NORTH CAROLINA — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper blasted the notion of COVID-19 parties Monday, calling the idea of holding mass gatherings with the purpose of getting infected with the coronavirus "completely irresponsible and absolutely unacceptable."
Cooper's comments come as he says deliberations remain ongoing regarding the timeline for Phase 2 easing of restrictions in the state. Current "Phase 1" restrictions are set to expire at 5 p.m. Friday but could be extended.
"If you do that, you can easily kill someone you love," Cooper said of such parties.
At a news conference Monday, North Carolina's top public health official blasted the notion that any good could come from a COVID-19 party.
"There is no circumstance under which we want folks to actively pursue getting COVID-19," Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said. "What we're hearing is that young folks are saying, 'I think I'm fine, I'm going to get COVID-19,' but they're out in their communities and spreading the virus further," she said
"We are nowhere near herd immunity. A party will not help us in any way. Please do not do that," Cohen said.
The Phase 1 modified stay-at-home executive order that encourages residents to stay home but allows the reopening of most businesses and parks is set to expire Friday, but what comes next has not yet been finalized, according to the governor.
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Should the state move into the next phase of easing restrictions later this week, it would coincide with Memorial Day weekend and would mark a significant change in the state's stance toward curtailing the spread of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.
In Phase 2, the stay-at-home order would be lifted. Restaurants, bars, gyms and personal care services such as salons and barbers would be allowed to operate with limits and safety protocol requirements. Gatherings at churches and entertainment venues would be allowed at reduced capacity, and public playgrounds would reopen. State officials are also considering allowing community and neighborhood pools to reopen.
State public health officials have said the decision about advancing into Phase 2 will be based upon a 14-day span of trends in the numbers of COVID-like syndromic cases, lab confirmed cases, positive tests as a percentage of total tests and hospitalizations.
"We'll ease restrictions and move to Phase 2 only if we're headed in the right direction with our data," Cooper said.
"We should be able to announce something this week by midweek regarding what's going to happen on Friday," he said.
Should the state move forward into the next phase of easing restrictions, "there's a likelihood there will be some mass gathering limit," he added.
State public health officials continue to urge residents to wear face masks and to continue social distancing and good hygiene.
"Anytime you leave your house, wear a cloth face covering," wait 6 feet away from others, and wash hands often, Cohen said.
"These behaviors need to become part of our routine," she said. "When you grab your keys, grab your face covering and your hand sanitizer," she said. "It's these simple things that will allow us to continue to make progress through the phases of easing restrictions."
This past weekend, North Carolina saw its largest jump in confirmed COVID-19 cases yet, when 853 new cases were confirmed between Friday and Saturday, Cohen said.
"Any increase like this is concerning, and a reminder about how quickly this virus can spread," she said. "We continue to dig into this data to understand this increase, but one of the things we know is related to the fact that we're increasing our testing efforts."
Public health officials acknowledged that with more testing, there's an expectation to see an increase in the number of confirmed cases, she said.
The number of confirmed cases in comparison to the total number of tests administered remains stable at about 7 percent. "Additionally, our hospitalizations also continue to remain stable," she said.
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