Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday that additional restrictions and orders will be forthcoming after the state reported its first two deaths from coronavirus.
"It is with a heavy heart that I must tell you that these will not be our last," Cooper said during an afternoon news conference, adding that a number of people are hospitalized, some in critical condition who "are fighting for their lives."
"Today is a stark reminder that we must take this disease seriously, all of us, young and old, employers and employees. This virus can be deadly. That is why our daily lives have had to change so dramatically. I know it is hard, but it is necessary."
Cooper did not issue a stay-at-order, as several North Carolina counties and cities and many other states have done. He said the state is in the process of developing additional restrictions that "will be released soon."
"These are difficult and deliberate decisions," he said. "It is important that we get it right. The objective is to save lives."
Cooper said the state has taken a number of "difficult but necessary actions" to slow the spread of the virus and keep the health care system from being overwhelmed.
On Monday Cooper extended the closure of K-12 public schools until May 15 and ordered that additional service and entertainment businesses close by 5 p.m. Wednesday, such as fitness centers and gyms, nail parlors and hair salons, movie theaters, bowling alleys, bingo parlors and video arcades.
He previously shut down bars and restaurants for dine-in service. Takeout and delivery are still permitted.
Cooper also issued orders removing barriers for the thousands of people left jobless as a result of businesses closing down to apply for unemployment benefits — as of Wednesday claims had soared to more that 200,000 as of Thursday.
“It is imperative that we keep North Carolinians safe while at the same time doing everything that we can to limit the economic impact of this virus on businesses, workers and their families,” he said. “We understand that in order to save lives, this is hurting the economy. We’ve got to do everything we can do to help that family that is worrying about where that next paycheck is going to come, how are we going to pay, how are we going to buy groceries.”
He said the state is committed to getting benefits to people as quickly as possible with checks to go out next week. He cautioned that it would be a challenge workers in an agency that normally handles just 3,000 claims a week.
Cooper reported that the state had 504 confirmed cases in 53 of its 100 counties as of Wednesday morning, with more than 12,000 tests completed. He said more than 15,000 samples have been collected with results still pending.
By Thursday morning, the number of cases grew to 636 — the largest single-day increase.
Of the two deaths, one was a North Carolina resident, while the other was someone passing through the state.
A person from Cabarrus County died Tuesday from complications associated with the virus. The patient was in their late 70s and had several underlying medical conditions. A second person in their 60s, from Virginia who was traveling through North Carolina also died from complications of the virus.
Moore County so far has just two confirmed cases, though public health officials say there is the potential for more as testing continues and results become available.
Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of health and human services, both stressed the importance of social distancing, staying six feet away from others, as one of the best ways to slow the spread of the disease. Both urged residents to adhere to all of the guidelines.
"We want people to stay at home," Cooper said. "We've got to slow down this increase in cases that the state is seeing and the country is seeing. We have evidence when we do keep our social distance, we can reduce the spread of this virus. It is as simple as that.”
Cooper urged businesses that are not already doing so to implement measures for social distancing and allowing employees to work from home is possible.
“You owe it to your employees, and you may need those plans in order to stay open,” he said.
Cooper again praised health care workers on the frontline “who are again showing us what courage means.”
“You do your job every day, even in a pandemic, to keep us healthy and save our lives,” he said. “Let’s commit to doing our part to slow the spread of this virus.”
Cohen said the first two deaths attributed to the virus "is a sad reminder" about why the state has taken "aggressive measures" to slow the spread of the disease.
"Our mandates are a minimum," she said. "I hope you are going beyond these mandates to protect our communities. Your individual actions will help us slow the spread of the virus."
Cooper said in response to a question about several counties and cities issuing their own stay-at-home orders, “We want people to stay at home, and local communities are doing what they think are best right now, and I understand that.”
“We will be issuing additional restrictions soon,” he reiterated.
Cooper said another major focus and priority for the state is acquiring enough personal protective equipment — such as masks and gloves — for health care workers and first responders.
“We know right now it is the wild west out there in trying to buy the equipment,” he said.
Cooper said this is a time when it important for everyone to pull together.
“So many families were on edge anyway,” he said. “Many have fallen off a cliff. “We’ve got to help those families financially to get through all of this while we work to keep people healthy and work to save lives.
"Let us all do our part to slow the spread of this virus and to help our neighbors We will get through this."