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Rep. Ray Russell’s May 18th Newsletter on Coronavirus Updates, Announcements and Info

Spread of Coronavirus
Across the United States, as of Monday evening, May 18, the number of people who are confirmed to have coronavirus is 1,550,294. We are sure more people have the virus who have not been tested. Sadly, 91,981 people have died from coronavirus. To provide some perspective on these numbers, the number of people who have the virus is about the same as the population of Philadelphia, PA, and the number of deaths is about the number of people who live in Asheville, NC.
In North Carolina the number of people who are “laboratory-confirmed” to have coronavirus is 19,208. Currently, 511 people are hospitalized with coronavirus. To date, 693 North Carolinians have died from coronavirus. 11,637 are presumed to have recovered. All 100 NC counties now have confirmed cases of coronavirus.
The NC DHHS “Dashboard” tracks seven metrics used to monitor the spread of coronavirus as social distancing orders are relaxed. 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 in Ashe County increased to 28 today. That is an increase of 3 since the last newsletter. The number of Watauga County residents who have tested positive is 11; two more since Friday.
In addition to the positive case count, AppHealthCare reports the number of individuals actively being monitored in Northwest North Carolina. This includes individuals who tested positive and those who are being monitored due to suspected exposure. In Ashe and Watauga County, a total of 37 people are currently being monitored by AppHealthCare. For details, see https://www.apphealthcare.com/covid-19-information/.
Our prayers are with all these people affected by coronavirus along with their families.
Outbreak at Tyson Foods in Wilkes County
Tyson Foods in Wilkes County remains closed. Unfortunately, the company is just as closed when it comes to explanations for what has and is happening at the facilities. These processing facilities have played a role in spreading coronavirus across the region from High Point to the High Country. They have refused to report how many workers have the virus. WSOC-TV reports today that some employees were told to keep working as they waited test results. You can find that story at https://www.wsoctv.com/news/local/tyson-employee-says-he-was-told-keep-working-while-waiting-covid-19-results/A54KI7N7YFBDRHM5TMYV4XF3UM/.
Updated Coronavirus Testing Guidance
Last week, North Carolina exceeded its goal of doubling the number of coronavirus tests conducted. About 59,000 North Carolinians were tested during the last 7 days. In the continuing effort to expand testing across the state, NC DHHS expanded testing guidance further this week to include “front-line and essential workers (grocery store clerks, gas station attendants, etc.) in settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain”. For details, see https://www.ncdhhs.gov/news/press-releases/ncdhhs-updates-guidance-who-should-be-tested-covid-19.
Blue Ridge Parkway Open in NC
The Blue Ridge Parkway opened again for travel in North Carolina last Friday; however, many facilities. Before scheduling a trip on the BRP, you should check their closures website: https://www.nps.gov/blri/planyourvisit/roadclosures.htm
Governor Cooper Press Conference
While there was no major announcement in Governor Cooper’s Press Conference this afternoon, he said, “We are hoping that we can move into Phase Two. We still need to look at a couple of more days of the data. We should be able to announce something this week by mid-week regarding what’s going to happen on Friday.”
When Governor Cooper announced the plan for relaxing social distancing on April 23, the outline for what Phase 2 would be was to:
  • 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
  • Continue rigorous restrictions on nursing homes and other congregant care settings
Substitute Teachers
Substitute teachers have not been paid while school buildings are closed. Only those who worked more than 30 hours per week were initially eligible for unemployment benefits. However, the PUA program now makes these part-time workers eligible for unemployment payments, see https://des.nc.gov/ to apply.
Processing Unemployment Claims
Mr. Lockhart Taylor, assistant secretary of the NC Department of Commerce Division of Employment Security, briefed a Senate Committee on DES’s work during the last two months. You can find his statement here… https://des.nc.gov/news/press-releases/2020/05/18/division-employment-security-discusses-unemployment-benefits-senate.
For a summary of what they are doing to meet the demand, see https://drive.google.com/file/d/1OYqZT25xsFlswiPIWs9UIWxGVhJBSoiZ/view?usp=sharing. Mr. Taylor said, “To anyone who has been waiting to get the benefits they deserve, I am sorry. You have my commitment to work every day to ensure that we can meet the demand of every North Carolinian who files a claim, has a question, or needs help of any kind. We will be there for you.”
My office continues to work with constituents trying to get resolution for unemployment problems. Email Ray.Russell@ncleg.net for more information.
If You have Coronavirus Symptoms…
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.
More Information
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