North Carolina Now Has Its First Case of Community Spread COVID-19

By Kimberly Lawson

March 20, 2020

The state’s Department of Health and Human Services said North Carolina was ahead of the curve by already having aggressive containment measures in place.

As North Carolina’s number of known cases of coronavirus shot up to 137, the state also logged its first cases of individuals testing positive who’d had no travel history or contact with other confirmed infected people.

Gov. Roy Cooper said “community transmission” of the disease has begun, with the first known example occurring in Wilson County. “This is an expected but still an unfortunate benchmark in this pandemic,” Cooper said at a press conference Thursday in Raleigh.

The largest clusters of infected are in Durham, Mecklenburg, and Wake counties. Mecklenburg saw its number of confirmed cases double overnight on Thursday, and has now reached 43.

“Unfortunately, with the new cases that we have, what we’re recognizing is that we now have community spread,” said Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris.

Mecklenburg County declared a state of emergency earlier this week, prohibiting all gatherings of over 50 people. For context, violating Gov. Cooper’s statewide order to keep gatherings under 100 is punishable as a Class 2 misdemeanor. The county ban includes concerts, conferences, weddings, theaters, gyms and health centers, but does not apply to airports, schools, places of worship, transit, office space, hotels, residential buildings or shelters, malls or shops, and hospitals.

Cooper also extended his initial order for public K-12 schools in the state to close for two weeks. “We’re going to be out of schools for a while. The order was until March 30, but I think people know with community spread now coming and this crisis increasing that we will likely be out of school for a longer period of time,” he said. “We just don’t know how long at this point.”

Documented community spread pushes the state’s response into a new phase, from containment to mitigation. Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services secretary, said the state was ahead of the curve by already having aggressive containment measures in place.

“We made the assumption that there was already community spread. And we were right,” Harris said.

Gov. Cooper signaled he would not yet order shelter-in-place measures, which could include implementing curfews, road closures, and evacuations. California Gov. Gary Newsome implemented such an order for the state Thursday.

Instead, Cooper said his first priority would be to shore up the needs of the medical community. He planned to join a call with other governors and President Trump later Thursday to seek “significant help.”

“We know we are going to have many more patients,” Cooper said. “So making sure that we are mobilizing our resources to ramp up our ability to take care of people, we’ve got to focus on that.”




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