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Stay At Home: NC Still Weeks Away From The Payoff Of Social Distancing

Curbside sign reads: Please remain in your vehicle, we will be right with you.
Ben McKeown / WUNC

North Carolina is still in the early phase of its COVID-19 outbreak. The statewide case count jumped over the weekend, from 888 last Friday to about 1,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases Tuesday morning. 

The increase is largely due to expanded testing capabilities, but state epidemiologist Zack Moore says the true count likely is even higher. Due to continued problems with availability, the state is trying to trace the spread of the virus by including strategies other than testing. By tracking the number patients reporting flu-like symptoms and comparing that with previous years, experts can extrapolate how many people likely have the novel coronavirus.

Host Frank Stasio talks with WUNC daily news producer Will Michaels about the future of testing in North Carolina, the statewide stay-at-home order and the economic impact of COVID-19. 

Credit NC Department of Commerce
This graph shows the spike in unemployment insurance claims in N.C. since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Interview Highlights

On the analysis tool from the University of Washington that projects the timeline of the COVID-19 outbreak in North Carolina and the rest of the country:

It appears in North Carolina our cases appear to be peaking around late April … It's clear from the experts that I've talked to that the numbers are still on the upswing and that they certainly have not peaked yet, but that peak could be in the next two to three weeks.

On the state of COVID-19 testing:

Public health labs say that there is no backlog for them to [process tests]. They are not the only ones doing testing … But I'm hearing a few different things … UNC Health is saying that they can get results in a matter of hours. But I'm also hearing anecdotally from people saying it takes days or two weeks to get test results back. So I think it just really depends on where the test goes. LabCorp, which is a North Carolina company, is testing. They say they have the capacity to test about 20,000 samples per day, but that’s for the entire country.

On the projected rate of hospitalization for North Carolina patients with COVID-19:

Eighty percent of people who get this virus will probably [just have] mild symptoms and be able to stay at home. But as Dr. Mindy Cohen said, about 20% of people will probably need some sort of hospital care, not necessarily ICU care, but some sort of treatment. That's much, much higher than the seasonal flu.

On the surge of unemployment claims in the state:

About a week and a half ago they were getting up to a point where they were processing 35,000 applications per day. That gives you a little bit of an idea of how bad layoffs have been. When we first got into this outbreak in North Carolina, I was talking to experts who said that they were predicting somewhere between 10,000-100,000 job losses. It looks like we've well surpassed that number because the state commerce department says about 90% of all those unemployment benefits are due to COVID-19.

Josie Taris left her home in Fayetteville in 2014 to study journalism at Northwestern University. There, she took a class called Journalism of Empathy and found her passion in audio storytelling. She hopes every story she produces challenges the audience's preconceptions of the world. After spending the summer of 2018 working in communications for a Chicago nonprofit, she decided to come home to work for the station she grew up listening to. When she's not working, Josie is likely rooting for the Chicago Cubs or petting every dog she passes on the street.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.
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