Current status of coronavirus in Charlotte: Statewide testing options continue to expand

Current status of coronavirus in Charlotte: Statewide testing options continue to expand
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This story was last updated at 6:08 a.m. on Sunday, May 31. We’ll continue to regularly update it. Any new information will be added below and included in our daily newsletter.


Latest: CVS joins the list of providers offering drive-thru Covid testing in Charlotte. 

During a briefing Thursday Governor Cooper announced additional statewide testing options.

Drive-thru coronavirus testing will be offered at 55 CVS stores around the state, 11 of them in Mecklenburg County.  To get tested at CVS, make an appointment online ahead of time.

Both viral and antibody testing options are increasing throughout the state.

[Related Agenda story: Here’s how and where to get a COVID-19 test in Charlotte. Plus, antibody testing explained]

Hospitalizations increase: On May 28, North Carolina had 708 patients hospitalized for COVID-19, an all-time high. By May 31, the number had dropped to 638.

RNC: During a May 26 press conference Governor Roy Cooper addressed the president’s Memorial Day tweets threatening to move the Republican National Convention from Charlotte.

“It’s okay for political conventions to be political but pandemic response cannot be,” Cooper said.

[Related Agenda story: The president threatened to pull the RNC from Charlotte. Here’s how local officials responded.]

Outdoor dining, breweries: The City of Charlotte is allowing restaurants to convert portions of their parking lots and extra sidewalk/street space into dining areas for customers.

Under phase two, restaurants can reopen, but must operate at no more than 50 percent capacity and arrange tables six feet apart, among other guidelines.

The outdoor dining option will be in place for 90 days. Restaurant owners who want to participate won’t have to pay a permit fee but do need to register.

Also, brewery taprooms and brewpubs can now reopen in phase 2 in North Carolina, according to clarification from the state. This pertains to any brewery, even if they don’t serve food. Wineries and distilleries can now reopen, too.

Moving into phase two: During a meeting on May 22, Mecklenburg County public health director Gibbie Harris encouraged residents to stay home despite more businesses being open under phase two.

“The temptation to run back to pre-pandemic behaviors is strong, Harris said. “It’s important to follow the advice we got from our mothers: Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.”

Restaurants, breweries, wineries, distilleries, hair/nail salons, barber shops, swimming pools, childcare facilities, day camps and overnight camps can reopen and operate at 50 percent capacity with increased cleaning and social distancing:

Gatherings are limited to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors. Gyms, bars, and other businesses have to remain closed.

“The potential spread of COVID-19 can be significant there,” Cooper said.

[Related Agenda story: Explainer: Phase two of reopening starts Friday. Restaurants and salons can reopen, bars and gyms remain closed]

While religious services are exempt (because a judge blocked Cooper’s restrictions on worship services, which prevented most faith groups from holding indoor worship services for more than 10 people) officials still suggest that religious gatherings remain virtual or limited to small groups.

Phase two will stay in place until at least June 26.

In Mecklenburg County, leaders are concerned about the rise in coronavirus cases among young Hispanic residents. 

Data: Twice a week, the county releases new data about local cases.

For the last few weeks, county public health director Gibbie Harris has been worried about the “rapidly rising” case numbers among Charlotte’s Hispanic community. County officials say they’re reaching out to the Hispanic community by sharing the county toolkit and partnering with Hispanic-owned and serving businesses.

Additionally, the county is seeing outbreaks in construction sites throughout the region, Harris said.

On May 29, the county reported increases in four key metrics over the last 14 days: daily cases, deaths, hospitalizations, and percent of tests positive. Harris said hospitals are not reporting shortages of beds or staff at the moment. 

“I am, however, concerned that the lack of adherence to the current guidance on gatherings, physical distancing and wearing cloth face coverings is likely accelerating the spread of this infection in our community,” she said.

Here’s a snapshot of where Mecklenburg’s cases stand as of May 27.

  • About 3 in 4 reported cases are in adults ages 20 to 59.
  • About 1 in 8 coronavirus patients were hospitalized.
  • Almost all of the coronavirus related deaths in the county have occurred among adults over 60 with underlying chronic conditions. For the first time since the outbreak began, a 43-year-old with no underlying conditions died from Covid complications.
  • About two-thirds of reported cases have been released from isolation. This means at least 72 hours have passed since they experienced symptoms and at least seven days have passed since the first sign of symptoms.
  • Hispanic residents make up 38.5 percent of coronavirus cases in the county. A disparity the county says comes from a lack of access to healthcare and high numbers of essential workers from the Hispanic community.
  • Black residents make up 27.6 percent of cases and 32.6 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the county. The county has said this is due to “persisting disparities” in rates of chronic illness and access to health care.
  • Over the last 14 days about 8.2 percent of people tested for coronavirus were positive, this represents an increase over the last 14 days.

As of May 15, the NCDHHS expanded its testing criteria. It’s recommending physicians test any patient suspected of having COVID-19. It’s also posting statewide testing sites online.

Harris says Mecklenburg County will increase testing as the state reopens.

In an effort to serve underserved and minority communities, Atrium Health opened mobile screening sites. Two units are moving throughout the county each day as part of the outreach.

The state has also increased PPE production. Some manufacturers are changing operations to produce masks and gowns. Charlotte-based Honeywell entered a contract with the state to produce 100,000 N95 masks a month through August 2021.

Atrium Mobile Covid screening

Medical professionals screen patients at Atrium Health’s Mobile Testing Center at the Stratford YMCA on West Boulevard.

Predicting the “peak”: Predicting COVID-19 outcomes is like forecasting a hurricane, and different models suggest varying peak timelines. Most models say we’re past the “peak” or a potential surge. The county’s most recent projection, however, claims the peak will come July 14, based on modeling from the University of Pennsylvania. But WFAE reported that the projection is past the point of being useful, according to one of the model’s creators.

Local health officials still anticipate a peak, but one that is much more manageable.

“There’s no data to support that we have already peaked here in Mecklenburg County,” Harris said during a May 14 briefing.

During a meeting of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority Board of Commissioners on May 12, Atrium Health CEO Gene Woods said that based on current trends, the peak in coronavirus cases may not happen until July 24.

Known Mecklenburg County cases: 3,858.

Covid case count May 27

Mecklenburg County’s daily case count as of May 27. (Note: N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reports a slightly higher number of known cases because it accounts for anyone who was tested here, not just residents who tested positive.)

Known North Carolina cases: 27,673, according to the state DHHS. The state identified its first case on March 3. Approximately 14,954 patients statewide have recovered from coronavirus.

Hospitalized: 638 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized in North Carolina. In Charlotte, 87 Covid patients were hospitalized at an acute care facility. On average, that figure has been increasing over the last two weeks.

Deaths: 877 deaths associated with coronavirus in North Carolina, including 89 in Mecklenburg County. Almost all deaths in Mecklenburg were among individuals with underlying chronic illnesses.

    Outbreaks at long-term care facilities: 18 long-term care facilities in Mecklenburg County have reported an outbreak of two or more COVID-19 cases. These long-term care facilities include nursing homes and residential care facilities. As of May 27, more than half of the county’s deaths are connected to long-term care facilities.

    Restrictions and recommendations: 

    • Grocery stores and other retailers can only have five people for every 1,000 square feet in the store at a time. Additionally, retailers need to offer shopping times for seniors and make hand sanitizer accessible, among other requirements.
    • Mecklenburg County health officials recommend that everyone wear a mask or face covering while in public settings like grocery stories and pharmacies.
      coronavirus

      Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles is seen with Governor Roy Cooper and Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, NCDHHS State Health Director and Chief Medical Officer, during a press conference on March 11.

      Zoom out: COVID-19, or just “coronavirus,” started in Wuhan, China in early December. Coronavirus is actually a large family of viruses that cause illnesses, including the common cold, MERS, and SARS. This present strain is new to humans, meaning we needed new tests and still need a new vaccine, which could take a year or longer.

      Global impact: On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. Total cases are now more than 5.87 million cases across 188 countries. At least 362,000 people have died worldwide.

      United States: On March 13, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency. The U.S. saw its first coronavirus case in late January. Follow the spread in real-time with this tracker from Johns Hopkins University. Here’s where the virus stands as of May 28:

      • 1.73 million+ confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., more than any other country
      • 102,000+ deaths

      Here’s everything else you need to know about how the coronavirus is affecting Charlotte:

      What is North Carolina doing to control the spread?

      Schools closed: On April 24, Governor Cooper announced public schools, originally closed until May 15, would continue e-learning through the end of the academic year. Cooper said reopening schools for camps, summer classes, and fall classes would depend on meeting health guidelines.

      Canceling events: All gatherings are postponed. This includes sporting events (aside from a few exceptions made for fan-less NASCAR races), performances with Blumenthal Performing Arts, nonprofit fundraisers, stadium concerts, Charlotte Ballet, and many more. As of now, the Republican National Convention is still on for August 24-27, but with potential gathering restrictions, the president has threatened to move it.

      Postponing court cases: Until June 1, there will be a delay for most civil and criminal proceedings to minimize courthouse visits in the hopes of slowing the spread of coronavirus. Exceptions to this include emergency proceedings and trials that can be conducted remotely. [Related Agenda story: Q&A: Mecklenburg County judge on court operations, increased domestic violence during pandemic]

      atrium-health-carolinas medical center

      Atrium Health (Agenda archive photo)

      How are the hospitals managing the coronavirus outbreak?

      Clinical trials: Atrium Health offers clinical trial that will allow critically ill coronavirus patients to be treated with Remdesivir, an anti-viral drug manufactured by Gilead Sciences. “Remdesivir shows promise to improve treatment outcomes for critically ill COVID-19 patients,” said Internal Medicine Physician and Infectious Disease Specialist Christopher Polk via email.

      Atrium Health will administer the drug to 10 patients at a time. Patients who qualify for the trial will be transported to Charlotte for treatment. The drug was originally developed to treat Ebola.

      Novant Health is also running clinical trials for COVID-19 patients with a new drug called leronlimab, developed by the biotech company CytoDyn. Novant is the second clinical trial site in the country.

      Rescheduling non-essential procedures: In March, Atrium and Novant began rescheduling non-essential surgeries. They have since resumed the procedures.

      Visitor limits: All hospitals have placed restrictions on all visitors to its hospitals. At Novant Health, laboring mothers and patients under 18 may have one visitor accompany them. No other visitors are allowed at this time, although some exceptions may be granted. Atrium Health is now easing visitor restrictions as well. [Full Agenda story: Charlotte hospitals are preparing for war against coronavirus]

      Major airlines like American, United, and Delta have reduced the number of flights nationally and internationally. (Agenda archive photo.)

      How is transportation affected?

      Public transit: Light rail and buses in Charlotte are still running and currently free to use. Both buses and the light rail will operate on a reduced schedule.

      Air travel: Carriers have responded to the outbreak by reducing their flight capacity and waiving change fees. Airlines such as American, Delta, and United have all reduced their capacity on both domestic and international flights. They’re all dropping change fees through May 31, too.

      All airlines with flights to Charlotte-Douglas are either strongly suggesting or requiring passengers wear face coverings. Starting June 1, Frontier Airlines with be the first U.S. carrier to conduct temperature checks. Any passenger with a temperature over 100.4 will be turned away.

      coronavirus

      Bare hand sanitizer shelves are seen in the Target at Metropolitan in mid-March. A sign reads, “Due to high demand and to support all guests, we will be limiting the quantities of disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizers and hand & face wipes to 6 per guest.”

      How can I protect myself?

      You’ve probably heard of these preventative measures, but it’s important to reiterate:

      • Stay home, as mandated by the local and statewide stay at home orders.
      • Wear a mask or face covering when you’re out in a public setting.
      • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.
      • Don’t touch your face.
      • If you have to go out for groceries or for a walk, stay at least six feet away from others.
      • Disinfect surfaces in your home regularly.
      • If you feel sick, call your doctor first. Don’t go into the hospital right away unless it’s an emergency.

      For more Agenda coverage on the coronavirus, click here. Questions or news tip? Email hi@charlotteagenda.com.


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