The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners held a public policy meeting at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center this afternoon, at which Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio announced that the county will implement a countywide stay-at-home order beginning Thursday, March 26, at 8 a.m. and ending April 16.
The order prohibits residents from going to work, save for those working with businesses considered essential, and restricts all nonessential travel, including visiting friends or family if there is no urgent need. Residents are still allowed to go outside, but must remain six feet apart and practice social distancing. They are also allowed to visit grocery, convenience or warehouse stores; go to pharmacies to pick up medications; or visit a friend or family member in order to care for them.
The essential business designations are based on the federal guidelines put forth by the Department of Homeland Security, according to Diorio. There are 22 sectors of businesses that meet the designation, including media, grocery stores, restaurants serving takeout, charitable organizations, construction and more. You can see what other businesses are defined as essential in the order itself.
Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris stated that, as of noon on Tuesday, Mecklenburg County had seen 142 positive cases. The state total is currently at 398, according to DHHS. Harris stated that one in five county cases have required hospitalization, an increase from the one in eight reported by the county on Sunday.
That 20% hospitalization rate is compared to 2% of flu cases, according to North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen.
Zip codes that have seen more than seven cases include 28210 (SouthPark), 28205 (NoDa, Plaza Midwood, east Charlotte), 28216 (northwest Charlotte) and 28269 (north Charlotte), according to Harris, though she emphasized that people move in and out of zip codes regularly.
The fact that there have been cases in nearly every zip code does indicate that Mecklenburg County is experiencing community spread, Harris said, meaning that residents are spreading it among each other and investigators cannot identify an outside point of contact from which every patient has been infected.
Harris pointed out that that 40% of positive cases in Mecklenburg County have been in patients between 20 and 39 years old. She also said doctors have seen “an increased acuity,” meaning the intensity of the illness, in new cases.
According to the order, local law enforcement has the right to charge anyone not following the order with a class 2 misdemeanor. In a statement release after the proclamation, CMPD stated, “CMPD will manage the order through voluntary compliance , education, dialogue and cooperation from community members. The CMPD encourages continued voluntary cooperation from the community but the department does have the authority to issue citations and/or make misdemeanor arrests if all efforts for voluntary cooperation cannot be attained.”
Commissioner Trevor Fuller, an at-large representative, said he’s been alarmed at the amount of people who have ignored previous social distancing orders.
“This is America, I got that, but we won’t be America if we’re not alive, so we’ve got to take this seriously,” Fuller said. “The exponential growth is really alarming and I’ve heard it said from the White House and other places that this is going to get worse before it gets better, and if we waited any longer to do this, I believe it would have been too late.”
The order is similar to “shelter-in-place” orders issued around the country, though the county order is called “stay-at-home” because the existing shelter-in-place plans locally involve potential nuclear incidents at one of the surrounding power plants, according to Robert Graham, deputy director of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Emergency Management.
Before Tuesday’s public meeting, commissioners held a conference call with Gov. Roy Cooper and Cohen. WSOC’s Joe Bruno and WBTV’s Nick Oschner were allowed in to listen to the call at the last moment after showing up and demanding access.
According to Bruno, Cooper reviewed his most recent executive order, which extended public school closures through May 15 and expanded the types of business ordered to close statewide to include close-contact businesses such as barber shops, bowling alleys, beauty salons and movie theaters beginning at 5 p.m. on March 25.
Cooper also told commissioners that the state has gone from an average of 3,000 unemployment claims per week to 100,000.