Coronavirus in Wake County: What to know

Updated: Sunday, April 5, 8:11 a.m.

Here’s what’s happening now:

School calendars, court hearings are pushed back.

Superior and District Court proceedings in North Carolina will be pushed back to no sooner than June, INDY Week reports.

Wake County Public Schools System also changed its year-round schools calendar.

Wake County public schools, which have schools that operate on a traditional and a year-round schedule, is moving its year-round schools to a traditional schedule — at least temporarily.

In the district’s update on late Wednesday, officials said “We are making this change in an effort to keep as many students as possible engaged in learning while schools are closed and the travel outside the home is limited.”

For now, the change would be for April 13 to May 15, the last day of Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order to close schools.

If schools resume May 18, new adjustments will be made to the calendar.

“Should schools be closed the remainder of the year, the school year for Track 1 of year-round calendars will end June 4. All other affected schools would end June 11,” the update says.

In addition, Fox Road, Barwell, and Walnut Creek’s calendars will also change. [read the full update]

April Fools fail

The news came after an image that replicated the look of a real news site screenshot spread false information, including a version that mimicked a News & Observer URL.

The image, which made its rounds on social media and some people believed, said Gov. Cooper ordered students to repeat their current grade, which is not true.

Misinformation, whatever the intent behind it, is harmful to our neighbors, especially in a time when information is changing rapidly.

North Carolinians who aren’t able to pay utility bills won’t have service shut off

Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order Tuesday prohibits utility companies — electric, gas, water and wastewater services — from shutting off service because of inability to pay. [read more]

There is some “encouragement” for other industries, as well: telecommunications companies that provide internet and phone services to continue service, landlords to delay evictions and banks to suspend fees.

EBT card amounts will be increased for families receiving benefits

To make sure families receiving Food and Nutrition Services benefits can make fewer trips to the grocery store and have increased access to food, Gov. Cooper announced Monday that benefits will be increased for March and April.

About 360,000 families will see their benefits increase on their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. For dates and details, see more here.

How you can help: Don’t buy more than you need, and if you can, try to avoid the products with a WIC label, which those receiving SNAP/WIC benefits are limited to purchasing. [@NC_Governor]

Two instances of people coming to work sick

A GoTriangle driver worked while experiencing coronavirus symptoms for three days, March 18-20, and riders may have been exposed. The two routes were Route 300, between the Regional Transit Center, the Cary train station and the GoRaleigh station; and Route 305, between Apex at Lake Pine Drive and Waverly Place and the GoRaleigh station. [learn more]

A Wake County contractor “supporting public health and clinical services in the Sunnybrook
building” tested positive for the virus. Local health officials determined who was exposed to the virus. [learn more]

What else to know:

Domestic abuse and isolation are a dangerous mix, INDY Week reports. If you need help, call the InterAct 24-hour crisis line at 919-828-7740 for safety planning, resources and advocacy. In an emergency, always call 9-1-1.

Unemployment checks went out this week from the state with an estimated two-week turnaround time. State officials said they added capacity to their systems and will hire 350 people to help process the large number of claims. [News & Observer]

How to find and pay for childcare if you’re an essential worker. [EdNC]

About the coronavirus cases in Wake County

As of Saturday evening, there were 302 “presumptive positive” cases in Wake County, according to the county site.

But not everyone gets tested. People with mild symptoms are encouraged to self-isolate.

State and local health officials moved to a strategy in March that tests high-risk individuals and healthcare workers as a priority with limited testing resources.

The tested cases have risen dramatically since the beginning of March, and Wake County officials say the some people who have tested to have the disease don’t know where they got it, indicating community spread.

Also on March 27, Wake County rolled out a new dashboard with demographic data around the local cases.

A screenshot of Saturday evening’s dashboard.

The demographic data shows that COVID-19 cases are across ages in Wake County.

It’s similar to statewide numbers, according to NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen on Wednesday:

Most (43%) of North Carolina cases in are in the 25-49 age range, but most of the people who have died from the COVID-19 are older than 65, about 78%.

Here’s a breakdown of Wake County cases:

Saturday’s demographic data on ages.

The total North Carolina cases increased to at least 2,402 on Saturday, according to the daily updated numbers on the [NCDHHS site.]

Within that number, 271 are currently hospitalized. Twenty-four people have died.

As of Sunday morning, The News & Observer is reporting at least 2,542 known cases in N.C. and 33 deaths.

The number is higher as the news organization is tracking when county health departments announce cases throughout the state, which are added later to the state total. [read more]

North Carolina’s third coronavirus-related death was a Raleigh sanitation worker. Adrian Grubbs, in his 30s, lived in Harnett County. WRAL reports he had underlying health issues. [read more]

The Centers for Disease Control updated their guidance for people at risk of severe illness to include people with underlying health issues of all ages, a change from earlier guidance that mostly focused on people 65 and older. [read more]

What to know about Wake County’s stay at home order

Wake County’s stay at home order went into effect 5 p.m. March 27 and will be in effect until April 17.

It applies to all cities and towns in Wake County, including Raleigh, Cary, Wake Forest, Knightdale, etc.

On March 27, Gov. Roy Cooper announced a stay at home order for the state with similar guidelines, in effect from March 30-April 29.

Wake County’s are tighter in some areas. No gatherings are permitted outside of your immediate family, for example, while the state permits gatherings up to 10 people. You should follow the most strict guidelines. [FAQ]

The stay at home order might not change life much for people who have been practicing strict social distancing and working from home. 

You can still get takeout from a local restaurant, for example, and go to the grocery store, farmers market or pharmacy.

The stay at home order does ban gatherings of any kind beyond your immediate family. 

It also says “all non-essential facilities, services, operations and retail businesses must close.” [list of FAQ for businesses]

Wake County announced the stay-at-home order when the number of known cases reached 100. With known community spread, “it is clear that more active measures are needed,” Wake County Board of Commissioners chairman Greg Ford said in March.

Enforcement of closures and people will be “soft handed,” officials said at the press conference.

In a press release (and more in an FAQ), here’s what you can still do and what you can’t do, directly from the county: 

What is Not Allowed under the Proclamation 

The stay-at-home order includes the following mandates:

  • All non-essential facilities, services, operations and retail businesses must close.
  • Gatherings of any size are prohibited.
  • People of any age with medical conditions should not leave their homes except to get medical care.
  • Social distancing must be practiced while in public.
  • Public transportation should only be used if necessary. If public transport is a person’s primary way to get around, they should abide by social distancing best practices, standing and sitting at least six feet apart and using sanitizing products. 

What is Allowed under the Proclamation 

The stay-at-home does not restrict activities such as:

  • Shopping for food at the grocery store or picking up take-out meals from a local restaurant
  • Operating businesses that provide critical services like hospitals, government agencies and financial institutions
  • Caring for a family member or pet in another household
  • Providing childcare for parents who have to go to work at jobs that are considered essential
  • Utilizing plumbers, electricians, exterminators and others who help maintain the safety and sanitation of residences
  • Visiting a local park, greenway or nature preserve while practicing social distancing”

The full proclamation has more details. [read]

A change in testing as COVID-19 spreads

The statewide numbers of presumptive positive cases doesn’t reflect everyone who is sick with COVID-19, particularly after new guidance from the county and state on March 24 on who should be tested.

That guidance from the state and Wake County: If you’re sick with mild symptoms that could be COVID-19, stay at home, unless you’re 65 or older or have underlying health issues. [factsheet: what should I do if I feel sick?]

It’s a significant change in the way tests are given and how cases are tracked.

Wake County “will continue to monitor the at-risk people it tests. The county will no longer monitor cases in the public at large,” officials said in a release.

That means we won’t know how many people actually have the coronavirus. Health officials say it’s not necessary for all people to get tested, though.

The State Health Director and the Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, said March 24 that when someone with a mild illness leaves their home, they could expose themselves to the coronavirus if they don’t already have it.

The Wake County release on March 24 said: “Now that the county knows the virus has spread throughout the county, it must begin conserving resources such as personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and direct testing to those more likely to become seriously ill.” [read more]

What is community spread?

The first case of “community spread” in North Carolina was found in Wilson County, and by March 24, Wake County officials said that community spread happening locally, too. [read more]

Before the Wilson County case, “all previous cases of the virus in the state were either linked to travel to a hotspot or contact with another positive case. Now, the virus is spreading through the community through people who are infected but haven’t been diagnosed,” [WRAL reports.]

“This is expected but still an unfortunate benchmark in this pandemic,” The News & Observer reported Gov. Roy Cooper said March 26.

How to get help now

For general help/find resources: NC 2-1-1, from United Way of North Carolina, is helping connect people with needed resources from COVID-19’s indirect effects, such as “food, shelter, energy assistance, housing, parenting resources, health care, employment, substance abuse treatment, as well as specific resources for older adults and for persons with disabilities, and much more.” Dial 2-1-1 or TTY 888-892-1162 for assistance. [get info]

Help for Triangle area hospitality workers: The Triangle Restaurant Workers Relief Fund was announced March 18, run by Frankie Lemmon Foundation, to help those working in the industry experiencing layoffs or loss of income.

That fund has since been moved to NC Restaurant Workers Relief Fund, managed by the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association and available for hospitality workers across the state. [donate or get help]

Families experiencing food insecurity: Community food distribution sites to help families experiencing food insecurity are open at lunchtime at some schools and community centers. ID will not be required to pick up. [Find the closest location]

Some schools will also be offering lunch and breakfast pickup. You can also text FOODNC to 877-877 for locations.

Unemployment: Gov. Cooper made it easier for people to file for unemployment, removing some of the requirements that will help food & beverage workers, including removing the one-week waiting period to apply, removing the requirement that they must be actively looking for another job, allowing those who have had their hours reduced to apply and removing the requirement to apply in person. [learn + file here]

Finding childcare: Childcare for hospital workers and emergency personnel is available. NCDHHS has a hotline: 888-610-1685.

Business owners in Wake County with questions can contact the county at a “a dedicated phone number — 919.856.7420” or visit the website http://wakegov.com/covid19.

READ MORE: How to help your neighbors

How it’s affecting the hospitality industry

The food and beverage industry, a large part of the local economy and point of pride for the Raleigh area, is hurting as a result of COVID-19.

As dining rooms were closed March 17, restaurants, bars and shops pivoted to takeout, curbside pickup and delivery. But in an Instagram post, local restaurateur and chef Ashley Christensen shared “Take-out and delivery is a stop gap, a short-term fix. Restaurants will NOT survive without intervention from our elected officials.”

She went on to say: “But we still need to do more. The industry will not be able to weather this without unemployment reform and some kind of stimulus package. Full stop.”

One effort being shared by people in hospitality now is [saverestaurants.co], from the Independent Restaurants Coalition Collaborators, a cohort with bold-font names in the industry including Ashley Christensen. [learn more]

What is closed, and what’s not?

What’s closed:

K-12 schools in North Carolina will be closed through May 15, Gov. Roy Cooper announced March 23.

A joint statement released by the State Board of Education and State Superintendent Mark Johnson about the closure said school buildings will become emergency child care facilities for frontline workers addressing the COVID-19 crisis and will continue to be places helping serve people experiencing food insecurity.

“As we look ahead, we want to resume traditional in-school instruction this school year on May 18. We will reopen schools if our public health experts say that we can.” [read the statement]

Many businesses, including fitness clubs, personal grooming services and businesses who can’t adapt to social distancing. [read more]

Visiting some care facilities: Gov. Cooper’s new executive order March 23 put tighter restrictions on visiting long-term care facilities, nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Visitors won’t be permitted for 30 days unless it’s an end-of-life situation.

Wake County Libraries are closed and suspended their online reservation systems. E-book reservations are still available, and you can apply for a temporary 60-day card if you don’t have one. [learn more]

Wake County, Raleigh and Cary park facilities, including playgrounds and bathrooms, are closed but park grounds and greenways are still open.

William B. Umstead State Park closed after sundown on March 27. [read more]

What’s open:

Public parks’ open spaces and greenways remain open, but bathrooms will be closed.

The North Carolina Museum of Art’s Museum Park is open, though its galleries are closed.

Takeout is still open: Beginning at 5 p.m. March 17, North Carolina restaurants and bars were no longer allowed to serve dine-in customers, by Governor Roy Cooper’s executive order.

Gov. Cooper said that restaurants will continue to be open for takeout.

Grocery stores and farmers markets will also stay open, and people should resist overbuying.

Transportation hubs and transit such as GoRaleigh are still open. GoTriangle announced March 23 that bus fares will be suspended and riders will enter from the back. [read more]

Higher education institutions are still teaching. N.C. State moved to remote, online classes. Wake Tech just returned from an extended spring break to online instruction.

How does coronavirus spread?

Because the virus is thought to spread from person to person contact, anyone in “close contact” — within 6 feet — is at higher risk for coronavirus.

Droplets from a sick person’s coughs or sneezes may be inhaled by a person in this defined close contact. Getting sick from touching surfaces seems to be less risky with this virus, the CDC says.

People with the virus are most contagious when they are symptomatic. Read more on the CDC website.

How concerned should we be?

Not all people who get coronavirus will have serious complications.

About 80% of people with the virus only experience mild symptoms.

About 20% see more serious respiratory complications, such as pneumonia, or worse.

That goes in particular for people considered “high risk” — those with underlying health issues such as “heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes,” those with weakened immune systems or adults older than 65.

Younger, healthy people, even young children, appear to be less affected. Some studies show infants are more at-risk for more serious symptoms. While it’s not known if pregnant women are more at risk, they should be monitored, according to the CDC.

In the U.S., there are 277,205 known cases and 6,593 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control‘s Saturday update.

How to avoid getting sick

Stay at home.

And this goes for the seasonal flu, too:

Wash your hands. With warm water and soap, for 30 seconds. As an alternative, use hand sanitizer.

What doesn’t help: Masks on healthy people, unless you’re caring for someone with the virus.

Quarantine if you’re experiencing flu-like symptoms.

Call the COVID-19 helpline if you think you might have the virus: 1-866-462-3821.

Other guidance from Wake County’s coronavirus page:

  • “Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that are frequently touched
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue
  • Discarding tissues after a single use
  • Following the CDC’s travel guidance

If you have specific questions about COVID-19 and your risk, you can email covid19.questions@wakegov.com.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

Fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the CDC.

Symptoms may not show up until 2 days to 2 weeks after exposure.

Think you might have coronavirus symptoms? Call your health care provider in advance, rather than showing up.

With Wake County’s new guidance: “individuals and families who do not fall into an at-risk group but start to experience COVID-19 symptoms… should self-isolate for seven days after the onset of symptoms. If symptoms are mild, they do not need testing.

Once the symptoms resolve, they should remain at home without fever for three more days.

If serious illness develops, they should call their primary care provider. If they have trouble breathing, they should call 9-1-1.

In addition, the county will continue to monitor the at-risk people it tests. The county will no longer monitor cases in the public at large.”

This story will be updated.

More resources

EdNC: Coronavirus resources for students, educators and parents

WUNC: Tested, a daily podcast.

North Carolina Health News: Public health workers are on the front lines of the fight against coronavirus. But they’ve bled resources for years.

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