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'We want to turn these trends around right now' | NC COVID-19 metrics rise as Phase 3 expiration looms

The state's top health official says lives and livelihoods are at stake as daily cases, hospitalizations, and early surveillance reports increase.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina's coronavirus metrics are headed the wrong way, following suit with much of the country right now. The trends are happening as state leaders try to decide what should happen next Friday, when the current executive order detailing Phase 3 reopening expires.

"We don't want to go backwards. No one wants to go backwards. So, let's do the hard work of doing the 3 Ws," said Dr. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services Secretary. "I know it can be inconvenient, but we can make sure our trends are headed in the right direction."

Dr. Cohen gave that urgent reminder Tuesday afternoon, flanked by retail and hospitality industry leaders, representing thousands of business owners and employees all across the state, counting on the economy to remain open.

Like dozens of states, North Carolina is experiencing a resurgence of viral spread, which health officials link to cooler weather, more gatherings, and greater lapses in COVID-safe protocol as people deal with pandemic fatigue.

RELATED: Bar owners struggling under Phase 3 restrictions

Tuesday's state data update showed 1,743 new coronavirus cases, bringing the average daily case increases up to 1,800 — 200 new cases per day shy of July's highs.

The two-week positive test rate rose to 6.1%. The state reported 1,103 hospitalizations, elevating the average number of hospitalizations per day to 1,000 coronavirus patients a day.  

Monday, North Carolina health officials reported the recovery rate of COVID-19 patients had risen to 89%, up slightly from 88% last week. DHHS presumes that 206,471 people who tested positive for the virus have recovered.

When Gov. Roy Cooper announced the start of Phase 3, he said the executive order would only last three weeks, deliberately shorter than others he had issued during the pandemic. 

The governor said the purpose of the shortened phase was to allow for quick adjustments to the restrictions as the state moved into cooler weather, flu season, and also awaited possible impacts on the numbers from prior reopening stages.

Phase 3 is set to expire on Oct. 23 at 5 p.m., and Cooper said officials would be closely watching the numbers in deciding what comes next.

RELATED: North Carolina enters Phase 3: Here's what that means.

While Cohen did not hint at what upcoming moves might be, she did urge North Carolinians to practice the 3 Ws, noting the effort works best when everyone follows the protocols.

"We want to turn these trends around right now," Cohen said. "We cannot afford to move backwards."

The 3 Ws stand for "Wear, Wait and Wash":

  • Wear – Wear face masks and face coverings as much as possible when going out in public and when you’re around others
  • Wait – Social distance and stay 6 feet apart from others
  • Wash – Wash your hands frequently and as much as possible

Cohen also discussed “Count on Me NC,” which is an online platform where businesses can be trained in protective measures and the public can see which businesses are dedicated to safe operations.

More than 3,000 businesses have completed training so far, and people can search the site to see the various restaurants, hotels, retailers, and attractions have taken part.

Tuesday's briefing was also yet another reminder of what is at stake as cases spike — not just lives, but also livelihoods.

Andy Ellen, president of North Carolina's Retail Merchants Association, reminded North Carolinians that small businesses across the state are counting on reopening to progress. 

He urged businesses and customers to continue to follow safe practices.

"Right now, many businesses are struggling to survive," Ellen said. "They need a strong shopping season. We can't afford to slip backwards in how we handle COVID."

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