An infectious disease expert with Wake Forest Baptist Health says we'll likely have to wait a while longer to visit hair salons and gyms or dine-in at restaurants, given the state’s continued increase in COVID-19 cases.
Thursday, Dr. Christopher Ohl said he does not think North Carolina, and specifically Forsyth County, are ready to transition to Phase 2 of reopening — which would allow limited opening of gyms, indoor worship services, restaurants and bars, barbershops, hair salons and other businesses still closed under Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order.
“Going into Phase 1 was like putting your toe into the water,” Ohl said. “It’s not looking like we’re on the right path.”
Ohl expressed concern Thursday about the recent spate of new cases in Forsyth County, with 100 announced in the two days before his press conference. An additional 60 cases and two deaths were announced about 40 minutes after Ohl concluded.
While many of the cases are in "clusters” and are among family members, Ohl said the virus is especially impacting people of lower socio-economic classes and racial and ethnic minorities.
“Groups of people who couldn’t shelter in place are disproportionately affected,” he said. As of Monday, white people comprised about 27% of all COVID-19 cases in Forsyth County.
Hospitalizations in Forsyth County are also up compared to two weeks ago, Ohl said. No figures were provided Thursday, but on Monday the Forsyth County Department of Public Health reported at least 16 people were hospitalized.
As of Thursday there are at least 315 active cases in the county and seven deaths as well as 233 people considered recovered.
According to the governor’s plan for reopening the state, the earliest North Carolina could enter Phase 2 would be May 22. While N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen has previously said the state could revert to the stricter stay-at-home guidelines, the governor is facing political pressure from Republicans in the General Assembly and on the Council of State as well as from protesters to fully reopen the state and restart the economy.
State Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth and Davie, is one of several co-sponsors of the “Freedom to Work Act” which would allow businesses to reopen in violation of the governor’s executive order.
Phase 1 of reopening, which still includes a modified stay-at-home order, is in place through May 22. Cooper said Thursday, “Our COVID-19 decisions are guided by the data and science. We’ll use the time in this phase to keep a careful eye on the indicators before we are ready to announce the start of Phase 2.”
Cooper said he hopes the decision to move into Phase 2 will be a statewide decision and that the possibility of opening by region won't be necessary.
Cohen said Thursday the indicators for moving to Phase 2 are encouraging and reiterated that the state has "flattened the curve."
With retail shopping reopening, although stores are limited to half-capacity, Ohl said the impact of Phase 1 on COVID-19 numbers wouldn’t be felt for at least another week as would-be patients start to develop symptoms and more people get tested for the virus.
Ohl said he thinks the earliest the state could enter Phase 2 would be the end of May, and even then it would likely be a modified Phase 2, with outdoor dining and more outdoor activities, such as playgrounds, more likely to be allowed.
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