Mar 27, 2020
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper Coronavirus Transcript March 27: Stay-at-Home Order Issued
Roy Cooper: (00:00)
And as always a special thanks to our healthcare workers and their dedication to this state. We’re all grateful for you. We’re all praying for you. Today, I’m joined by Dr. Mandy Cohen, our Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Mike Sprayberry, our Director of our Emergency Management, and Erik Hooks, our Secretary of the Department of Public Safety. Sign language is being provided by Nicole Fox and Monica McGee. First, I would like to ask Dr. Cohen to come forth and add a few words and updates. Dr. Cohen.
Mandy Cohen: (00:45)
Thank you, Governor. I’m grateful for your strength, for your fortitude in the face of such uncertainty and your willingness to act decisively to protect the health and safety of North Carolinians. One only has to look around the world to see the devastating consequences of the virus. The data coming out of Italy and China is sobering. In Italy, 29% of people who tested positive for COVID-19 had severe or critical illness. In China, it was 19%. Early data from the United States paints a similar concerning picture. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between February 12th and March 16th, somewhere between 20 and 30% of people who tested positive for COVID-19 in the United States were hospitalized, with four to 11% needing intensive care. While these studies don’t give us the complete picture of the virus, they are certainly extremely worrisome. We are aggressively working to learn as much as possible about the virus across the country and here in North Carolina.
Mandy Cohen: (02:01)
At the same time, we do not have the luxury of time. We must act quickly based on what we do know to slow the spread of the virus. If we do not act preemptively to slow the virus right now, many people will get sick at the same time, which could overwhelm our medical system and compromise their ability to provide care. I’ve heard from many hospitals, physicians and other clinicians concerned about that surge in demand and how it could overwhelm them and cause suffering and harm. Both the North Carolina Medical Society, the North Carolina Healthcare Association, which represents doctors and hospitals across the state, have warned about potential shortages of supplies and equipment and hospital beds. No one wants that to happen, and the only way to prevent it is for fewer people to get sick at the same time. That’s what flattening the curve means. Our best weapon is social distancing.
Mandy Cohen: (03:08)
What we can do today can save lives in the weeks and months to come. And the more social distancing actions we can take and stick to, the more likely our healthcare system will be there for everyone who needs it. Our actions, your actions can save lives. Staying home saves lives. If you have to be out, stand six feet away from other people to lessen your chances of catching COVID-19 or infecting someone else. Remember to wash your hands frequently, cough into your elbow and if you feel sick and have mild symptoms, stay home and call your doctor. But that’s not all. There are other things you can do to reduce your risk for serious illness. We know that those with underlying lung disease or uncontrolled chronic disease like diabetes or heart disease can increase someone’s risk for severe symptoms from the virus. So what does that mean for you?
Mandy Cohen: (04:08)
If you have high blood pressure, work with your doctor to make sure it’s controlled now. If you have diabetes, make sure you’re managing your blood sugar now. If you were thinking about quitting smoking, there’s never been a better time. Do it now and importantly, don’t vape. Make sure you’re getting exercise and are eating healthy and let’s give ourselves and our loved ones, the extra care and patience that they need. Take a walk outside. Give yourself a break from the news. Check in with neighbors and friends and family by phone or by video and ask for help if you need it.
Mandy Cohen: (04:48)
Many behavioral health clinicians in North Carolina are ready to take new patients and provide care over the phone or by video. More information is available on our COVID-19 website under managing your overall health. There are many things that we are not able to control, that are not within our limits, but it’s up to us to act where we can. We can do this. We are strong and we are in this together. Thank you.
Roy Cooper: (05:23)
Thank you Dr. Cohen. You can text COVIDNC to 898 211. You’ll get several notices a day via text. There is a wealth of information there and it will answer a lot of your questions. You can also call 211 and they can route you to the resources that you need. I’ll now call on our Director of Emergency Management, Mike Sprayberry. Mike.
Mike Sprayberry: (05:49)
Thank you governor. Good afternoon. Today is day 18 of state emergency operations center activation for the COVID-19 response. We have 51 counties with their local emergency operation centers activated. 95 counties in the eastern band of the Cherokee Indians have declared local states of emergency. With today’s new executive order, I know there’ll be a lot of questions. A team of attorneys has worked hard to craft that order and a frequently asked questions document to go with it to explain it as clearly as possible. That FAQ document is available on the state’s COVID-19 website at ncdhhs.gov/coronavirus.
Mike Sprayberry: (06:37)
I want to stress that businesses that are allowed to remain open under the executive order will not need to have any extra credential or permit to continue operations. Businesses should review the executive order and the FAQ document carefully to determine whether they may continue operations. In cases where a local order and the state may differ, the more restrictive requirement will apply. We have an expanded team here at the state EOC that continues to work aggressively every day to locate and acquire needed personal protective equipment for our healthcare workers and first responders including mask, gloves and gowns.
Mike Sprayberry: (07:20)
National guardsmen are receiving, inventorying and shipping supplies out quickly after they arrive at our warehouses. We’re also working to prepare for the surge of patients expected at our hospitals. We’re identifying facilities that can serve as overflow for our hospitals and the US Army Corps of Engineers is helping to prepare facilities. As the Governor said, North Carolina 211 continues to help hundreds of people every day with assistance and information related to the coronavirus. By dialing 211, people can get help with food assistance, paying rent and utilities and basic information. He also said you can receive information from 211 by text, just text COVIDNC at 898 211 to get regular information updates via text. People at the federal, state and local level are working hard to make our state safe. With everyone’s cooperation and positive attitudes, we’re all going to get through this together. Thank you very much. Thank you Governor.
Roy Cooper: (08:27)
Thank you Mike, and thank you to all who are working here at the emergency operation center 24/7, and thank you for the great work you do for this state. We’re now going to open it up for questions for myself, for Director Sprayberry, for Secretary Hooks, or for Secretary Cohen, and we’d like for you to identify yourself and your news agency when you’re calling. I do have another call that I have to get on fairly soon, so I won’t be able to stay all that long, but we’ll answer as many questions as we can get to. So if we can get the first one, that’d be great.
Randall Kerr: (09:26)
Hey, this is Randall Kerr at WRAL-TV. A question for the Governor. For local counties or cities that are already under stay at home or shelter in place orders, what does your action change for them?
Roy Cooper: (09:40)
Issued an order that applies everywhere in North Carolina. If a local entity, a local government, a county or a city has enacted an ordinance, if it is more restrictive, the more restrictive part applies. Many of these orders are very similar. However, to the …
Roy Cooper: (10:03)
Many of these orders are very similar, however, to the order that we have issued. But if there is a difference then the more restrictive version, whether it’s the state order or the local order applies.
Travis Fain: (10:21)
Yeah. Thank you. This is Travis Fain at WRAL. I feel like we have not seen very much data backing up these moves, whether it be modeling or other projections on hospital expectations. When are we going to see that sort of thing?
Roy Cooper: (10:43)
We are examining data from other countries, from other states that have experienced this before North Carolina. I think it’s pretty clear across the board that suppression of people coming into close contact with each other reduces the spread of the virus. I think we see that right up front very clearly. But I know Dr. Cohen has been working with researchers and talking with them about analyzing this data and I’ll let her address that.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (11:24)
Thank you sir and thanks for the question. Yes, understanding the complete picture of this virus is very important as we go forward and we are working aggressively to understand data here in North Carolina and from around the country and the world. As we all learn more about this, we’re able to synthesize that information and it helps us tailor our actions as we go forward. But as I said earlier, we cannot wait for the perfect information to move forward here.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (11:52)
What we know is that we need less people to get sick at the same time so that we don’t overwhelm the capacity of our medical system and that’s the aggressive action that we have been taking and the additional step we are taking today. So I urge everyone to be staying at home, to abide by these orders so that we see less spreading of the virus and that we don’t overwhelm our medical capacity and so we’re able to address everyone’s medical need when they have it.
Elizabeth Anne Brown: (12:32)
Hello, My name is Elizabeth Anne Brown. I’m a reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times newspaper. I understand that violations are considered a class two misdemeanor, but who is responsible for enforcing the order and how will those charges be processed? Will people be detained?
Roy Cooper: (12:48)
I’m not quite sure I heard the question, but it had to do with the fact that violation of this order is a class two misdemeanor. We hope and believe that people will voluntarily abide by this order because of the seriousness of it and the fact that this virus is being transferred so easily from one person to the other. We’re hoping everyone will follow the rules. we provided this order to law enforcement. They’re looking at it now. What we want law enforcement to do is to encourage people to abide by the order and if they see people that aren’t, then encouraging them to do it. If people continually and flagrantly violate this order, then law enforcement and local district attorneys have the discretion under the law to charge that person and prosecute that person. We hope it doesn’t come to that, but we want people to know that this is a serious order and that we want you to follow it.
Matt Mercer: (14:01)
Hi, this is Matt Mercer with the North State Journal. Two questions. First, how was the list of the definition for essential businesses developed? And second, approximately 90 to 95% of tests have come back negative. Will the DSHS still be reporting those numbers as more tests come in? We’ve heard that they will not.
Roy Cooper: (14:27)
Well first, we obtained the list of essential businesses by looking at other state orders and looking at the Department of Homeland Security which has a definition of essential businesses. We also are reporting the tests that have been completed, getting that information from as many private labs as we can and from the state lab and reporting the number of positives. I’m going to let Dr. Cohen address what may lay down the road regarding testing.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (15:07)
Thank you governor. So as we go here, we are trying to do as much as we can to be transparent about the information that we do have. As the governor mentioned, we are trying to help folks understand how much testing is going on across the state and it is extensive, not just at our state lab but at all labs and we will continue to post that information. We have changed the way in which we are testing because we want to be focusing on those that are at high risk and particularly on our healthcare workers, those in longterm care facilities and those who are at highest risk of having bad outcomes from the virus.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (15:48)
We’re certainly going to be prioritizing our efforts there. As you all know, we’ve been having a number of supply issues, both around testing and around personal protective equipment and we want to make sure that we are protecting our healthcare workers and slowing the spread. I’ll go back to saying that is why we are taking the actions today to slow the spread of the virus. Everything we can do and everything that you can do to heed our advice and stay home, the better our state will be. Thank you.
Roy Cooper: (16:32)
Ben Leonard: (16:40)
Hi. Ben Leonard here from the 9th Street Journal. I was just wondering, some states have released demographic data on who’s getting the virus. I was just wondering if there’s a timeline for when that’s going to be released.
Roy Cooper: (16:52)
Now, I think it’s important that the public know the demographic data on the virus. I know that there are concerns about protecting people’s privacy and I know that the Department of Health and Human Services is looking at all of those issues and I’ll let Dr. Cohen tell you where we are in that process.
Dr. Mandy Cohen: (17:17)
Thank you for the question. Right now on our website, if you go to ncdhhs.gov/Coronavirus, you can find demographic data there for folks. You can see both age bands as well as gender and of course a map of our state. We’d like to continue the same way in which we’ve moved towards reporting our flu data. As we mature this process, we’d like to get to a place where we’re able to share that data in a timely way. Right now you are able to get a fair amount of demographic data and we’ll add to that as we go. Thank you.
Melissa Boughton: (18:04)
Hi, this is Melissa Boughton from NC Policy Watch. We’ve learned today that some of the state prisons are severely understaffed and that central prison in the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women doesn’t have any ventilators in addition to a number of other shortages. Do you plan on getting involved in any capacity with decarcerating people or offering any guidance other than what’s being done currently, which is just kind of to cut off visitation and keep an eye on who’s going in and out of the jail presence?
Roy Cooper: (18:43)
We take protection of our corrections officers very seriously and have spent the last year or so working hard to improve conditions for them and also raising their pay. But now we know that this is a very difficult situation for all of them and we’re going to provide them as much help as we can. We also know that when we have a confined space like in a prison or in a nursing home, that there’s a greater chance to spread the virus. That’s why visitation has been restricted and why they’ve taken steps regarding work release in order to be able to protect people who are in prison right now and to protect the corrections officers. But we have the Secretary of the Department of Public Safety here with us today, Erik Hooks. Secretary Hooks, I’ll let you respond to that.
Erik Hooks: (19:39)
Thank you governor, and thank you for the question as well. We have long since had planning teams in place and have been looking at the entire issue for our correction population and the offenders within our facilities. They do present some special challenges. It’s not new to many of you that corrections has been short staffed and we have been working diligently on that over the last several years…
Speaker 3: (20:03)
Staffed and we have been working diligently on that over the last several years. Offenders who become sick, not just for flu and other illnesses, are afforded adequate medical care, and those hospitals that are available to the public that we do utilize those too as well, speaking to your question about ventilators. And that is correct. We do not have ventilators within our correction facilities, but those inmates are taken out for appropriate care.
Speaker 4: (20:41)
Fox Eight News, Greensboro. With many communities enacting their stay at home requirements at five o’clock this afternoon, why is the state waiting until Monday?
Roy Cooper: (20:55)
Well, we’ve spent time trying to make sure that we get this order right. We’ve also taken aggressive action over the last week closing K through 12 public schools, closing down bars and restaurants, banning mass gatherings, closing certain businesses that gather people together and closing businesses that provide personal services where social distancing isn’t possible. All of those things have been done to work to suppress the spread of the virus. We see cases continuing to rapidly increase, and so now we want to put this stay at home order. Even though we’ve been telling people to stay at home, this now orders it, and we think that’s important.
Roy Cooper: (21:49)
We also believe it’s important that people need some lead time if they need to close their business, if there’s other things that they need to do, to be able to have some time to plan for when this order goes into effect Monday at 5:00 PM. However, as I said earlier, I’m asking people to voluntarily begin compliance now. We need to take action and we need to make sure that we are staying apart from each other and that we don’t increase the chance that we transmit this virus from one person to the next. We’ve done a lot of tests, but overall it’s limited testing, and we know that there are a lot of people carrying this virus that have not yet been tested, and so we’re going to rely on the data and this order in place now. I think it’s positive for our state to help slow the spread.
Kerry Robertson: (22:57)
This is Kerry Robertson with AP Governor. I assume you’ve been told more details about the stimulus package from Washington. Is there anything in there that you’re particularly happy about or something that you did not see in there that you wish had been in there or that North Carolina legislators need to fix?
Roy Cooper: (23:18)
First, I’m happy about the money that is going to go to small businesses through the SBA, Small Business Administration. I’m concerned about their ability to get it out as quickly as we need it. A lot of these small businesses are under-capitalized and are hanging by a thread right now. It’s truly important for them to get the money. I also think it’s important that we’re getting these checks into the hands of everyday people in North Carolina. Most everybody has had this affect their family in one way or another. I think the stimulus money, the checks that will go to everyday people, is positive. I would have liked to see more money appropriated to the states and municipalities. There was a $150 billion in there, and that’s good. We were hoping that it would be 200 billion. One thing we know that by delaying our taxes to July 15th in North Carolina, that puts that money into the next fiscal year and it could cause problems for our state this year, so having money to be able to fill that gap is important.
Roy Cooper: (24:36)
I do think though that we’re in good physical shape, that we will be able to analyze this federal bill. There’s a lot in there. And we’ve got people, all of our budget people are looking very carefully at what it does, and I’ve talked to both Republican and Democratic leaders in the house and the Senate. I think everyone wants to try to get together to put a package that we can pass quickly that helps to provide whatever federal matches we need to draw down all the federal money to North Carolina and to try to supplement what holes we may see after we analyze all of it that we would want to reinforce in North Carolina. I did work closely with all of the congressional delegation and push them as hard as I could on it as well as regular calls with the president and the vice president and other people in the administration.
Hi. This is Lake [inaudible 00:25:43] using to test people here in North Carolina? How well are they and how accurate are they?
Roy Cooper: (25:50)
I think the question was the tests that are being used in North Carolina, how accurate are they? I think that the scientists believe that they are accurate. They have been approved by the FDA. And when these tests were run earlier in the process, there were confirming tests that were done after the samples in order to make sure that the lab was approved and the method was approved. I think sometimes with the way samples are collected, sometimes there can be false positives and negatives, and there’s still a lot that we don’t know about this COVID-19 coronavirus, but I think pretty accurately these tests are reflecting whether people are positive.
Michael Highland: (26:48)
Hi, this is Michael Highland from CVS 17. I wanted to ask what specifically we will be looking at over the next 30 days to determine whether you’ll either have to extend this order or be able to lift it? Is it going to do with hospitalizations, the number of positive tests? How are we all got to know that we’re approaching the end of this at some point?
Roy Cooper: (27:09)
I think that we’re going to be looking at all of those things. Well, how rapid is our rise of people who are getting infected? How overwhelmed is our medical system becoming? Are we running out of hospital beds? Are we running out of ICU beds? Are we running out of critical medical supplies in order to be able to keep people alive? Every decision that we’re going to make puts public safety number one. That’s the number one criteria. I think over the next 30 days this order’s in effect, along with the other orders that I’ve issued, that we will be gathering more data, not just from North Carolina, but from all over the world, to be able to tell us with more specificity what works the best, what is the most effective things that we can do to slow the spread.
Roy Cooper: (28:05)
In addition, hoping all the time that there are drugs that are developed in order to treat the symptoms, and then at some point in time along the way that there is a vaccination that can help prevent people from contracting this virus. But that’s a ways off. And I think most of the public health officials will tell you that we’re going to be dealing with this for a while, and that it’s not going to be any kind of quick, short term cure for this because we know that we’ve got to try to flatten the curve and try to keep our medical system from being overwhelmed. So we’ll look at all of that to determine whether we need to extend the order or change it in some way.
Brett Jensen: (28:57)
Yes. This is Brett Jensen from WBT News in Charlotte. Governor, are you seeing at a statewide level the problematic issues of getting test results back in a timely matter? The health director at [inaudible 00:29:12] County here said that it’s been very challenging trying to get test results back in a timely manner. Are you seeing that at a state level?
Roy Cooper: (29:20)
We are. I will tell you that our state health lab has a pretty good turnaround time. The only problem with the state health lab is the limited number of testing supplies that they have. And remember, going back to the beginning of this crisis, we did not get the testing supplies that we needed from the CDC. No one in the country did. So we had to rely on other methods. And I’m proud that Lab Corp, which is located, headquartered in North Carolina, was able to step up and to put together a way that was a test that was approved. The problem that Lab Corp has now though is that they are a national lab…
Roy Cooper: (30:03)
The problem that LabCorps has now though is that they are a national lab and they’re receiving tests to collect the samples from all over the country, and they are themselves seeing a backlog. We’re encouraging other entities to get involved in this, but yes, there is a wait for turnaround time. But regardless of whether you are waiting for the results of a test, if you do experience the symptoms that you read about with COVID-19, please get in touch with your doctor or another healthcare professional and if you don’t feel bad enough to go to the hospital, isolate yourself and make sure you don’t go around anybody else in order to protect people in your family, in order to protect people that you may see when you go out, whether or not you have the virus. And that is what a lot of the doctors are telling their patients right now.
Roy Cooper: (31:02)
We’ve got to keep working on getting as many testing supplies and getting as many tests done as we possibly can, but there also has to be a priority in making sure that the test results are analyzed for our frontline healthcare workers, for people who are in critical condition or who are hospitalized and we think they have COVID-19. It’s unfortunate that we did not get the supplies that we needed, but I’m proud of the people, the work that they have done to get as many tests done in North Carolina as we have.
Nick Oxygen: (31:46)
Hey. This is Nick Oxygen at WBTV in Charlotte, kind of following up on the question Brett just asked, this is for Secretary Cohen. On Monday, secretary, you said that North Carolina was going to be pivoting to a surveillance method similar to how the state tracks the flu. Your office on Wednesday told me that the [inaudible 00:32:06] epidemiologist would be briefing reporters on what that surveillance would look like by the end of the week. This morning Gibby Harris, the health director in Mecklenburg County said that the County had received no guidance yet on surveillance methods. So where’s the process of surveillance and putting that into place, and in light of that or in absence of that and in light of delay testing, how can North Carolinians be sure that you guys have the data you need to make a decision?
Secretary Cohen: (32:35)
Thank you for the question. Obviously the governor’s announcement today took precedent over having our epidemiologist brief further on our surveillance method, but I’m sure we’ll make time for that as we go forward next week. What I would say is that we are working on making sure that we’re getting a complete picture of this virus. It’s important as we move forward, but as I said earlier, we don’t have the luxury of time to wait for the perfect data, and so we’re needing to make the decisions now, and I applaud the governor for his decisive and proactive addressing of this crisis to slow the spread of the virus. And we’ll be sure to get back to folks on the details of how we’re going to be tracking the virus as we go forward here. Thank you.
Roy Cooper: (33:24)
I do have to go and take another call. We’re grateful for the questions that we’ve gotten today. Please submit additional questions to our public information officer. Please everyone heed this order, make sure that you stay safe and that you look after your friends and family. And let’s all of us do our part here in North Carolina. Thank you very much.
Speaker 5: (33:46)