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County Leaders Provide Updates as Local COVID-19 Cases Rise to 7

County leaders announced that three new cases of the COVID-19 virus have been found in Mecklenburg County residents, bringing the total number of cases in Mecklenburg to seven. The new cases were discovered this morning, Harris said. There is no specific information on those cases, and public health officials are currently investigating where the points of exposure happened.

At a press conference announcing the update, Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris stated that, as of the end-of-day Friday, there were 259 persons under investigation, meaning individuals who have been tested and are under quarantine until their results come back from the state. Those include patients who were tested at local hospitals, private practices and the health department.

Following up on last week’s statement that the county only receives three test kits at a time, Harris said that the county’s “capability currently outpaces the capacity,” meaning that the county could test more people if given the supplies to do so. However, she stated that the city is getting more supplies in every day.

“We have been able to test anyone who needed to be tested in this county,” she said. “We have not turned anyone away who has the symptoms and meets the requirements for testing.”

Those meeting the test requirements include hospital patients with unexplained respiratory symptoms; individuals with flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath; those who have come into contact with a known COVID-19 patient; those who have traveled in the last 25 days to specific areas of concern; and immunocompromised individuals, she said.

“We are being very specific about who meets the criteria to make sure we’re able to test the folks who most need it,” Harris said.

She emphasized that people who believe they are suffering symptoms of COVID-19 should not show up at a local hospital but call the respective hospital ahead of time to receive direction. She pointed out that showing up at a testing site could expose them to the virus if they do not have it already, or put healthcare providers at risk by exposing them unnecessarily. She stated that symptomatic individuals should not call 911, but call a healthcare provider instead.

Harris also announced a new countywide order on Monday to cancel or postpone events involving more than 50 people, based on a recent recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The new county order will pertain mostly to one-time events such as concerts, festivals, weddings and the like. It does not pertain to the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, private schools, places of worship, modes of transit, office space, hotels, residential buildings, shelters, grocery stores, hospitals, shopping malls and other retail establishments.

Later in the day, President Donald Trump tightened up on the CDC recommendations even more, recommending that people avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.

Following a weekend in which social media has shown that many people have no intention of following expert recommendations to socially distance from others, states and cities around the country have begun restricting access to restaurants and bars. Harris stated that no such orders will presently be put into effect in Mecklenburg County, though the county is in constant discussions with the state and CDC about the potential to do so.

“I think we’re getting to a point where we need to think about social distancing in a much more restrictive way than what we have right now,” she said, following up by stating that the county does not want to limit food access for those who may not have wide access to it.

Also a concern in such circumstances is how local bars, restaurants and other businesses will deal with such a decrease in traffic, or worse, the potential for a complete shutdown. At a separate press conference this afternoon in Raleigh, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that he has asked the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to grant a disaster declaration for North Carolina business owners facing economic losses due to COVID-19.

If granted, the declaration would provide disaster loans to impacted businesses to help fulfill financial obligations and operating expenses.

“I’m asking the SBA for assistance so we can get relief to help business owners in our state weather the economic impacts of COVID-19,” Cooper stated in a release. “We know that the new Coronavirus is already impacting businesses and this financial assistance will help.”

Later in the afternoon at yet another press conference, this one featuring city leaders, representatives of the Foundation for the Carolinas and United Way of Central Carolinas announced the launch of the COVID-19 Response Fund in coordination with the city and the county to help support local communities most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 by funding nonprofits that serve those communities.

Doug Lebda, founder of Charlotte-based online lending marketplace LendingTree, announced that his company will donate the first $1 million into the fund, followed by Mayor Vi Lyles’ announcement that the city would match that donation.

In attendance at today’s local press conference (from left) CMPD Deputy Chief Jeff Estes, Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio, CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston, sign-language translator and Mecklenburg County Publish Health Director Gibbie Harris. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Back at Monday’s earlier Mecklenburg County press conference, CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston announced a new program to provide students with lunch following a statewide directive ordered over the weekend to shut down schools for the next two weeks. Tomorrow, CMS will begin offering free grab-and-go breakfast and lunch meals at more than 70 schools across Mecklenburg County (full list here).

The sites will be mapped out to cater primarily to disadvantaged students, though any student under the age of 18 will be able to receive a meal. 

“It is imperative that our district continue to feed students who depend on receiving breakfast at lunch at schools,” Winston said. “So while schools are closed, we feel very strongly that we must ensure students have their most basic needs met — and meals are one of those things — simply because it’s the right thing to do.”

Winston said meals will be packaged for takeout only, and parents will drive through the parking lots at participating schools to pick up meals for their children, who must be present for their parents to receive a meal. Staff members will provide lunch for that day and breakfast for the next day between 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on Monday through Friday. Adults will stay in the car and staff members will pass meals to the parent based on the number of children in the car. No identification is required to receive food.

Winston encouraged that any families who are unable to reach one of the sites reach out to CMS so that staff can make arrangements to have the food delivered to them.

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