Health

School's Out

Apr 24, 2020

Governor Roy Cooper today announced that public school facilities in North Carolina would stay closed through the end of the academic year. It came a day after he announced a three-stage plan to re-open the state, when specific benchmarks are reached.

Republican leaders pushed back against his stay-at-home order, even as the two parties have worked in a more bipartisan fashion behind the scenes in legislative committees.

We speak with Rose Hoban, the editor of North Carolina Health News, about what came out of those committees, and the ongoing challenges of getting information on the meat processing plant outbreaks in the state.


Governor Roy Cooper and members of the COVID-19 response team will provide an update at a conference today at 2 p.m. Education leaders are expected to join as well.

Watch live here:

Today, Governor Roy Cooper extended his stay-at-home order until May 8. He also laid out a more specific, three-phase plan for re-opening North Carolina's economy.

In very simple terms, Cooper wants to see decreases or sustained leveling in four trends, twice as many tests conducted per day and twice as many people who can trace cases, and a larger supply of N-95 masks and gowns.

As benchmarks are hit, restrictions will be lifted. It's part of an effort to get the 700,000 or so North Carolinians who have filed for unemployment back to work.

Behind every number, of course, is a difficult or traumatic story. We talk with WUNC's Jeff Tiberii about how unemployed workers are getting by and how the state is trying to help.


Vidant Health James and Connie Maynard Children's Hospital.
Vidant Health

A North Carolina-based health system is enacting furloughs, reducing salaries and cutting employee benefits at its hospitals because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Vidant Health said in a news release on Wednesday that it's faced with challenges which have been intensified by the coronavirus pandemic, including a traditionally underserved population with a high burden of disease and a growing number of patients relying on Medicare and Medicaid. Those issues have combined to impact the system's revenue, the news release said.

A woman dressed in black, wearing a mask looks gazes off towards a stream of light
Kate Medley / WUNC

 Death is a taboo topic. Acknowledging it feels like an admission of defeat — that there is no hope left. But in the face of a pandemic, death surrounds us. 

Racial Disparities

Apr 22, 2020

About 21% of the people who live in North Carolina are African-American, but black people make up 39% of COVID-19 cases in the state - and 37% of the deaths.

These disparities did not begin with this pandemic. The racial differences in health care are well-documented by all manner of researchers, including those in the Department of Health and Human Services.

We speak with Benjamin Money, the Deputy Secretary for Health Services at DHHS about how COVID-19 has put a new focus on the longstanding problem of racial health disparities.


Protesters rally in downtown Raleigh, calling on Governor Roy Cooper to reopen the state.
Kate Medley / For WUNC

County commissioners in several North Carolina counties are urging Governor Roy Cooper to give them the authority to ease stay-at-home orders. Various news outlets report local officials in Gaston, Lincoln and Wilkes counties have reached out to the governor's office.

FLICKR/CC, Ronnie Pittman

In North Carolina and across the nation, black communities are contracting and dying from COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates. But there has been little consensus about why that may be the case. 

The South

Apr 21, 2020

Governor Roy Cooper says he is still weighing goals and will make a plan about what needs to happen before re-opening areas of the state.

Cooper's gubernatorial colleagues in the south are moving ahead, however, without similar considerations. Yesterday, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said he was lifting restrictions across state within the next week on businesses from restaurants to hair salons to bowling alleys. Other governors in South Carolina and Tennessee are following suit.

Cooper is pointing specifically to testing; that we need to be able to do more than we can right now. Rose Hoban, the editor of North Carolina Health News, gives us an update on where North Carolina is with testing.
And we hear from a small-business owner who doesn't want to expose her customers to COVID-19, but she can’t stay closed much longer without help.


North Carolina health and emergency leaders are sheduled to hold a coronavirus briefing at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

Watch live here:

Courtesy Bevin Strickland

Bevin Strickland is an ICU nurse, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a single mother of three. Two weeks ago, she started a temporary position at Mount Sinai hospital, in New York City, one of the nation’s coronavirus hot spots.

North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen.
N.C. Department of Public Safety

More North Carolinians have died from COVID-19 in a matter of weeks than of the flu during the entire flu season, which started in September.

State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen noted at a briefing Monday afternoon that North Carolina's first COVID-19 death occurred on March 24.

"So in less than a month, we've already surpassed flu deaths for this year," she said. "COVID-19 is now the leading cause of death in the United States.

The Nash Printing Plant produced posters for the prisons from the CDC.
N.C. Department of Public Safety

A large COVID-19  outbreak at an eastern North Carolina prison has led officials to shutter a nearby facility and transfer its offenders elsewhere so guards can help relieve staff at the beleaguered Neuse Correctional Institution.

Critical Care

Apr 20, 2020

Bevin Strickland is a nurse and doctoral student a UNC Greensboro. She's 47 years old, and a single mother of three.

When the COVID-19 outbreak hit New York, Strickland immediately explored ways she could help. After looking to volunteer, her friend Eric suggested that she sign a two-month contract to work as a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens.

WUNC reporter Liz Schlemmer has been talking to Strickland by video calls since she landed in New York City two weeks ago.

In this episode, Strickland explains what she's seeing and feeling, and she and Liz explore the importance of critical care in both of their lives.


A view of Glenwood South, a normally bustling part of downtown Raleigh, almost completely empty due to COVID-19.
Jason deBruyn / WUNC

Governor Roy Cooper is responding to the new guidelines for reopening the country announced by President Trump. 

In a state briefing Friday afternoon, Cooper said he was glad to see that the president's criteria largely mirror what North Carolina is doing. And the governor said decisions about easing restrictions will depend on testing.

To this point in the pandemic response, political partisanship hasn't been a major issue in North Carolina.

But that fight is likely to come. Soon.

Governor Roy Cooper is, of course, a Democrat. The state House and Senate are majority Republican. This is not news. It led, last summer, to a stalemate over the state budget.

While factions are developing over when to re-open the state's economy, the next big fight ahead will likely be over money. North Carolina has received about $2 billion in federal funds to deal with the pandemic, and another $2 billion is expected.

We speak with Rose Hoban, editor of North Carolina Health News, about how the General Assembly may choose to spend that money, and the role partisan politics may play in the weeks ahead. And we also take a virtual visit to the North Carolina Zoo.


Concertina wire surrounding a prison
Kate Ter Harr / Flickr Creative Commons

A COVID-19 outbreak at a North Carolina state prison has spread to approximately 150 inmates, health officials said Friday.

N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen.
N.C. Department of Public Safety

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is encouraging North Carolinians to utilize telehealth during the coronavirus pandemic.

Agency Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said keeping chronic conditions under control could be especially important to prevent serious complications from COVID-19. And she urged residents who don't have insurance coverage to pursue it through Healthcare.gov.

The Peak

Apr 16, 2020

It's been the subject of intense research and modeling by renowned experts, and a favorite parlor game for the rest of us: When will we hit "The Peak?"

Even the best models disagree about when, where and how we’ll get there, or even how many "peaks" there might be, but the models are all we have as we start to think and plan for how to dial back social distancing.

We speak with Aaron McKethan, a senior fellow in the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, and one of the researchers working on models in North Carolina.


Collin Parker

Has anyone checked on the huggers? As weeks of social distancing wear on, many are missing the comforts of a warm embrace — especially those who live alone. Touch has always been an essential emotional and physiological need. In its absence, more people are seeking out creative solutions. From self-massage and weighted blankets to pet fostering and adoption, those sheltering in place are finding new ways to connect with their bodies and their inner selves.

Health Secretary Mandy Cohen and Governor Roy Cooper
N.C. Department of Public Safety

The state is considering how and when residents and businesses will be able to return to life as normal, even if normal will be forever changed. 

While officials in the Cooper administration point out the coronavirus will be a threat until there's a vaccine, they acknowledge current social distancing policies can't go on forever.

The Youngest Generation

Apr 15, 2020

Years from now, our kids will likely write essays about this pandemic. Right now, some of those future high school and college kids are busy learning their ABCs at home. But if their parents are essential workers, they might still need to rely on their local child care facility - that is, if it's still open.

We talk with Donna White, the interim president of Smart Start, about how the child care system is trying to adapt to the pandemic, and how the structure of the program she runs made it susceptible to a global crisis.

Also, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, one of the leading National Institutes of Health scientists working to come up with a COVID-19 vaccination, has strong ties to the Triangle.


Governor Roy Cooper and members of the North Carolina coronavirus task force will hold a briefing at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Stream live here:

A facemask created by a 3D printer at N.C. State University.
N.C. State University

Amid a national shortage of personal protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic, UNC experts say health care systems may have to mitigate the problem by re-using PPE or producing supply from available materials.

Vulnerability

Apr 14, 2020

The pandemic is exposing weaknesses and inequities throughout our society and systems. Some are simply annoying, like hackers jumping into our Zoom calls, but others have serious consequences, like employer-based health-care, when so many are losing jobs and need coverage more than ever.

When it comes to public health, the most vulnerable people are at the highest risk. But so are the systems that serve them.

Rose Hoban, editor of North Carolina Health News, explains why rural hospitals are at particular financial risk, and what that means for people living in those communities. Also, Duke professor Sandy Darity lays out the potential catastrophic level of African American unemployment.


The Week Ahead

Apr 13, 2020

The numbers for today are in, and they are both grim, and a little hopeful. As of Monday, 86 people have now died in North Carolina, but the number of hospitalizations has dropped by about 15% since Saturday.

Concerns are growing over COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes across the state, as facilities in Franklin, Chatham, and Orange counties report dramatic rises in cases.

In Dare County, they have a different problem: A burgeoning economic catastrophe related to the potential loss of tourist season. WUNC's Jay Price speaks with a county commissioner/restaurant owner about the current situation and preparations for the near future.

Also, student journalists at Riverside High School go to extraordinary efforts to publish the school paper in the midst of the pandemic.


Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody of UNC Health.
UNC Health

UNC Health has launched a hotline for its health care workers to access mental health services.

Any employee of UNC Health can call the line to speak with a trained mental health provider and get a referral for other resources, including social workers, therapists, or online support groups.

Gov. Roy Cooper and members of the North Carolina Coronavirus Task Force will hold a briefing on COVID-19 updates. Watch live here starting at 3 p.m.

Reporting

Apr 10, 2020

Today: Reporting.

Earlier this month, when Governor Roy Cooper issued his executive order that people stay-at-home, he listed out some essential businesses and operations that could continue.

The list included the obvious, like grocery stores and pharmacies. But the "essential" list also included car mechanics, hardware stores, and news media outlets. No one believes for a second that reporters are on-par with health-care workers or pharmacists on the list of most essential. But, access to verified, accurate information is important.

We speak about the essential nature of news with Rose Hoban, editor of North Carolina Health News, and we hear from WUNC's Jay Price about how a reporter manages risk, and how this pandemic is different from the war-zone reporting he has done in the past. 


Cartoon image of fertilization.
Flickr Creative Commons

Infertility is a disease that affects millions of people in the United States but is rarely discussed openly. Twelve percent of married women between the ages of 15 and 44 experienced infertility, along with just over nine percent of men in that age group, according to a 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those numbers translate to about one in eight couples who have trouble getting or staying pregnant. There are a variety of treatments for infertility, but they can be costly and are not accessible to everyone.

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