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.
In their latest daily count, North Carolina health officials are reporting 179 deaths due to COVID-19. By contrast, 167 people have died of the flu this season. Additional DHHS data showed more than 6,750 positive COVID-19 cases in North Carolina as of Monday morning, or an increase of 270 compared to Sunday. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause severe illness such as pneumonia, or even death.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and DHHS are emphasizing ramp-ups in testing and tracing people in contact with sick residents are necessary before the state's economy can reopen and movement restrictions are loosened. Cooper's statewide stay-at-home order expires April 29.
People who don't think Cooper is moving fast enough plan to gather in front of the Executive Mansion on Tuesday. The demonstration is likely to test the limits of the orders by Cooper and a similar one in Wake County.
Ashley Smith, a co-founder of the ReopenNC group, said on Monday that hundreds of people expected to participate Tuesday will practice social distancing by staying at least six feet apart. U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop, a Charlotte Republican, and a GOP state senator also are expected to attended.
One person at a ReopenNC rally last week was arrested after Raleigh police warned the crowd multiple times that they were violating Cooper's order. The order, however, doesn't prevent them from petitioning the governor, she said. A lawyer representing ReopenNC wrote Cooper and the chairman of the Wake County commissioner seeking guidelines so that demonstrators will avoid potential charges.
"Our constitutional right is not displaceable and it cannot be violated by any executive order," said Smith, who with her husband operates a payment processing firm in Morganton for businesses. The group, which lists 62,000 members on its Facebook page, is formed on the premise that "this shutdown isn't sustainable economically," Smith added.
In a letter to GOP state senators last week, Cooper's legislative lobbyist said last week that while the governor's order doesn't ban protests, court rulings allow for some reasonable restrictions.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.