By Catharin Shepard •
Staff writer •
Two more people in Hoke County have died after contracting COVID-19, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, and overall numbers are showing “a new peak” in virus cases for the state.
Gov. Roy Cooper lowered the indoor gathering limit from 25 to 10 in an announcement Tuesday as he warned that the state’s virus numbers are problematic as the holidays near. The executive order will go into effect on Friday, November 13 and will be in place through Friday, December 4. North Carolina remains paused in Phase 3 of reopening.
In a live-streamed press conference he said some states are seeing a spike in cases, and to prevent North Carolina from joining those states, he said, residents should do what they can to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.
“We need to focus on bringing our numbers down. We know how to do it: wear a mask, wash your hands, wait six feet apart,” he said.
The state overall has seen an upward trend of virus cases over the last month, which is concerning, Cohen said.
“We are experiencing a new peak,” she said.
Hoke County this week was up to 1,689 total cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in March, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS). At least 1,360 of those people have since recovered from the illness.
<02>Hoke leaders asked to help
<01>State health officials last month reached out to local elected officials in some counties – including those in Hoke County – asking them to help their communities slow the spread of coronavirus, as the number of cases, deaths and hospitalizations in North Carolina continues to climb.
“North Carolina Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen, and Secretary of Department of Public Safety Erik Hooks sent a letter to local officials in communities with increased viral spread urging their continued action in fighting COVID-19 and suggesting additional measures to mitigate its spread,” according to a press release from Gov. Roy Cooper’s office.
Thirty-six out of North Carolina’s 100 counties received the letter, including Hoke. Hoke met one of the metrics that the state health officials used to decide which communities would get a letter. The letters went out to counties that had 300 or more new cases over a 14-day period and had been identified by the White House Task Force as a county of concern; counties where the rate of cases was greater than 50 cases per 10,000 people; and the three most populous counties in the state.
State health officials sought support from local leaders in encouraging people to continue to practice the “three Ws” of wearing a face mask, washing hands frequently and waiting at least six feet apart from others in public.
“We are doing everything we can to slow the spread of this virus. This simple fact is we can’t do it on our own. Ignoring the virus doesn’t make it go away – just the opposite,” Cohen said in a statement. “As hard as this is, it will end. We will get through this. Let’s do it by looking out for one another. Whatever your reason, get behind the mask.”
The letter also “outlined local actions to consider that have less severe penalties for violating COVID-19 executive orders than what is available through the state-level emergency powers,” according to the governor’s office.
“The penalty for violating the state-level executive order is limited to criminal citations, which could result in imprisonment. City and county governments can create ordinances that carry more flexible consequences such as civil fines,” the press release stated.
Hoke County’s neighbors Cumberland, Robeson, Moore and Scotland counties were also among the communities that received a letter.
Hoke and Raeford’s county and city leaders have not yet taken up for consideration any additional measures such as the ones proposed in the letter. The Raeford city council has not met in regular session since the letter was sent out, as the council canceled its November meeting. Two commissioners were absent from the county board’s first meeting in November, which took place the night before Election Day.
Commission Chairman James Leach said the commissioners haven’t sat down to discuss the letter in a formal meeting yet, but that they would like to talk with Health Department Director Helene Edwards about it.
“The board is going to look at whatever we can do to make it a little safer,” Leach said.
Twenty-eight people with permanent addresses in Hoke County have died of COVID-19 related causes since May, according to the state. At least 4,660 people across all of North Carolina have died of coronavirus-related causes since the start of the pandemic.
Hospitalizations across the state are also going up, and are too high as the state heads into the winter months, Cohen said.
“We are on shaky ground as we head into Thanksgiving,” Cohen said. She recommended limiting gatherings and travel, and to plan ahead for the holiday. People who do plan to travel or gather with loved ones for Thanksgiving should consider getting a pre-emptive COVID-19 test a few days before.
“A test can help you know if you have COVID-19 even if you don’t have symptoms,” Cohen said.
There is some good news, officials said: there is progress being made by one of the companies working on creating a vaccine to protect against COVID-19, according to Cohen.
“While it is still early, we learned yesterday that one of the vaccines being developed is showing promising results,” she said.
Cooper encouraged citizens to continue to take precautions.
“Hope is on the horizon. This pandemic will not last forever. As frustrating and painful as it is, we must keep fighting a little while longer,” he said.
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