and providing frequent hand hygiene.

Roy Cooper: (16:40)
Thank you, Dennis, very much. And thanks to all of the nurses across our state. You are our heroes every day. What you’ve been doing right now is above and beyond and we’re grateful to have you on the front lines. I’ll now recognize Gene Woods. Gene.

Gene Woods: (17:03)
Well, thank you governor for inviting me to join you here today, and I’m grateful for your leadership and that of Dr. Cohens during this public health emergency. Now, I know it’s a time of extraordinary challenge for all of us, but I believe stronger that by working together, there is nothing that North Carolinians can’t do. Let me just say why I’m here. I’m not a politician in any way, shape, or form, but I have such deep respect for the tremendous responsibility that comes with public service at this time no matter what side of the aisle that you’re on. Now, we do know that the virus respects no geographical or political lines, and it’s my hope that our elected leaders across this great state can come together to keep North Carolinians safe and also to return our state to economic health.

Gene Woods: (17:52)
Now, I’m here on behalf of 70,000 teammates at Atrium Health that I am privileged to serve with each and every day. And I want to shine a special light on our frontline healthcare workers throughout the state who are asking the community to take all necessary precautions, to stay safe so our healthcare workers can stay safe, and so they in turn can keep their own families safe. I’m also here as someone who’s walked the halls with our extraordinary doctors, our nurses, our respiratory therapists, our environmental service workers, our security officers, all of those to whom you entrust your care when you need it most.

Gene Woods: (18:34)
In fact, I have walked the halls of our specialized COVID units, where you can see firsthand the ravaging effects of this disease. And these are experiences that I will never forget. From the very beginning of this pandemic, the Atrium Health mission to care for all has never shined brighter, from working directly with churches and communities, leaders in minority neighborhoods, to our most rural outposts. We have provided COVID testing and treatment, whether in people’s homes or in the hospital. And together with healthcare systems throughout the entire state, we have been there 24/7 saving lives, keeping people safe, and helping families to get through this.

Gene Woods: (19:21)
And I’ve been so inspired by how healthcare workers have answered the call of duty and served with such incredible courage during these times. Let me just say how privileged I feel to serve truly with truly amazing people all of whom those of you watching this right now would be equally proud to call your neighbors and your friends. So I’m here on their behalf. What our healthcare workers are requesting of all of us is that we follow the science, and the science says masking works. But I’m also here not just as someone who’s pro-health, I’m here as someone who’s 100% pro-business. In fact, I would argue that the two are inextricably connected.

Gene Woods: (20:07)
As an example, the Coca Cola 600 ran successfully at the Charlotte Motor Speedway due to a partnership between the Speedway and the medical professionals at Atrium Health. They asked for and followed the council of our doctors with respect to screening, temperature checks, hand hygiene, social distancing, and wearing face mask at all times. In short, Charlotte Motor Speedway embraced the science, which allowed them to open smoothly and safely without disruption or spread of the virus. This is just one example of businesses working in concert with health professionals and how we can get back to work. In fact, it is the pathway to recovery.

Gene Woods: (20:51)
Now, I’m not alone in my belief that business and health experts working together is the best way to get our economy going again, here’s a case in point. When I spoke with the CEOs of the largest employers in this state this week on how we could work together to support masking, especially among our most vulnerable citizens, including communities of color who are being disproportionately affected by this disease, they simply said, “Count us in.” And that is why I could not be more excited than to announce here today that Atrium Health together with the CEOs of the Carolina Panthers, Bank of America, Honeywell, Lowe’s, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Red Ventures, and others that will be joining in the coming weeks have committed collectively to donate one million masks to this course which will be distributed to those most in need and as an investment in our health and the economic recovery.

Gene Woods: (21:56)
And I couldn’t be more proud of the commitment of my business colleagues who have stepped up in such a large way. And here’s my hope, that going forward, that by working with athletes, that working with churches, working with youth groups and other community leaders, that we can join forces and not make this something that we feel we have to do, but something that we want to do to keep each other, our neighbors, our children, our loved ones healthy and safe. So Governor, again, thank you for your leadership and for the opportunity to speak here today.

Roy Cooper: (22:38)
Thank you, Gene. Our state appreciates everything that Atrium and other hospitals and medical systems are doing right now to reach our communities and provide the care they need day in and day out. Along with me today, and everyone who has spoken is secretary of public safety, Eric Hooks and emergency management director, Mike Sprayberry, Nicole Fox, and Brian Tipton are our sign language interpreters. And behind the scenes, Jackie and [Jasmine Metivia 00:10:04] are our Spanish language interpreters. And now we’d be happy to take any questions that you might have if you can tell us your name and the name of your organization. Thank you very much.

Speaker 1: (23:19)
Our first question will be from Kenny Beck with the WXII.

Kenny Beck: (23:25)
Governor, Kenny Beck, WXII. Thank you for taking my question. My question deals with the enforcement of the face covering part of this executive order. Reading the fine print, it says that local law enforcement will not essentially have the ability to cite anyone for not following that. But if a customer refuses to put on a face mask and refuses to leave, they can be cited for things such as trespassing. Can you explain why you chose to go that route with respect to enforcement?

Roy Cooper: (23:57)
Not quite right. The enforcement, law enforcement can cite the business for failing to have employees and customers in the public facing business. So they can be cited, the business can be cited for violation of this. And also if a customer comes and the business says, “You need to wear a mask,” and the customer says, “I’m not going to do it,” then law enforcement can also use trespassing laws and other laws that may have been violated to make sure the business is protected and the customer is removed. Next question.

Speaker 1: (24:40)
Our next question is from Dawn Vaughan with The News & Observer.

Dawn Vaughan: (24:43)
Hi, Dawn Vaughan with the N&O. Thanks for taking my question. To follow up on that about enforcement, you had mentioned the stores. What about in workplaces and government buildings, both local, state, and federal? And also having to do with localities and state, lawmakers have said that they don’t get a heads up about your announcements until listening to these press conferences. Is there a reasoning behind that with bringing in the other levels of government and making these decisions?

Roy Cooper: (25:13)
Well, everybody’s getting a heads up right now and we hope that members of the general assembly, those who are not wearing face coverings will now. The medical science is overwhelming. The doctors, the nurses, people are telling them that this is something that we need to do to slow the spread and move the economy forward, which is something that we all want to do. So I hope that today that we can all look at this for the evidence that is there, the scientific data that is so overwhelming and all of us can come together and slow the spread. And I’m glad to talk with legislators about it anytime. The responsibility here is on the businesses and the organizations to make sure that their employees-

Roy Cooper: (26:02)
-ssations. To make sure that their employees and their customers wear these face coverings, and that is where law enforcement can make their citations if employees and customers do not have masks on there. And we want everyone to wear these face coverings when they’re out in public, and when they’re not able to be six feet away from other people. You can go outside and exercise, and walk, as long as you’re not within six feet of other people without a mask.

Roy Cooper: (26:36)
But in other public places, we want people to do this. As we said, the science is overwhelming, and we see our numbers continuing to go up. We need to stop it. We don’t want to go backward. Let’s make sure that we level things off so we can get our kids in school, and continuing to ease restrictions. Next question, please.

Speaker 2: (27:02)
Follow-up. [Dawn Von 00:27:04] who’s an observer.

Dawn: (27:06)
Hi. Thanks for taking my follow-up question. I wanted to ask, was Virginia starting its next phase on July 1st? What was the decision-making on making this last another three weeks as opposed to one week or two weeks, or what’s the three week time frame basically?

Roy Cooper: (27:21)
Because the health experts need that period of time to be able to analyze the trends and the data that we are seeing. People who are catching COVID, you don’t see all of that show up until later. You don’t see hospitalizations show up until later than that. So, the health experts need that amount of time in order to determine whether we’re headed in the right direction on our trends.

Roy Cooper: (27:49)
We want to level things out, because we know, next week, we’ve got another important announcement about our schools, and how we’re going to open them up. We very much want our children back in school. And we know that when that happens, there’s going to be a lot more moving around, a lot more activity, and other ways that the spread of the virus can increase. So, we need to work now to get these numbers leveled out. And if people wear these face coverings, if we’ll all come together to do that, then we are hopeful that, on July 17th, we can move even further on the restrictions, that we can have our kids in school this fall, and that we can continue to move forward and help the economy. Next question, please.

Speaker 2: (28:41)
Our next question is from [Cullen Browder 00:28:42] with WRAL.

Kenny Beck: (28:44)
Hi Governor. Cullen Browder with WRAL. Thanks for taking my question. Considering the metrics are not going in the direction that you wanted, you said you wanted to move deliberately through this phase in reopen process, do you have any regrets now? Do you feel like we moved too quickly? Do you feel like we should have required masks earlier?

Roy Cooper: (29:10)
I know that we wanted to make sure that everything we did was evidence-based, and particularly for Coronavirus, the early process, we really did not have data and evidence showing the effectiveness of masks with COVID-19. However, as more countries have experienced this, as other states have experienced this, if people have been able to do studies, they’ve seen that masks are significantly effective in slowing the spread.

Roy Cooper: (29:43)
So, we want to make our decisions based on the data. And so with this overwhelming evidence, we believe that it was time to make sure that we require face coverings. We don’t want to go backward. We’re glad to have businesses open, and most of our businesses are open and running in North Carolina. But, we know that when crowds get together in these masked gatherings, that it can be a very difficult situation and easier to spread the virus.

Roy Cooper: (30:16)
So, we’re taking this pause right now to make sure we can level out our numbers before we move further. Next question, please.

Speaker 2: (30:29)
Follow-up. Cullen Browder, WRAL.

Kenny Beck: (30:32)
On the other side of that, lawmakers are planning an override vote of your veto of the bill that would have reopened bars and gyms. What do you say to them, considering what you’re telling us now? What do you say to those frustrated bar owners and gym owners who feel like they can open with social distancing and do it safely?

Roy Cooper: (30:56)
Well first, I would urge lawmakers not to override that veto because these numbers clearly tell us that we should not be moving forward with easing restrictions. But in addition, that legislation makes it more difficult for both local and state officials to put these emergency orders in place. So, I would urge them not to do this.

Roy Cooper: (31:21)
I know that all business owners right now are deeply concerned about this pandemic and how it’s affecting their businesses. We hope that people will pay attention to this masking, and we would urge all business owners to encourage every person to wear this mask. Because when that happens, we believe these numbers will level out, and we can begin easing restrictions on these riskier businesses that, right now, have restrictions.

Roy Cooper: (31:54)
We want to be easing those restrictions. We’re going to continue to follow the science and data to tell us when we can do that, but one of the very best ways to do that is with masking. And everybody needs to get with this program in order to be able to push our economy forward. That is a real key here. The numbers are overwhelming that it is. Next question, please.

Speaker 2: (32:21)
Our next question is from [Joe Bruno 00:32:23] with WSOC.

Joe: (32:27)
Hi Governor Cooper. This is Joe Bruno from Channel Nine. Who is to blame for the state reaching this point with COVID-19?

Roy Cooper: (32:34)
Well, I think North Carolinians overall have done well. And in fact, we have avoided a surge in North Carolina, and that’s been a positive thing. But, seeing these numbers go up like they are right now, I think it’s important that we step up and put a pause on our moving in phasing, and put a requirement of face masking.

Roy Cooper: (33:03)
I think that this is something that’s unprecedented, and it’s something new, that all of us are learning something every single day to make us better in decision-making. And I think that this is the right decision for North Carolina right now. Next question.

Speaker 2: (33:25)
Follow up. Joe Bruno, WSOC.

Joe: (33:30)
But Governor Cooper, daily case counts are up, percent positive cases are rising, hospitalizations are rising, gyms and bars have to wait longer. Our community spread is so bad, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are requiring us to quarantine when we visit them for two weeks. Why is our state fairing so differently than others, and where does the fault lie?

Roy Cooper: (33:51)
I think you’re seeing a lot of states across the country that are seeing increases in these numbers, just like North Carolina. I don’t agree with that decision of states in the Northeast. I think that’s going to cause problems for families and for businesses, and I think we’ve all got to realize that we’re in this thing together.

Roy Cooper: (34:12)
But, I think it also tells us that all of us need to be more careful about washing, keeping six feet of social distancing, and masking. There are some people … A lot of people, unfortunately, that are intentionally not wearing masks, and are intentionally not social distancing. And when that happens, there is much more of an opportunity for this virus to spread.

Roy Cooper: (34:41)
So, we hope that with this pause in our phases, and with this mandatory mask requirement, that we can begin to continue our process through the phasing, continue to ease restrictions, get our children back in school. I think the good thing about North Carolina is that we never were at a really high point. We’ve just seen this steady increase that we want to stop.

Richard: (35:21)
Yes Governor, and Secretary Cohen, I have a question for each of you. One, for the Governor, what considerations did y’all have for doing a phase 2. 5? I heard that from readers and lawmakers that there might have been a consideration for reopening the fitness centers and the gyms and health clubs if they had been in a separate bill from the bars and the clubs. And then for Secretary Cohen, one of the bills that advanced today is a Medicaid transformation bill. It looks like it has a considerable amount of support, and it looks like it has DHHS backing, and I just want to kind of get your perspective on it.

Roy Cooper: (35:59)
Well, I will say that I did announce today that, three weeks from now if our numbers are where we want them to be, that the first few things that we would be easing restrictions on are our gyms and fitness centers and our museums and our playgrounds. In the next few days too, we’ll be looking further ahead about things that we see. But right now, we want this pause and this mandatory face masking out there to make a real difference in the numbers, and we think that it will. I’ll turn it over to Dr. Cohen to answer the managed care question.

Mandy Cohen: (36:43)
Hi Richard. Thanks for the question. So yes, I know there’s some legislation working its way through. We’ve been trying to make sure that we are improving it as we go. I have not read the latest version, but have heard that some of the concerns we had had in that bill have been taken out, which is good, and that there are resources there for our department in order to continue our efforts to fight COVID-19.

Mandy Cohen: (37:08)
We have a lot of work ahead of us in terms of additional testing and tracing and response, and then the recovery aspects of this. So, I’m appreciative that folks are recognizing that takes resources, and to make sure that resources are included for our department in helping our state respond and recover from COVDID-19. We’ll be sure to be reading the details of what’s in there and making final decisions about it. Thank you.

Roy Cooper: (37:36)
Next question, please.

Speaker 2: (37:41)
Our next question is from [Matt Dubnam 00:37:41] with the Washington Daily News.

Matt: (37:48)
Good afternoon, Governor. Thanks for taking my question. It’s Fourth of July weekend coming up next weekend. Some [inaudible 00:37:54] decided to proceed with festivities and parades that would be prohibited under the mass gathering ban. What’s your position on these events going forward, and will the state take any enforcement or punitive action against local governments who host these events? Thank you.

Roy Cooper: (38:11)
Well first, I love the Fourth of July. It’s one of my favorite holidays. My wife Kristin, getting her into position to see good fireworks has always been one of my goals on most every Fourth of July, and it’s an important holiday for our country. At the same time, this virus, when people get together, it doesn’t care if it’s a holiday. When there is a crowd of people and when a lot of those people are together and not social distancing, it is much easier for the virus to spread.

Roy Cooper: (38:49)
And so, we would encourage local governments, businesses, everybody out there to be very careful about having these kinds of get- togethers. We have concerns that when this happens-

Roy Cooper: (39:03)
Get togethers, we have concerns that when this happens, the virus spreads. You can celebrate the 4th of July, you just don’t have to do it in a crowded area that can cause spread of the virus and that can cost people’s lives. Next question please.

Speaker 3: (39:20)
Our next question is from Andrea Blanford with ABC11.

Andrea Blanford: (39:25)
Hi Governor. A couple of clarifying questions for you real quick. Can you tell us, are you planning to exclude bars from opening in phase three? Also clarifying about if you have any regrets over requiring face coverings. Just last week, my colleague here at ABC11 asked you explicitly why not go ahead and make face coverings mandatory? What changed for you over the course of the last few days that made you change your mind and could that not have spared North Carolina more cases perhaps? And then for Dr. Cohen, we know that you’re tracking all the trends, not just one in isolation, but this is a question about hospitalizations as you’ve mentioned how important it is to keep hospital capacity in check. So can you tell us how many people being counted as hospitalized for COVID-19 are actually suffering from severe infection versus the people who tested positive when they showed up for say an elective surgery? Thank you.

Roy Cooper: (40:27)
Congratulations. You got a lot in that multi-phase question there. I would say first that July 17th is when we’re going to give that much time to look at the numbers and if the numbers are where we want them to be, then we plan to ease restrictions on gyms, fitness centers, museums, and public playgrounds. That is the plan right now.

Roy Cooper: (40:56)
As for face coverings, we have been recommending, strongly recommending, face coverings for a while now. And just this past week, some additional studies have come down, one over at UNC, a number of others that I’ve looked at, and of course, Dr. Cohen and her staff were poring over. And I think these last studies have shown that these face masks can make a real difference in slowing the spread of the virus. And so we made the decision now that instead of strongly recommending them, we were going to require them, and we want to make sure that we get people with this program because it’s going to help improve our economy. This is the key to improving the economy. Slowing the spread will do that. Dr. Cohen.

Mandy Cohen: (41:49)
Hi Andrea. Thanks for the question about hospitalizations and how do we count those. So every day we work with our hospitals. They submit data to us about the number of patients within their facilities that they are caring for that have COVID-19. They don’t distinguish about the severity. If they’re on a regular floor, they’re reported as a COVID-19 patient. If they’re on the ICU, they’re reported as an ICU COVID patient.

Mandy Cohen: (42:14)
The issue is that what we have been seeing for more than a month is every day basically, we have been in this slow and steady increase in the number of cases. We used to be rock solid in the mid 500s of the number of total hospitalizations in our state. We are now in the 900s and that trend is continuing to go up. And at some point, we reach our capacity. We have a fixed capacity of hospital resources here. Our hospitals have done a fantastic job of planning for surging beyond even their normal capacity, but even that has a ceiling.

Mandy Cohen: (42:47)
And so what we’re saying here is we have a moment. I think Dr. Fauci called out that moment of right now to say, how do we change those trends? And so there are simple tools that everyone can do to say, “You know what? I may not be personally at risk, but I know that I can be a risk to others, and I’m going to take this face covering, [inaudible 00:43:06] grab my keys when I go out, and every time I’m going to have a face covering with me in my pocket, in my purse, in my car every time I go out,” because when we’re in a public setting, this is what’s going to help us move forward together as North Carolinians. It seems simple and really basic, but really important.

Mandy Cohen: (43:22)
I’m really appreciative of Gene Woods being here today, both speaking from the hospital side and all the work that they have done, but also from the business community. And this is about linking those together and doing the things that we need to do in order to make sure that we have the hospital capacity in our healthcare system there for us when we need it. So now’s the time to do this hard work together as North Carolinians. Thank you.

Roy Cooper: (43:49)
Thanks. Next question please.

Speaker 3: (43:53)
Follow up, Andrea Blanford, ABC11.

Andrea Blanford: (43:57)
Hi. I do have a quick follow up for you Dr. Cohen. Is the state tracking then where these people are hospitalized specifically? And if so, can that data be made available on the dashboard just to better show whether hospitals in a certain region are more stressed than others? Thanks.

Mandy Cohen: (44:15)
Thanks Andrea. So yes, we track our hospitalizations closely and we do know that by region and we make sure that we are thinking regionally because we know that patients get moved around regionally as we think about hospital capacity. So we’d be happy to share more information as we go. You know that we are continually updating what is on our dashboard. Just today, we put out new information at the county level about new demographic data, which is great. You’ll see some new testing data come later this week. So we’ll continue to update and have more information about all of our trends as we go here. Thank you.

Roy Cooper: (44:50)
Thank you. Next question please.

Speaker 3: (44:58)
Our final question today will be from Rebecca Martinez with WUNC.

Rebecca Martinez: (45:06)
Hello Governor. Thank you for taking my question. This is Rebecca Martinez from WUNC. I have a question for Secretary Hooks. I wanted to ask for an update on what’s been going on regarding the lawsuit where DPS has been asked to offer some changes to protect inmates at state facilities. I understand that one of the requests in the lawsuit was to reinstate and reevaluate prisoners for release, and I’m just wondering where does that stand? How many people have been reconsidered for release and how many people have been released since the superior court judges order and the risk for the spread of COVID-19 in prisons?

Erik Hooks: (45:51)
Thank you for the question. Unfortunately, I can’t discuss the lawsuit. That litigation is still ongoing, but I can provide you some update relative to our efforts that were already underway prior to any order being entered.

Erik Hooks: (46:05)
When we first started the extending limits of confinement, we looked at a candidate pool of nonviolent offenders of approximately 500. Since that time, that candidate pool has been expanded to about 975 individuals that we’re looking at for extending limits of confinement, where they can finish their sentences under community supervision. Right now, we have placed about 380 of those individuals into the communities and we’re continuing to work through that candidate pool. They still have to be nonviolent offenders with release dates, but we did extend the release dates out to the year 2022 for some of our older population.

Roy Cooper: (46:57)
That it? Okay. Follow up?

Speaker 3: (47:01)
We have our final question for follow up from Rebecca Martinez, WUNC.

Rebecca Martinez: (47:07)
Thank you sir. So 380 has been identified for release. Have they been released and do you have a target number for how many more will be released?

Erik Hooks: (47:17)
Yes ma’am. Just so you would know that we have not released but changed the conditions of confinement because they are still under the court order to be in the custody of a division of department of corrections. And so they have been put into the community, transferred into the community. They’re still being supervised by our community corrections officer. That’s approximately 380 since about April the 10th or so and we’re still working through those numbers. Again, that candidate pool has extended up to about 975 and we are working through that daily as well.

Roy Cooper: (47:54)
[inaudible 00:47:56].

Erik Hooks: (47:57)
[inaudible 00:08:57].

Roy Cooper: (48:00)
Thank you all for joining us today. I hope as North Carolinians that we can tackle this challenge together. Stay safe and healthy. Thank you.

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