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Rep. Ray Russell’s April 24th Newsletter on Coronavirus Updates, Announcements and Info

With all the changes announced in the last two days, I’ll hold a Facebook Live Virtual Town Hall Monday at 7 PM instead of publishing a newsletter. Look here for the event Monday evening…
My next email newsletter will come Tuesday evening.
Spread of Coronavirus
Across the United States, as of Friday afternoon, April 24, the number of people who are confirmed to have coronavirus is 923,612. We are sure more people have the virus who have not been tested. Sadly, 52,092 people have died from coronavirus.
In North Carolina the number of people who are “laboratory-confirmed” to have coronavirus is 8,208. Currently, 477 people are hospitalized with coronavirus. To date, 292 North Carolinians have died from coronavirus.
The count of individuals who have tested positive for coronavirus remains at 4 and 8 for Ashe and Watauga Counties respectively. So far, every person in Ashe and Watauga County who tested positive had either traveled outside the counties or was in contact with a person known to have the virus.
Our prayers are with all these people affected by coronavirus along with their families.
Public Schools Continue Remote Learning
Governor Cooper, Secretary Cohen, Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, and State School Board Chair Eric Davis held a press conference to announces that public schools would continue remote learning for the rest of the school year. School building will be closed to students.
Teachers will be working with their students remotely. School nutrition programs will continue. Looking toward summer camps and the next school year, state public health officials are developing safety guidelines for schools.
The House Committee on COVID-19 Education Work Group met Thursday The came to agreement on funding requests and policy changes needed to support the changes announced today and begin planning for the next school year. Documents from that meeting can be found at https://www.ncleg.gov/Committees/CommitteeInfo/HouseSelect/199#Education%20Working%20GroupApril%2023,%202020.
Plan to Gradually Ease “Stay at Home” Restrictions
Thursday, Governor Cooper announced a plan to gradually ease “Stay at Home” restrictions. While the health and safety of North Carolinians is the top priority, the three-phase plan gradually eases restrictions to move the economy forward. The current “Stay at Home” orders are extended for 10 days, to May 8. Then restrictions are eased in three phases: 
Phase 1 (2-3 weeks)
  • Modify the “Stay at Home” order allow travel not currently defined as essential allowing people to leave home for commercial activity at any business that is allowed to be open.
  • Ensure stores implement appropriate rules for social distancing, hygiene, cleaning, screening of employees, etc.
  • Reopen many parks
  • Other aspects of the existing Stay at Home order remain the same.
Phase 2 (4-6 weeks)
  • Lift Stay At Home order with strong encouragement for vulnerable populations to continue staying at home to stay safe
  • Allow limited opening of restaurants, bars, fitness centers, personal care services, and other businesses that can follow safety protocols including the potential need to reduce capacity
  • Allow gathering at places such as houses of worship and entertainment venues at reduced capacity
  • Increase in number of people allowed at gatherings
  • Open public playgrounds
Phase 3
  • Lessen restrictions for vulnerable populations with encouragement to continue practicing physical distancing and minimizing exposure to settings where distancing isn’t possible
  • Allow increased capacity at restaurants, bars, other businesses, houses of worships, and entertainment venues
  • Further increase the number of people allowed at gatherings
Progress through these phases is dependent on seven metrics related to virus spread and availability of critical supplies.
  1. Sustained Leveling or Decreased Trajectory in COVID-Like Illness (CLI) Surveillance Over 14 Days
  2. Sustained Leveling or Decreased Trajectory of Lab-Confirmed Cases Over 14 Days
  3. Sustained Leveling or Decreased Trajectory in Percent of Tests Returning Positive Over 14 Days
  4. Sustained Leveling or Decreased Trajectory in Hospitalizations Over 14 Days
  5. Increase in Laboratory Testing (to roughly double current levels)
  6. Increase in Tracing Capability (to double current levels). Tracing refers to tracking contacts of any individual who has tested positive for coronavirus.
  7. Maintaining a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment for front-line workers.
Details of the plan can be found at https://files.nc.gov/governor/documents/files/NC-3-PHASE-PLAN.pdf including the data upon which the plan is based.
Emergency Funding
Governor Cooper and State Legislators are negotiating an emergency funding program to address Coronavirus Pandemic needs across the state. The plan currently contains $1.4 billion in funding. Funds come mostly from North Carolina’s CARES Act allotment. The funds will be used in the following areas:
  • Public health and safety
  • Continuity of operations for education and other state government services
  • Assistance to small business and local governments.
Negotiations will continue into next week and a passage of the appropriations bill is expected by the end of next week. For details the funding proposal, see https://files.nc.gov/governor/documents/files/Budget_Presentation_Corona.pdf and https://files.nc.gov/governor/documents/files/Governor-COVID-19-Budget-Package-4-23-20-Final.pdf
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
The NC Department of Employment Security began taking application for the PUA program today. The program provides unemployment benefits for independent contractors, self-employed individuals, non-profit organizations (such as churches). For details about the program, see https://des.nc.gov/need-help/covid-19-information/federal-unemployment-assistance/pandemic-unemployment-assistance. Then to apply, see https://des.nc.gov/.
Bills Provide Support for COVID-19 Healthcare
The House Committee on COVID-19 Healthcare Work Group met Thursday work on two key bills that would improve the state’s response to the virus pandemic.
The first bill seeks to increase the state’s inventory of personal protective equipment, provides support to health care providers, increases the flexibility of the Department of Health and Human Services to respond to COVID-19, and increases access to health care through telehealth.
The second bill would allocate funds to help North Carolina respond to the COIVD-19 emergency, including funds for behavioral health, stockpiling of PPE, and increase funding to rural hospitals’ and other rural health initiatives. Most of the $688.5 million in funding would be provided through the federal CARES Act.
The two bills, which had bipartisan support in the House, are now being negotiated with the NC Senate, and will be voted on next week. 
More Information
If you believe you have symptoms of coronavirus and live in Watauga County:
1) Call AppHealthCare at 828-264-4995 or (828) 795-1970 during regular business hours,
2) Visit https://apprhs.org/covid19-screening/ online and follow screening instructions, or
3) Call your primary care doctor.
If you believe you have symptoms of coronavirus and live in Ashe County call AppHealthCare at 336-246-9449 or call your primary care doctor.
Our public heath office, AppHealthCare, is the primary local source of information about coronavirus. See https://www.apphealthcare.com/covid-19-information/
For more information from our hospitals, see Appalachian Regional’s website at https://apprhs.org/COVID19/ or Ashe Memorial Hospital’s website at https://www.ashememorial.org/ for their updates.
For information specific to North Carolina, the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) provides the latest information on COVID-19 at https://www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/public-health/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-response-north-carolina. Also, North Carolina coronavirus updates are available by calling 888.892.1162 or by texting COVIDNC to 898211