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Officials: More Coronavirus Cases Expected In NC

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses.
Alissa Eckert, MS
This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses.

Updated at 9:02 a.m. 3/5/2020

UNC-Chapel Hill is expanding university affiliated travel restrictions to Washington State, California and Japan as the coronavirus continues to spread.
Both Washington and California are under a state of emergency as cases of COVID-19 increase. The university already has travel restrictions in place for China, South Korea, Iran and Italy. Several other schools have similar travel restrictions in place, including Duke and Elon universities.
On Wednesday, federal officials said they are contacting everyone who was on the flight with a Wake County man diagnosed with COVID-19. This comes after Wake County Health officials said they were only reaching out to people who had contact with the man when he became symptomatic. 
North Carolina health officials expect more cases of the novel coronavirus will be confirmed in the coming days.

On Tuesday, a resident of Wake County was confirmed as having the first case of COVID-19 in the state. The person recently traveled to Washington state and visited a long-term care facility where the disease was reported.

The infected person is isolated at home and doing well, according to Gov. Roy Cooper.

Mandy Cohen, the director of the state department of Health and Human Services, told WRAL this morning that the infected person did not have any symptoms while traveling through the Raleigh-Durham International Airport and for three days after.

“So we know that they were not symptomatic, not having any symptoms, which means that no one on the flight, in RDU, was at risk so that is good and people can have peace of mind over that,” she said.

Cohen added the state laboratory needs more testing kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She also emphasized that people should take common health precautions, including washing hands and staying home if they feel sick.

There are at least 80 confirmed cases of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in its latest update on the virus. It has been blamed for nine deaths in the U.S. — all in Washington state and has been found in at least 13 states since late January.

"I know that people are worried about this virus, and I want to assure North Carolinians our state is prepared," Cooper said Tuesday. "Our task force and state agencies are working closely with local health departments, health care providers and others ."

The Wake County Health Department says it's keeping in close contact with a man who has tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Health officials have also reached out to people who they believe came into contact with the man, but would not say how many are under observation.  

Wake County Public Health Director Chris Kippes said his department is following the CDC’s recommendations for whom to contact.

“Those individuals who have come into contact with our case when the case became symptomatic and had spent 10 minutes within six feet of the individual,’ Kippes said.

The CDC says it's possible that the virus can be transmitted before people show symptoms, but that's not believed to be the main way it spreads.  

Kippes said the risk of Wake County residents contracting COVID-19 is still low.

Meanwhile, UNC Wilmington is now among the schools canceling study-abroad programs in Europe because of concerns about the coronavirus. Officials there say a spring break trip will not happen as scheduled next week. More cases of the virus are popping up in countries like Germany, France and Italy.

Earlier this week, East Carolina University officials said it's bringing 31 students and six faculty members back from its Tuscany program. The university says the students are far from the most heavily impacted areas, but the CDC recently elevated the travel risk to Italy. The students and staff will be asked to follow the CDC’s self-quarantine guidelines.

Businesses Feel The Impact, Too

A cultural festival in the Triangle planned for this weekend has been canceled because of concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus.

The International Festival of Raleigh was set to start Friday at the State Fairgrounds. But state health officials announced North Carolina's first case of COVID-19 yesterday. Festival organizers say the outlets that sold tickets will honor refund requests through March 15th.

Meanwhile, officials with the High Point Market Authority say they've received intense backlash for not canceling or postponing next month's convention.

The furniture market draws between 70,000 to 80,000 people from over 100 countries to the Triad. Now, some are worried about hosting such a large, international event. Gov. Cooper's office said last week it had no plans to cancel the event. Market officials are refusing to comment further about possibly canceling the semi-annual event. In a press release last week, they said they will continue to monitor the situation and work with local health officials.

Cary-based Epic Games has canceled an annual game developer event in Europe because of concerns about the coronavirus. Unreal Fest Europe was set to be held in Prague next month. The gaming company says its working to bring speakers that were scheduled for the festival to other conferences.

Other North Carolina businesses are limiting face-to-face meetings and keeping a close eye on their supply chains amid the coronavirus outbreak. Products like bleach, hand sanitizer and dry goods have been in higher demand recently. 

Andy Ellen, of the North Carolina Retail Merchants' Association, says grocery and big-box stores have gotten better at responding in real-time.

“The retail community has learned a lot through the years, whether it be from the SARS virus or a situation like a hurricane, that they are very much in a preparation mode all the time,” Ellen said.

Businesses have already been ordering more products from countries like Canada or Mexico in response to the recent trade war with China, Ellen said.


Producer Laura Pellicer contributed to this report.

Celeste Gracia covers the environment for WUNC. She has been at the station since September 2019 and started off as morning producer.
Will Michaels is WUNC's General Assignment Reporter and fill-in host for "Morning Edition"
Elizabeth “Liz” Baier is WUNC’s Digital News Editor. She's a first-generation Colombian-American fluent in Spanish. She has two decades of experience than span print, audio, and digital reporting and editing.
Naomi P. Brown joined WUNC in January 2017.
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