May 18, 2020
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper Press Conference Transcript May 18
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper held a press conference today on coronavirus, in a May 18 news briefing. Phase 1 of reopening NC ends on Friday, and Gov. Cooper may announce decision on Phase 2 by midweek but isn’t committed yet.
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Governor Roy Cooper: (00:18)
… talk about the update for COVID-19 in North Carolina. As of today, we have 19,203 confirmed cases, 511 people in the hospital, and sadly, 661 deaths. Since the start of this pandemic, we’ve worked hard to protect and support longterm care facilities like nursing homes. We know that in addition to having many residents who are at risk for severe illness, the nature of these facilities makes the virus spread easier from person to person. This week, we’re continuing a comprehensive push to distribute personal protective equipment to more than 3,800 licensed care facilities across the state, including nursing homes, adult care homes, and more.
Governor Roy Cooper: (01:13)
We’re able to do this in part because local manufacturers who’ve worked with the state to shift their production, to make personal protective equipment, and with their help, we’re now able to share the equipment to where it’s needed. We’re sending to them a two week supply of face shields, procedure masks, gloves, shoe covers, and hand sanitizers. And distribution teams are delivering them throughout the state. I am so proud of and thankful for the emergency managers and the national guard members who are getting this critical gear to where it’s needed.
Governor Roy Cooper: (01:53)
Now, our phase one executive order runs through this Friday, but as I’ve said, we’re continuing to monitor the data and the metrics that we’ve laid out for our state. We’ll ease restrictions and move to phase two only if we’re headed in the right direction with our data. As we watch and examine the trends, we’re working with public health and the private sector to determine how we can reduce the spread in the next phase. Remember, we have flattened the curve, but the threat of COVID-19 is still with us. We’ve continued to push for increased testing throughout the state, and we are succeeding, but even more testing is critical. As of today, approximately 275 testing sites are listed at the Department of Health and Human Services website. And in the last seven days, we’ve tested an average of about 7,500 people per day. With expanded guidance to healthcare providers on who ought to be tested and more sites available, we expect daily testing to continue to increase.
Governor Roy Cooper: (03:06)
We know that life will look a little bit different for a while, as we ease the restrictions. As we all adjust, let’s remember that patience and compassion will get us a lot further than hostility. I’m troubled by hearing about confrontations between retail workers trying to do the right thing and customers who refuse to protect themselves and others. I know that a quick trip to the store can be more stressful these days with social distancing, face coverings, and being mindful of everything you touch. But it’s critical to do all of these things to slow the spread of the virus and to protect others as well as yourself.
Governor Roy Cooper: (03:51)
Grocery store workers, delivery, drivers, restaurant workers, shop owners, they are on the front lines and taking important safety precautions to protect their customers. Let’s show our appreciation for them by doing what’s right, wearing a face covering, waiting six feet away. And also remember that a simple thank you can sometimes be exactly what somebody needs to hear during a rough time. We have to keep taking care of one another and that’s how we’re going to come out stronger on the other side of this.
Governor Roy Cooper: (04:29)
I have with me today our Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mandy Cohen, our Secretary of Public Safety, Eric Hooks, and our Emergency Management Director, Mike Sprayberry. Our sign language interpreters are Monica McGee and Brian Tipton. And behind the scenes are Jackie and Jasmine [inaudible 00:04:54]. They are our Spanish language interpreters. Let’s start by hearing from you, Dr. Cohen.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (04:57)
Thank you, Governor. Over this past weekend, we saw our largest single day increase of COVID-19 cases to date. From Friday to Saturday of this weekend, we had 853 new COVID-19 cases. Any increase like this is concerning and a reminder about how quickly this virus can spread. We continue to dig into this data to understand this increase, but one of the things we know is related to the fact that we are increasing our testing efforts, as the governor mentioned.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (05:36)
We continue to ramp up testing across the state and have exceeded the goals we set last month. With more testing, we expect to see more cases. So as we test more, it’s also important to watch the rate of positive tests as a percentage of the total number of tests. Fortunately, that has remained stable at about 7%, which is in line with our targets. Additionally, our hospitalizations also continue to remain stable.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (06:06)
At the same time, when we see this kind of an increase in case counts, we also know that we are easing restrictions and folks are moving around more. They’re going out to shop. They’re taking time to enjoy the outdoors. And with more movement, there’s more chance for this virus to spread. That’s where the three Ws come in. Why it’s so important to practice wear, wait, wash.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (06:31)
Any time we’re leaving the house, wear a cloth face covering, wait 60 feet apart, wash your hands often for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer. These behaviors need to become part of our routine. When you grab your keys, grab your face covering and your hand sanitizer. Talk to your kids about this, talk to your friends, talk to your colleagues. These are all key actions for all of us. When it comes to our health, we are all in this together, and it’s the simple things that will allow us to continue to make progress through the phases of easing restrictions.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (07:10)
Finally, this week is national emergency medical services week, and I want to give a special thank you to the 42,000 brave men and women serving as EMS professionals across our state. On the best of days, this is an incredibly challenging job. But during this pandemic, these frontline workers have had to step up in extraordinary ways. You’ve done so with amazing resolve and compassion. Thank you for your service and your dedication to the people of North Carolina. Thank you, Governor.
Governor Roy Cooper: (07:46)
Thank you, Dr. Cohen. We’ll now hear from Director Mike Sprayberry
Mike Sprayberry: (07:53)
Thank you, Governor, and thank you for your leadership. Good afternoon. I’ll start first with an update on tropical storm Arthur. The storm passed just off shore of Cape Hatteras this morning, but there are still gusty winds and rain ongoing in our coastal counties. Reports from our counties in the East are that things are stable and they have not requested any state assistance. There was some over wash on NC Highway 12 in Dare County and US Highway 17 in Craven County. And they were closed for a short time due to standing water.
Mike Sprayberry: (08:29)
Secondary roads in several Eastern counties are experiencing similar impacts, but other major roadways remain open. There were only very limited power outages. The coast guard closed the port of Morehead city last night, but it has reopened as of late this morning. People in the Eastern part of our state should remain cautious, especially while driving in areas where water may collect on roads. Today is not the day to take risk at the beach or in the surf. Tropical storm Arthur is expected to continue to move away-
Mike Sprayberry: (09:03)
Tropical storm Arthur is expected to continue to move away from our coast and conditions will improve, but heavy surf and dangerous rip currents will remain a threat for a couple of more days. So, beach goers need to be extremely careful. It’s important to remain aware of the weather, as a separate system will bring several inches of rain to North Carolina over the coming days. The heaviest rain and greatest flooding threat will be across the western half of our state. Heavy rainfall amounts could lead to landslides across the mountains and flooding along major rivers later this week.
Mike Sprayberry: (09:40)
Today is day 70 of state emergency operation center’s COVID-19 response. As we continue working to obtain personal protective equipment for the COVID-19 pandemic, our teams delivered to 38 counties on Friday. Shipments included bleach, gloves, face shields, procedural mask, and cloth mask, coveralls, goggles, thermometers, and hand sanitizer.
Mike Sprayberry: (10:07)
So far, National Guard teams and Civil Air Patrol teams have traveled more than 85,000 miles delivering PPE to 92 counties. We’ve received a few small shipments of gowns in the past few days, but gowns remain very hard to obtain. Procuring protective equipment remains a top priority for the State Emergency Response Team. We continue to work with the private sector on manufacturing needs.
Mike Sprayberry: (10:35)
The National Guard now has 928 personnel on active duty. They delivered more than 1.2 million meals in their support to food banks and school feeding programs. Additionally, the US Department of Agriculture has extended several COVID-19 waivers for child nutrition programs. That’s great news. It will enable feeding programs to continue the same level of services throughout the summer.
Mike Sprayberry: (11:03)
As we continue to respond to the needs of North Carolinians during this pandemic, I want to pause and echo Secretary Cohen and recognize our emergency medical services professionals across the state. This is National EMS Week, and I want to add a big hardy hand salute to all the men and women of our EMS agencies across North Carolina, to our paramedics, EMTS, and other emergency medical professionals who protect our communities each and every day. We’re so thankful to have you on the front lines every day and fortunate to call you partners in public safety.
Mike Sprayberry: (11:42)
Remember your three W’s: Wear a cloth face covering, wait at least six feet apart, and wash your hands often. That’s wear, wait, and wash. As always, don’t forget to look out for your family, your friends, and your neighbors. Give your loved ones a call daily. I guarantee you they’ll appreciate it. With kindness and cooperation, we’ll get through all this together as one team, one mission, and one family. Thank you so much. And thank you, governor.
Governor Roy Cooper: (12:17)
Thank you, Mike. Tropical Storm Arthur is a reminder that hurricane season is less than two weeks away. We hope and pray that we don’t get a hurricane this season, but know that our emergency management team is working with local authorities to be ready in case it does happen, and also to be ready in a way that’s different from usual because of being in the midst of COVID-19. We’re going to take some questions from the media. If you could please identify yourself and the name of your organization. We’ll take the first question.
Speaker 2: (12:55)
Andrea Blanford, ABC 11.
Andrea Branford: (12:59)
Hi, Governor. It’s Andrea Blanford with ABC 11. There are a lot of businesses anticipating a move into phase two on Saturday. How much notice are you planning to give these business owners about specific restrictions that will be in place for them, or if they won’t be able to open after all on May 23rd? I’m curious to know, from you, how likely is the move into phase two by then considering the trends you’re seeing today. Thank you.
Governor Roy Cooper: (13:28)
Thank you. We are hoping that we can move into phase two. We still need to look at a couple more days of the data. We should be able to announce something this week by midweek regarding what’s going to happen on Friday. Know that we have been working with businesses throughout the state. Our indicators and trends are going to tell us when North Carolina can ease some restrictions. But, working with the business community, our health experts, together, they’re going to determine how we do it. And so, we’re hoping that this can happen. We are going to continue to look at the indicators and let people know something very soon. We hope that we can move forward into phase two. We know it’s important to cushion the blow to the economy, but public health and safety is number one. We’re going to continue to keep that at the top of the list. We believe that economic prosperity and the health of the people can go hand in hand. Thanks. Next question, please.
Speaker 2: (14:37)
Richard Craver, Winston-Salem Journal.
Richard Craver: (14:42)
Hello, Governor. Secretary Cohen, this may be actually more of a question for you. This is Richard Craver, Winston-Salem Journal. I actually had a phone call from one of our local healthcare systems today warning us about what they’re seeing a trend of people actually trying to go to a COVID-19 gathering event, party, whatever you want to call it, where they’re purposely trying to get infected so they can start some sort of herd immunity. I know in Forsyth County, over the last week we’ve had at least five days where we’ve had at least 50 new cases. Evidently, according to the County Health Department, is basically all clusters. So I’m wanting to see if y’all had seen anything like that, statewide, in terms of people trying to infect themselves in these kind of herd gatherings.
Governor Roy Cooper: (15:36)
That is completely irresponsible and absolutely unacceptable. I’ll let Dr. Cohen tell what she may have heard about that.
Many Cohen: (15:49)
I don’t think I could say it better than the governor, but there is no circumstance under which we want folks to actively pursue getting COVID-19. The reason we’re working so hard collectively to keep virus spread low is the fact that when there is more virus in our community, it not only impacts those who have it, but particularly those who are at high risk of getting severe reactions to disease. What we’re hearing is young folks are saying, “Oh, I think I’m fine. I’m going to go get COVID-19.” But, they’re out in their communities. They’re spreading the virus further. And then, those who have more chronic diseases, who are older, but still need to go to the grocery store, or go to their healthcare setting, or go to the pharmacy to pick up medicines. That means virus is still out in the community and can impact those people.
Many Cohen: (16:34)
We are doing everything we can to make sure that we are slowing the spread of this virus, staying six feet apart, wearing face coverings, washing your hand. Exactly the opposite of what a COVID party would be. We implore folks not to do that. We are nowhere near herd immunity. A party will not help us in any way. Please do not do that. Thank you.
Governor Roy Cooper: (17:01)
If you do that, you can easily kill someone you love. Next question, please.
Speaker 2: (17:08)
Tyler Harden, WCPI.
Speaker 3: (17:12)
Good afternoon, governor. This is Tyler Harden with News Channel 12 in Greenville. Thanks for taking my question. Several resolutions have passed here in the East by leaders who are asking or encouraging you to take a regional approach to the various phases of reopening our state, especially with the difference in case numbers. What is your take on that? And would you be willing to grant county or city leaders the authority to decide how and when to reopen?
Governor Roy Cooper: (17:36)
As we’ve said many times, the virus does not respect county lines. Many people often live in one county, work in another county, play in another county. We also know that, although there may be fewer cases in a county, the per capita rate may be higher than some of the urban counties. I’ll say this, I’ve been talking to these local government officials, and I certainly understand.
Governor Roy Cooper: (18:02)
… To these local government officials. And I certainly understand their wanting to move forward and doing things to boost our economy. I want to do the same thing, but we want to make sure that it is safe. I think if we are able to move into phase two, that there really would not be a need right now for a regional or a county by county approach, because we’ll be putting out a new executive order. It would allow more freedom to do businesses, particularly some of the businesses that have been the loudest about wanting to go back into business. We’re continuing to keep the regional approach as a point of discussion and are looking at the potential of a regional approach. But as we go into phase two, if we’re able to do that this weekend, then I don’t think it would be any need. If we aren’t able to go into phase two in this weekend, then that’s something I think we would take a closer look at. Dr. Cohen, you got anything you want to add? Okay. Thanks. Next question, please.
Speaker 4: (19:17)
Bill McGinty, WCNC.
Bill McGinty: (19:22)
Hey governor, Bill McGinty here from WCNC over in Charlotte. Thanks for taking my question. I appreciate that. I’m just wondering if you, or maybe this question is better directed for Dr. Cohen. Do you have any specific guidance or concerns about phase two and the reopening of barber shops and hair salons? I interviewed one of them today, and I’ll tell you they’re struggling and they feel like they’re inspected all the time anyway, and that they feel that they should be allowed to reopen. And I know you said that phase two, the start date isn’t a given, it’s all dependent on how we fare in phase one. But Dr. Cohen or governor Cooper, I’m just wondering if you have specific concerns about hair salons and barbershops.
Governor Roy Cooper: (20:03)
Well, if someone has tested positive and they have an active infection, they should not be cutting anybody’s hair or doing anybody’s nails. One of the reasons that these kinds of businesses have been closed is because of the close personal contact and the inability to social distance. Now that we have more and more personal protective equipment available out there for people, and if both the person providing the personal service and the customer both wear the personal protective equipment, there is a lot of sanitation, then phase two potentially looks at allowing those kinds of services to open. And we haven’t made the decision on phase two yet, but we would anticipate that, but also say to both the customers and the people who are performing these services that you both have real responsibilities here to protect each other because you’re also protecting each other’s families and friends. Dr. Cohen, would you want to add to that? I’m batting 1,000 so far. Okay. Next question, please.
Speaker 4: (21:25)
Katie Peralta, Charlotte Agenda.
Katie Peralta: (21:29)
Hey governor Cooper. This is Katie Peralta with the Charlotte Agenda. Had a quick question for you about phase two. What will the restrictions be on gatherings that so far have been limited to 10 people up to this point?
Governor Roy Cooper: (21:45)
So we think that gatherings, particularly indoors, can still be a place where the virus is spread, and we want people to be careful about these larger gatherings indoors so as not to further the spread. We’ll be providing information on that when we announce phase two because health experts are still looking at it, again, looking at the data. And we’ve told everybody that this is going to be a data driven approach. We’re looking at incidences where the virus has spread in different ways. A lot of times that close contact with a lot of people together inside is the cause of it. So we’ll be announcing that. I think that there is a likelihood that there will continue to be some mass gathering limit, but we’ll be letting you know that more toward the middle of the week as we make decisions about phase two. Thanks. Next question.
Speaker 4: (22:51)
Michael Highland, CBS 17.
Michael Highland: (22:55)
Hi, this is Michael Highland from CBS 17. I wanted to ask about considering the pace at which North Carolina is reopening compared to other states. I know you had a lot of concerns a few weeks ago, specifically with Georgia and the pace of its reopening. What’s your assessment of that now? Do you feel as though you still have a concern as to how quickly other states have moved and how that compares to North Carolina? Thank you.
Governor Roy Cooper: (23:17)
I still think it’s a little too early to tell about the effects of easing restrictions a few weeks ago. And I know that Georgia has had some trouble with reporting its data and maybe it looked a little rosier than it actually is when they came back and corrected that data. I continue to hope and pray that the numbers are good in Georgia and South Carolina and other states that have been a little quicker to ease restrictions. It’ll be good for us to see. What we’re hoping is that we continue this steady push where we make sure we don’t overwhelm our hospitals and that we have enough hospital space in the event we have many more infections of COVID-19 than we anticipate. And we will keep a close eye on what is happening in Georgia and South Carolina to make determinations about us going into additional phases and what we might need to do to protect ourselves. Thanks. Next question, please.
Speaker 4: (24:30)
Randall Kerr, WRAL.
Randall Kerr: (24:35)
Hey, governor. Randall Kerr from WRAL. Wondering what phase two would look like for pools. Obviously we have the holiday weekend coming up, and whether we’re talking larger pools or smaller community pools, and I know that the virus can spread through touch, but there’s also evidence that properly maintained pools can kill the virus. What are your thoughts on those reopening this week?
Governor Roy Cooper: (24:58)
So regardless of whether there are any prohibitions, people really need to be careful in those kinds of communal settings, and we will be announcing what the restrictions are a little bit later on this week. And I know a lot of things are still under discussion as health experts analyze the data, but I might let Dr. Cohen say a few more words about pools.
Dr. Cohen: (25:25)
Sure. Thanks. Regarding pools, so we are contemplating allowing pools to open in phase two, again, as we look at the numbers and if we are comfortable moving forward in phase two. But we know that the pools will need to do things to protect folks. It will likely require having less people around than at full capacity, making sure that they’re spacing chairs around the pool, wearing face coverings when not directly in the pool, and then once in the pool, having some social distancing within them as well. We’ve been working with the associations that represent a number of pools. I’ve gotten some additional feedback just today. So we’re going to incorporate all of that as well as look at what some of our states surrounding us have done as well, to make sure we’re taking in all of that information. The when will really depend on the numbers that we look at and the metrics and how we work with our partners in each of these areas to make sure we’re tailoring to things that can protect the public health, but also allow them to operate. Thank you.
Governor Roy Cooper: (26:25)
Thank you. Next question, please.
Speaker 4: (26:33)
Claire Donnelley, WSAE.
Claire Donnelley: (26:37)
Hi, Claire Donnelley from WSAE radio. I think Dr. Cohen, this one is for you. I’ve talked to a couple of longterm care facilities who have said that they’re struggling to access testing for their facilities. Obviously there’s some concern with taking residents out of the facilities to go and get tests at a testing site. I just wondered if you could respond to that.
Dr. Cohen: (26:59)
Sure. What I would say is for any longterm care folks that are-
Mandy Cohen: (27:03)
Or what I would say is for any longterm care folks that are having trouble with testing, please do get in touch with your local public health department or with the state directly. We’d be happy to work with you to facilitate testing. There are plenty of ways for us to facilitate going to the places directly so that you do not need to be sending your residents, who may be more medically frail, to a testing site.
Mandy Cohen: (27:23)
So that’s being done across the state. So if there’s a few that are isolated, who are having trouble with testing, please do identify yourself. We’re working very closely with all of the associations, but I would say, please get in touch with your local health department, and then we’ll be able to help facilitate some testing. We have a number of partners that we’re able to work with, and we’ll try to make that happen in those facilities. Thank you.
Governor Roy Cooper: (27:52)
Next question, please.
Speaker 5: (27:55)
Our final question today will be from Nikki Hauser, WITN.
Nikki Hauser: (28:02)
Hi, Governor. Thank you for taking the time. Oh, can you hear me now? Hopefully.
Governor Roy Cooper: (28:06)
Nikki Hauser: (28:08)
All right, amazing. Well, I’m just wondering about testing. With broader guidelines now since Friday for testing, more people now than ever are getting tested. Are we going to be seeing even more testing sites popping up in the state?
Governor Roy Cooper: (28:24)
Yes, we are. We’re hoping to continue to grow the number of sites. Already there are a number of retail pharmacists that are setting up these sites. We’re negotiating for these mobile, modular units that will come to particular communities and set up and stay open for a few days. And the Department of Health and Human Services’ website will let people know where these are.
Governor Roy Cooper: (28:51)
And the good thing about them is that they can go to the communities most in need. Some of our underserved communities really need things like that to make sure that they have access for testing. We want testing to be far and wide. We want to continue to increase it. And the reason for that is we want to be able to move through these phases in order to boost our economy and to get people doing more things in a safe way. And you do that by being able to test and to trace and isolate people and take them out while they are suffering with the virus and try to slow the spread that way.
Governor Roy Cooper: (29:35)
We are ramping up our testing and tracing to meet those challenges. And the more testing we can do, the better off we’re going to be as we move into phase two and beyond. And our Testing Surge group is working hard to make sure there are many more tests throughout the state. Thanks very much for joining us. We will be with you again later this week and stay safe everybody. Thank you.