Apr 7, 2020
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper Briefing Transcript April 7
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper held a press conference today on coronavirus, in an April 7 briefing. He is signing an executive order to put limit on number of customers in essential retailers. Read the full transcript here.
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Roy Cooper: (00:14)
Good afternoon everyone and thank you for joining today’s update on where North Carolina stands in our fight against COVID-19. As of today, we have 3,221 cases and sadly 46 deaths. My family and I continue to pray for those who have lost their battle with this disease and for those who are still fighting for their lives. We’re now more than a week into our stay at home order. To comply, many of you have transformed the way that you live. You’re working from home, you aren’t making unnecessary trips, you’re keeping your physical distance. I appreciate those efforts and I know that our doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers appreciate it too.
Roy Cooper: (01:07)
These social distancing efforts are slowing the spread of the virus, giving our health care system time to ramp up capacity and to prevent an overwhelming spike of patients. As confining and frustrating as it is, we have to continue the stay at home order and the other interventions. They are working. And yesterday a group of experts released a North Carolina specific model that underscores just how critical social distancing is, in our efforts to save lives. It’s our best weapon in this fight. Now I know many of you are wondering if this North Carolina model means that our stay at home order will continue into May. The answer is we just don’t know yet. Modeling is one of a number of tools that we’re using to make informed decisions in this fight and we’ll look at this and other models, analyze experiences in other countries and states and consult public health experts and business leaders.
Roy Cooper: (02:23)
But it’s clear that right now, at least through April, people need to stay at home and keep their social and physical distance from each other. Every day, several times a day, we’re looking closely at whether our efforts and interventions are doing enough. I expect to sign an executive order this week for our Department of Health and Human Services to help fast track childcare for doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers and to make more hospital bed space quickly available. I’m also glad to announce financial assistance through our Department of Public Health, excuse me, our Department of Health and Human Services for childcare for our frontline essential workers. They can’t be out there helping us unless their children are being cared for. Dr. Mandy Cohen will talk more about that in a minute.
Roy Cooper: (03:23)
And we’ve received FEMA approval to set up housing alternatives such as hotels or dorm rooms for people who are now living in shelters who contract the virus and need to be quarantined. This has been a real problem for local governments and we’re glad that we can help with this. We’re also preparing an executive order to put more guard rails on social distancing at our essential retailers. Now, I know many stores have already put limits on how many people can be at a store at once and this order will ensure those limits are mandatory across the state for retailers. And I know that these holidays, Good Friday, Easter and Passover will tempt people to get together. It’s usually a time for families but it is not safe to gather with extended families and friends right now. As hard as it is to miss out on so many family traditions, consider your life and the lives of your loved ones. We want everyone present and healthy for next year’s celebration, so don’t put yourselves or each others lives in danger
Roy Cooper: (04:52)
Even though we won’t be together in the pews or at each other’s homes, we are together in spirit. Social distancing means that we can’t hold our loved ones close, but now is the time to hold tight to our faith. No matter where we are or how difficult the path, I know that faith and hope can sustain us through even these hard times. With me today is our Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mandy Cohen, our Secretary of Public Safety, Eric Hooks and our Director of Emergency Management, Mike Sprayberry. Sign language is being provided by Nicole Fox and Monica McGee and behind the scenes Spanish language and interpretation is provided by Jackie Metavir and Jasmine Metavir. I’ll now turn it over to Dr. Cohen for a few remarks.
Dr. Cohen: (06:01)
Thank you, Governor. I’ll start with a rundown or the numbers, some of which the governor mentioned. As of this morning, we had 3,221 cases in 90 counties in North Carolina. Of these, the age breakdown is about 8% of those are between the ages of 18 and 24. 42% are in people ages 25 to 49. 29% between 50 and 64 and 20% in people over the age of 65. We currently have 354 people hospitalized. It’s a significant increase from yesterday where we were at 270. And sadly as the governor mentioned, we’ve already seen 46 deaths. And as we heard yesterday from that independent team of data experts, our efforts to stay at home are working to slow the spread of the virus. But sadly that does not mean that people won’t get sick or need hospital care and some will die.
Dr. Cohen: (07:04)
It does mean that the course we’re on is helping fewer people get sick at the same time, so our hospitals are there when those that need them. While most of us are staying home, some North Carolinians are providing the essential services that we rely upon every day. It’s the truck drivers who are delivering food or medical supplies. Our grocery store workers who are stocking shelves, our pharmacists filling prescriptions. Our janitorial workers are sanitizing essential workspaces and of course our healthcare workers are on the front lines taking care of those who are sick. The one thing they all have in common, if they are parents or if they’re caregivers of young children, when they go to work, they need a safe place for their children where they’ll be cared for and nurtured.
Dr. Cohen: (07:58)
I’m proud to share that we’ve created an emergency childcare subsidy program to support our essential workers. Through this new program essential workers can get help finding childcare and can get help paying for that childcare. Our hotline helps families find childcare programs that are meeting new health and safety standards and operating guidelines. Families can call 888-600- 1685. And for families that need financial support for that childcare, they can also find a form on our website, dhhsnc.gov/coronavirus, they’ll take that form and bring it to their selected childcare program for financial help paying for that childcare.
Dr. Cohen: (08:52)
We’re able to provide this support our front line workers because of another group of essential workers, our early childhood teachers and staff. In the best of times, they are our unsung heroes who care for, love, and teach our children. They are literally brain builders, supporting children’s healthy development so they have a strong foundation for health and learning, and that’s in the best of times. So as we face this pandemic, we know our early childhood workforce is a support system that allows our essential services to be there for all of us. We will be providing bonuses to all teachers and staff that work in programs serving our essential workers, childcare programs that stay open to serve those essential workers will receive $300 per month for each full-time teacher and 200 for full-time non-teaching staff members, including administrators and janitors and other support staff. This is just one of many ways team North Carolina-
Dr. Cohen: (10:03)
… is trying to respond to this unprecedented crisis. Thank you for all you’re doing to do your part, to stay home, to slow the spread of the virus. Staying home saves lives. Thank you.
Roy Cooper: (10:21)
Thank you Dr. Cohen and now our director of our emergency management, Mike Sprayberry. Mike.
Mike Sprayberry: (10:28)
Thank you governor and thank you for your leadership. Today is day 29 of the State Emergency Operations Center Activation for the COVID-19 response. 65 counties have activated their local emergency operations centers. All 100 North Carolina counties and the Eastern band of the Cherokee Indians have now declared States of emergency.
Mike Sprayberry: (10:52)
FEMA has approved the request the State may last week for non congregate housing program. This would provide rooms for a variety of people in different situations who need individual housing to help slow the spread with the virus. This can include people who are exposed to or test positive for COVID-19 that do not require hospitalization but need to be isolated.
Mike Sprayberry: (11:19)
Also people who have been treated for COVID-19 and released from a hospital. People needing social distancing as determined by public health officials because they are at high risk due to their age, medical condition or living situation.
Mike Sprayberry: (11:36)
Our recovery section is standing up a support center to assist local governments as they begin setting up a non congregate housing options in their communities in places like hotels and dormitories. This morning the Council of State approved a lease for the use of the former Sandhills Regional Medical Center in Hamlet. That hospital closed in 2017 but can now be prepared to provide additional beds to support hospital overflow.
Mike Sprayberry: (12:07)
Our North Carolina Emergency Management Recovery Section, began public assistance applicant briefings last week and those continued this week. These are online sessions for local governments and private non-profits to educate them on the procedures for applying for FEMA reimbursement COVID related expenses. So far more than 330 cities, towns, counties and non-profits to include. Hospitals have participated and filed requests for public assistance. Today, the logistics and warehouse teams are moving out some small shipments of surgical masks to hospitals and first responders.
Mike Sprayberry: (12:51)
We still have major shortages and personal protective equipment. Once again, I want to remind everyone that 911 is for emergency calls only. Please refrain from calling to report state home or social distancing violations. We need to keep 911 lines open for true emergencies. If everyone does their best to stay at home and observe social distance, these calls won’t be necessary.
Mike Sprayberry: (13:20)
211 is the place to call for information or help with resources like food, utilities, childcare and other needs. If you call and get a busy signal, it means that all lines are tied up and with other callers. Simply wait for a while and try your call again. For twice daily information updates on coronavirus, you don’t have to call. Just text COVIDNC to 898211. That’s 898211. You can get text in English or Spanish.
Mike Sprayberry: (13:55)
Please allow me to thank our local partners for all of their hard work. We don’t take it for granted and thank you for your support at the State Emergency Response Team. Don’t forget to call your loved ones daily. Look out for your friends and neighbor and be kind. With your help, we will get through this together and as one team, one mission and one family. Thank you governor.
Roy Cooper: (14:23)
Thank you Mike. And again we’re grateful to the people here at the emergency operation center who are working 24/7 to protect the people of our State. We now have secretary Hook’s, secretary Cohen, director Sprayberry and myself available for questions and as you call in, if you can identify yourself and the station you work for or the paper you work for, we’d appreciate it. So let’s have our first question.
Speaker 3: (14:55)
First question is from Cullen Browder with WRAL TV.
Cullen Browder: (15:00)
Hi governor, this is Cullen Browder at WRAL TV. I know secretary Taylor was able to update lawmakers this morning on unemployment benefits. I’m wondering if you could address our viewers, many of whom we keep hearing from are struggling to get through the system and where all that stands right now.
Roy Cooper: (15:23)
Right now about 110,000 people have received checks and I believe the figure is over $26 million that has gone out to people. We have over 400,000 people who have applied. This is a frustration that’s being faced in every single State in the country because for example, in North Carolina, this is a system that was used to about 3000 claims a week and now they’re dealing with over 4,000.
Roy Cooper: (15:59)
Every single family that applies for unemployment benefits is important. Every single family who applies is probably hanging by a thread right now and the people over at the Employment Security Commission know this. I’m urgent them on a daily basis to do everything that they can to open up their portals as much as they possibly can. They have contracted with a call center where they’ll be able to expand the number of people who are taking calls. They’ve also set up more servers so they can expand the amount of people who can get through more quickly online and there is a strong realization that everybody needs to pick up the pace as much as possible to deal with this overwhelming crush of claims.
Roy Cooper: (16:54)
They’re working hard and know that this is important and they will keep doing that until these claims get paid and everybody gets in the system and they are working very hard at it right now. That’s for sure.
Roy Cooper: (17:09)
Speaker 3: (17:12)
Next question is from Rose Hoban with North Carolina Health News.
Rose Hoban: (17:18)
Hi, thank you for taking my question. Looking at statistics from North Carolina compared to surrounding States. North Carolina seems to be doing well. We have fewer deaths per 100,000 and fewer cases per 100,000 than several of our neighbors. One, are you speaking to neighboring governors about their efforts and two just the fact that neighboring States are not doing as good a job at controlling the increase of cases. Does that concern you that these folks would… Our borders are open and folks to be able to come in and perhaps it might affect our eventual case numbers.
Roy Cooper: (18:12)
We want every single State to impose interventions like stay at home orders and I think that even the federal government has encouraged States to do what it can in order to make sure that we’re exercising our social distancing and staying at home as much as possible. I do talk to other governors fairly frequently. We’re on a lot of conference calls together, but I’ve also had individual conversations.
Roy Cooper: (18:43)
Every single death is a tragedy. Every single person that contracts this virus I’m concerned about and we want to make sure that person gets the best medical care possible. That being said, I think that the interventions that we have put in place are working. The modeling has shown us that that’s a positive thing, but it is only one snapshot in time.
Roy Cooper: (19:11)
I think it shows us that we’ve got to continue to be persistent in what we’re doing while recognizing that we do need to get the economy going again and that we need to at some point be at a new normal that can help us put people to work but also protect the public safety. I think it will be important. And I think most everyone is urging States to do what they can. And it’s not like our neighboring States haven’t done anything. They have done some social distancing requirements and some interventions, and we’re going to continue to encourage everybody to do so because we’re all in this together and it’s pretty clear that social distancing works-
Roy Cooper: (20:03)
… and the interventions we’ve been doing are working. Just for right now, we’ve got to keep it up. Next question
Speaker 4: (20:28)
… that’s being done now to get us to a point that we could essentially reopen parts of our society. Can you start telling us what planning is going into that? What level of detail can you share with us that you’re looking at to determine when it really is going to be safe to do that?
Roy Cooper: (20:44)
Well, as you saw, the team of experts came out with a North Carolina model saying that if we continued our interventions that we have put in place through the month of May, that we would significantly lower our percentage chance of overwhelming our hospital system. We’re going to continue to consult that model, other models, see what’s happening over the next few weeks in other states, see what has happened in other countries that have dealt with this a little bit ahead of us, and talk to healthcare experts and business leaders.
Roy Cooper: (21:31)
All of that input will help us make decisions on how we go forward. Right now, we want people to stay at home, and try to make sure that they are keeping their physical distance. As I said earlier, I can’t predict exactly when this is going to happen. We are, however, planning and trying to make sure that we analyze this evolving situation, and be ready to move to something different. Because we understand we can’t stay in this state permanently, but we’re asking people that at least through April where our orders are in place to obey those orders. Put us in the very best position that we possibly can be to get ready to make decisions about what we’re going to do in May.
Roy Cooper: (22:27)
Let’s try to … these next few weeks, let’s try to slow this spread as much as we possibly can, and give our hospitals and our healthcare providers some breathing room. I think we’re doing well. We just need to keep at it. Next question.
Speaker 5: (22:47)
Next question is from Jennifer [Emmert 00:00:22:48], with WLOS-TV in Nashville.
Hi. You spoke a little bit about some of the mandatory guidelines that might be coming out for retailers. I think one of the biggest complaints we’ve seen out here in the Western area is that social distancing at the grocery store is very difficult. Can you talk a little bit more about what you’re considering?
Roy Cooper: (23:11)
Yes. We hear the same complaints, that people who are going into stores are worried about the fact that some stores are not requiring customers to keep their social distance. Some stores have way too many people inside. A number of stores have started doing some things voluntarily that encourage social distancing. For example, they only allow a certain percentage of the total occupancy allowed over the fire code. A lot of stores are saying only 25% of the maximum occupancy can come into the store. And they actually have someone at the door counting, letting one person in and one person out, to make sure that they keep at that number.
Roy Cooper: (24:04)
In addition, there are things in the store … like, one way in the aisles, and making sure places where people stand that there are marks, so that people stand six feet away from each other. They have plexiglass that helps to protect employees when they’re at the point of purchase, or checkout, and even the place where a line could form outside while waiting to try to get in. The spaces are marked six feet apart, so people standing in line would have to be at a social distance.
Roy Cooper: (24:40)
I think this is a positive step, and we need to make that kind of thing more uniform, and that’s what you can expect in an executive order. Maybe not precisely those details, but we’re getting some input now from across the state to exactly how we want to form these restrictions. But we hear that being a problem. We don’t want people to be afraid to go to the grocery store, to pharmacy, to get essential items. But we also want to discourage people who are just going to have something to do. If you might have to stand in line a little while to be able to get into the store, it would discourage people from going just because they want something to do.
Roy Cooper: (25:28)
We think that this is an important signal to send as well. That wherever we are, we have to keep our physical distance, and the best thing you can do right now is to stay home. I have people frequently who are good people, who want to do something to help their neighbor, and I say, “The number one thing you can do is stay at home as much as you possibly can. And the way you can help your neighbor the most is to not be in their physical presence.” Because this contagious virus spreads through the population quickly. Physical distancing, hand-washing, hygiene are the only weapons we have right now. We don’t have vaccines. We don’t have proven medicines. These are the only weapons we have right now, and we have to use them. Next question.
Speaker 5: (26:20)
Okay. Next question is from Rick Curl with The Daily Record in Dunn.
Speaker 6: (26:29)
Yes, governor. I wan to follow up … I’m Mr. Curl from The Daily Record Dunn. I’d like to follow up on your last comment. When do you think the executive orders will be signed, and what other measures will be included in those?
Roy Cooper: (26:47)
The executive order will come out sometime this week, and we’ll be looking at other potential interventions that we might take. I’ll let you know those when we’re ready to talk about them. But that’s one area that we thought was most important … that we were hearing the most from everyday citizens, that they were concerned about going to these stores, and that we needed to do more to protect them. I’m grateful to the retailers who have stepped up to do this, but I think it’s important that all of them do it. Next question.
Speaker 5: (27:26)
Okay. Next question is from Steve Wiseman with the Raleigh News and Observer.
Speaker 7: (27:37)
Good afternoon, governor. This is Steve Wiseman from the Raleigh News and Observer. My question is actually is for Dr. Cohen.
Speaker 7: (27:52)
Dr. Cohen, I wanted to ask you about the data you’re collecting from the different counties. About the number of cases as far as the racial and ethnic breakdown, are you collecting that? Are they providing that to you, and will you be sharing that publicly?
Dr. Cohen: (28:09)
Sure. Thanks for the question. We’ve been working very hard over the last week to get more and more data up on our COVID-19 dashboard. You can see that at ncdhhs.gov/coronavirus, and we do have race and ethnicity data that is posted there. We’re trying to get even more data as we go forward here, but there is race and ethnicity data. You will note that there are some gaps in the the information. We’re only a few weeks into this. So, at first we weren’t able to collect all that information, but now going forward we will be able to report that.
Dr. Cohen: (28:44)
There is a lot of information broken down by county in terms of hospitalizations, and where our resources are. So, a lot of good information there for folks to check out. I do think that as we continue through this work to try to understand the virus, we’ll have more and more data that we’ll be able to share as we move through this, and understand the virus better, and have new methods for collecting information. Thank you.
Roy Cooper: (29:15)
I would like to add on that question that I think Dr. Cohen, and Mike Sprayberry, Secretary Hooks, and people here at the Emergency Operations Center have done a good job with our hospitals. I appreciate our hospitals participating in this data collection. They’ve been pretty much decentralized and not used to sharing the kind of data that they’re having to share with us now. Like all of the data on the individual patients, like how many beds, or how many ICU beds, or what kind of supplies, or how many ventilators they have. They’re not used to doing that. Plus, they’re all dealing with the crisis at hand trying to make sure that they are treating all of these people. But I think we have a good rhythm now here-
Roy Cooper: (30:03)
… needing all of these people, but I think we have a good rhythm now here at the Emergency Operations Center and that these hospitals now have a better understanding of the importance of making sure they report all of that data to us so that we can best make decisions on how to disperse supplies and equipment to make decisions on interventions and also make decisions on potential alternate medical sites, if there is a potential that a hospital is going to have an overflow of patients as we’ve seen in other states and around the world. We want to be ready for that and information is absolutely key. So having that together has been a positive thing. Next question.
Next question is from Will Michaels with North Carolina Public Radio.
Will Michaels: (30:58)
Hi Governor, Will Michaels in North Carolina Public Radio. I believe you talked also about a forthcoming executive order regarding freeing up hospital space. Can you explain what actionable items or what would actually be in an executive order like that to free up that space? And then for you or Director Sprayberry, is the approval for non congregate housing something that y’all could use to help alleviate the local government strain on bringing in the homeless population who might be infected with the virus?
Roy Cooper: (31:31)
The first question first, the executive order that we’re going to issue will help to waive some regulations to be able to free up bed space because right now some hospitals have limits on the amount of beds that they can have. It also helps to free up regulations to be able to have more health care providers who would be able to go to battle in this fight against the virus. And I’ll let Dr. Cohen talk with you more specifically about that.
Roy Cooper: (32:04)
As for the FEMA money for our congregate shelters, I’ve had a number of discussions with our mayors who are concerned about people who are housing insecure and who are living in shelters. And when they are living together in a shelter, thinking about one person contracting the virus, how quickly that virus could spread in that population. And then not only do we have people’s lives at risk, but we have a lot more people in our hospitals. So a lot of the local governments have already taken steps to try to be able to, if someone has infected with a virus, to be able to get them to a dorm room or to a hotel room in order to quarantine and protect the rest of the population. And also to make sure that that person gets the kind of help that they need. And yes, this money from FEMA will help us in that effort. But I’ll first let Dr. Cohen talk a little bit about the executive order.
Dr. Cohen: (33:10)
Thank you, sir. I think you got that exactly right, is we’ll waive some additional regulations to allow for flexibilities around bed space and where they can place … How to use clinical space. And importantly, to make sure that we can have as many clinicians here in North Carolina with the most flexibility possible to be able to respond and surge their ability to fight and treat patients. So look for additional details over the next number of days and we’ll continue to look for additional flexibilities as we go forward here to make sure we can surge our medical capacity.
Dr. Cohen: (33:46)
I’m happy to … One other thing to address on the congregate settings and being able to use our hotels and our dormitories, just hope that our hospitality industry in particular will work with our local governments to find spaces for folks. I think it’s going to be really important in terms of slowing the spread of the virus, so thanks in advance to the collaboration with the hospitality folks on getting that enacted as soon as possible.
Speaker 8: (34:20)
You wanted to add to that?
Roy Cooper: (34:23)
Okay. Thank you. Next question please.
The last question will be from Andrea Blanford with ABC11.
Andrea Blanford: (34:33)
Hi Governor, it’s Andrea Blanford with ABC11. I know you already spoke to this earlier and I know that you’re familiar with just the plight of the North Carolina people right now, especially those who are out of a job, so I’m just really curious to know personally from you just how convincing that model that was released yesterday, how convincing was that for you to consider extending the stay at home order through May? Or should you began to gradually reopen parts of our state’s economy? How would you prioritize which businesses are safe to operate at that point? Thanks.
Roy Cooper: (35:15)
Well, first, public safety has to be first. Saving lives has to be first. And we know that if our hospital system gets overwhelmed and too many people get sick and die, not only is that a human tragedy, but it’s certainly a longterm problem for our economy. There are a lot of people now out of work because of the havoc that this virus has caused and they need to know that we’re going to be working night and day to make the very best decisions to help them through this time and then also get our economy working again. The unemployment benefits are working their way through the system and should be out to people soon. The additional COVID money that’s coming from the federal government should help those unemployment benefits to at least get people by during this period of time, which will be positive.
Roy Cooper: (36:22)
In addition, the federal stimulus money is coming for small businesses and for individuals, which we think will help. And as we get through the month of April and going into May, we’re going to examine all of the data. We’re going to talk to the health care experts, but also to business leaders. We’re going to look at the modeling because this is something that is evolving and ever changing and we’re also learning how to operate in a new way. People are using video conferencing and phones and we’re finding different ways to be able to operate and to be successful.
Roy Cooper: (37:05)
And as we go forward, we can use some of the things that we’ve learned during this time. When things can open back up more, we can do it the right way because we got to know this virus is going to be with us for a while, at least until there is a vaccine. And so we’re going to have to be careful about how we interact with each other and we’ll be making those decisions based upon consultation with all of those experts and we will make the best decisions that are in the best interest of North Carolina.
Roy Cooper: (37:39)
Thank you guys very much for taking some time with us and for asking your questions. We’ll be back again with you soon. Please everybody, stay safe and God bless. Thank you.