RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said he’ll announce a plan at the beginning of next week on the next steps of reopening that could include requirements to wear masks, as the state’s current safer-at-home order nears its end on June 26.
Cooper and state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen talked about the importance of masks in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as the state continues to see the number of people in hospital because of the disease go up.
“We do not want to go backward. What we want people to do is to do more to wear face masks and social distancing,” said Cooper.
On Friday, the city of Raleigh will become the latest municipality to require masks. Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin says people will not be fined for failing to wear one, rather the city is encouraging voluntary compliance.
“You need to have some kind of enforcement,” Cooper said. “We’ve got to remove the politics out of all of this. We’ve got to realize that strong people wear face coverings because it is a sign of compassion and that you actually care about people.”
On Thursday, the state reported 857 people were in North Carolina hospitals due to COVID-19, the highest number since the pandemic began. Hospitalizations have increased by about 37 percent since Memorial Day, according to DHHS.
Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University’s School of Medicine, said the increase in hospitalizations is a key metric he’s watching as state leaders consider the next steps in reopening.
“I think being prepared to put a pause on things should be the first step to that,” he said. “If we consider ourselves to be data-driven and we see our data heading in the wrong way, it’s nonsense to think we could keep doing the same thing and expect that trajectory to change.”
Wolfe said there are 84 people in Duke’s hospital system being treated for COVID-19, and that number has stayed in the low 80s for the last week.
“If that number were to creep up into well above the hundreds, then you start really having to weighing into say, hey maybe we need look into (going) back here to make it operationally safe to care for people,” he said.
He said hospitals across the state have learned a great deal since the pandemic began and have been able to adapt to resuming elective procedures while also treating COVID-19 patients.
“North Carolina has been fortunate in that we’ve had a little buffer of time to learn how to structure our healthcare system,” he said.
He also noted that the increase in hospitalizations has not directly translated to more deaths occurring in hospitals.
“Despite hospitalization rates going up. That’s not quite been the same with mortality in the hospital,” he said, adding that hospitals are seeing younger patients than when the pandemic began and health professionals are learning more about how to treat them.
Wolfe and Dr. Sallie Permar, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Duke, also said wearing a mask is a key component to helping reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep the state on track to avoiding shutting down.
“The data has really shown that wearing a mask and preventing those respiratory droplets from spreading on other people is really effective,” Permar said.