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Rep. Ray Russell’s April 28th Newsletter on Coronavirus Updates, Announcements and Info

Spread of Coronavirus
Across the United States, as of Tuesday afternoon, April 28, the number of people who are confirmed to have coronavirus is 1,035,240. We are sure more people have the virus who have not been tested. Sadly, 59,225 people have died from coronavirus. Almost 2500 people died in the past 24 hours.
The Washington University IHME model yesterday raised the projected number of deaths by August to over 74,000. That’s an increase of over 10% from the previous forecast. See http://www.healthdata.org/covid for details about the research and latest projections.
In North Carolina the number of people who are “laboratory-confirmed” to have coronavirus is 9,739. Currently, 463 people are hospitalized with coronavirus. To date, 361 North Carolinians have died from coronavirus. Coronavirus has been confirmed in all but 4 North Carolina counties.
NC DHHS revised it’s “Dashboard” to track the seven metrics they are following to plan the relaxing of social distancing orders. See https://www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/public-health/covid19/covid-19-nc-case-count.
Locally, the number of people who have tested positive for coronavirus has remained unchanged for two weeks at 4 and 8 for Ashe and Watauga Counties respectively. That’s good news.
Our prayers are with all these people affected by coronavirus along with their families.
Co-Sponsored Bills Filed
The long-awaited North Carolina Legislative session began today. The session started with modifications to House Rules, previously agreed to by both parties. The rest of the day involved bill-filing and committee meetings.
Most of the bills filed were to address the Covid-19 emergency. The Covid-19 bills provide emergency funding and temporarily modify rules as needed to address the crisis. I co-sponsored seven of these bills:
  • HB 1034 Small Business Emergency Loans. This bill provided $75 million in emergency loans for small businesses. https://www.ncleg.gov/BillLookUp/2019/H1034
  • HB 1035 Education Omnibus/COVID-19. This bill provides relief to K-12 students, personnel, and schools. It modifies rules for: student testing and assessment, school assessment, teacher assessment, remediation, reporting requirements, graduation requirements, school calendars, budget flexibility, teacher and administrator education programs, modifies a variety of regulations for community colleges and universities, and more. https://www.ncleg.gov/BillLookUp/2019/H1035 (For a good summary with references K-12 education items, see https://buildthefoundation.org/2020/04/nc-general-assembly-action-on-covid-19/.)
  •  HB 1038 COVID-19 Health Care Working Grp Funding Recs. This bill provides funding for increased covid-related needs in public health, behavioral health, crisis services, provides Medicaid (including reimbursement rate increases), Medicaid expansion limited to treatment of Covid-19, PPE and other supplies, testing and contact tracing, proving food/safety/shelter/childcare, foster care, residential care facilities, rural communities, free and charitable clinics, hospitals, research, and more. https://www.ncleg.gov/BillLookUp/2019/H1038
  • HB 1039 COVID-19 Response Act – Economic Support. This bill provides relief for business and individuals for: deferred taxes and fees, waiver of a number of penalties and interest related to taxes and fees, and unemployment compensation (to match emergency federal programs). https://www.ncleg.gov/BillLookUp/2019/H1039
  • HB 1043 COVID-19 Time Sensitive Matters. There’s too much here to list, but it contains a litany of legal issues that need to be addressed. https://www.ncleg.gov/BillLookUp/2019/H1043
  • HB 1046 COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave. This bill would provide paid sick leave for covid-19 employee absences. https://www.ncleg.gov/BillLookUp/2019/H1046
Expanding Medicaid
In addition to the six bills listed above, we again filed a bill to expand Medicaid. Here are the details:
  • HB 1040 Healthcare for Working North Carolinians. This bill would expand Medicaid in North Carolina and increase access to affordable health care for more than 500,000 North Carolinians. Specifically in Ashe and Watauga Counties, it would provide health insurance for over 5000 people, create 377 new jobs, generate $88.0 million in economic growth, and almost $1 million in county taxes. North Carolina would receive these benefits with no impact on taxes paid by any individual. https://www.ncleg.gov/BillLookUp/2019/H1040
Governor Cooper’s Press Conference
Governor Cooper along with Secretary Mandy Cohen and Director Michael Sprayberry held a press conference this afternoon. The press conference covered a wide range of issues…
North Carolina announced a partnership with Community Care of North Carolina to hire 250 people. These individuals will be the team that doubles the tracing capacity for public health. (“Tracing” is the investigative work to identify individuals who might have been exposed to coronavirus by someone who has tested positive.) If you wish to apply for one of these positions, see https://www.communitycarenc.org/carolina-community-tracing-collaborative.
Governor Cooper thanked the 939 men and women activated from the NC National Guard to serve in this emergency. The NC National Guard is performing the following tasks:
  • Warehouse logistics – 242 people have traveled 45,000 miles to 77 counties to get medical supplies to the places where they are needed.
  • Food Supply Network – keeping our food supply chain working.
  •  Food Banks – providing food to folks in need across the state.
  • North Carolina Air National Guard – supporting flights across the North Carolina for a wide variety of needs.
[I too thank these hard-working men and women for their service.]
The coronavirus has exposed cracks in our existing health care system. One such “crack” is in funding for providers of Medicaid services. Dr. Cohen has asked the U. S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar to allocate $50 billion specifically to health care providers who care for Medicaid and uninsured patients. She has also requested a Emergency 115 Medicaid Waiver for disaster funding.
Long-term care facilities across the state are receiving additional personal protective equipment.
Governor Cooper expressed confidence that North Carolina will be able to meet the goal of doubling coronavirus testing.
NASCAR fans… Governor Cooper and the NC Department of HHS have given approval to run the Coca Cola 600 Memorial Day Weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, NC as a TV-only event.
Coronavirus Forecast for North Carolina
The independent team of experts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, RTI International, and others shared updates of their efforts to understand COVID-19 in North Carolina. The goal is to inform the state’s planning and decision making. See https://www.shepscenter.unc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Brief-3_COVID-19-Modeling-NC-Update_4-28-20.pdf
This brief is a technical document and difficult to read; however, the primary takeaways are:
  • North Carolina will begin the month of May with lower-than-expected viral spread and somewhat lower hospitalizations.
  • Governor Cooper’s phased approach to returning to a “new normal” will lead to a less dramatic increase in coronavirus transmission than a immediate/full relaxing of social distancing.
  • It is unlikely that this phased approach will lead to a serious crisis in hospital capacity.
  • The report cautions that we are in a critical state of the epidemic, and that localized outbreaks may occur within particularly at-risk populations.
2020 Census. Do It Now!
North Carolina lags in participation in the 2020 Census with only 49% of households responding. Come on y’all. It’s a big deal! Results from the 2020 Census will be used to determine the number of seats each state has in Congress and your political representation at all levels of government. Why not do it now?. You can complete the United State 2020 Census in 10 minutes at https://my2020census.gov/ You will need the form that was mailed to you or left at your door.
Face Masks Required at All ARHS Facilities
Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) now requires a face mask for everyone entering any of their facilities. See https://apprhs.org/face-masks-required-to-visit-arhs-facilities/ for details.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
The NC Department of Employment Security began taking application for the PUA program last week. 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/.
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