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Weekend Update From NC Senator Jeff Jackson from District 37 – Mecklenburg, About Testing

As of 3/21 at 4:00 p.m., we now have 246 positive cases in NC. That’s an increase of 109 cases from yesterday – a nearly 80% increase in one day.

BUT we also had a 60% increase in testing yesterday, from 3242 to 5,276 tests conducted (that includes our state lab and non-state sources like hospitals and commercial labs).

That tells us three things:

  1. As many suspected, more testing is leading to a higher case count – but that’s not reassuring. While the higher case count may not, by itself, indicate that the actual size of the total infected population is growing at the same rate as the confirmed cases (i.e., a 80% daily increase in confirmed cases may not indicate a 80% increase in the total infected population), the sheer number of people who are being confirmed positive each day does suggest that rapid growth is nonetheless occurring. And that’s what is driving concern about hospital capacity.
  2. Our efforts to ramp up testing are working. We still have a shortage of extraction kits (which are needed to make the test kits work) and we have an even bigger shortage of the masks/gloves/gowns that medical workers need to do the tests, but test capacity has dramatically improved – and that’s largely due to non-state sources expanding their capacity. Nearly 40% of all the testing we’ve done in North Carolina happened *yesterday.*
  3. Even with this increase in testing capacity, it’s important to note that no one thinks we are going to see the kind of widespread testing they used in South Korea to help trace, isolate, and ultimately contain the spread. Because of how much time has gone by, we’re going to have to rely on a combination of testing and social distancing. That means if we don’t – as individuals – heavily commit to social distancing, then we are essentially allowing our hospitals to be overwhelmed. There’s no third option here. Testing won’t be enough.

There are so many other updates I’m just going to do the rest in bullet-point form:

  • Students are certainly not coming back to school on April 1st. There is a real possibility that the school year is now over. If that happens, I don’t know what it would mean for summer camps. As a parent with three kids at home right now, believe me when I tell you I’m tracking this issue just as closely as any of you. I would expect an announcement there relatively soon.
  • At this time, there is no intent to issue a shelter in place order. It remains an option, but currently NC DHHS has not made that recommendation to the Governor and that’s why it hasn’t happened. That could very well change in a matter of days. It would be prudent to plan around that possibility.
  • It has been repeatedly emphasized to state leaders by our food industry folks that the food supply chain is good. Basically, folks who own grocery stores are telling us that there will not be a shortage and you don’t need to hoard food. Just shop when you need to and try and keep your distance from folks. Act like the calm, reasonable people you normally are when you’re in a grocery store.
  • Many steps are being taken to surge our hospital capacity. Our hospital beds are usually 85% full. That needs to change very quickly. Hospitals have already started canceling elective procedures. The state hasn’t issued a formal order to that effect, but may do so if needed. (By the way, an “elective” procedure is one that can wait four weeks without causing serious harm to the patient.) The state medical board is waiving certain licensure requirements to allow medical professionals to cross state lines to work here and re-activating retired doctors and nurses.
  • Child care facilities are now considered an extension of our health care system. We need them to stay in operation so health care workers (and other front-line workers) can continue showing up to work. So we are mapping all child care facilities within five miles of every hospital so health care workers know they have that option. Important note: These facilities are not limited to health care and front-line workers, but those workers (and children who are homeless or in an otherwise unsafe environment) will be prioritized if a shortage arises. BUT right now we have the opposite problem. About half of our state’s child care centers have voluntarily closed and of the half that are open they are only about half full because parents have pulled their kids out. So we are talking to the federal government about getting some funding to make sure these facilities can afford to stay open.
  • Last week our state processed 41,000 unemployment claims – a record. (More to come from me on state and federal plans for getting money to people quickly. Many plans under discussion. I need to learn more before giving you a sense of what I think is likely.)
  • We’ve had so many people call 911 with COVID questions that we decided to create a stand-alone number. So please call 211 with your COVID questions.
  • Like the federal government, we are moving the due date for state taxes to July 15. However, right now the interest on what you may owe will still start accruing on April 15. Why? Because legally we can’t use an executive order to change the interest accrual piece. We need a new state law for that and that can’t happen without the General Assembly meeting. Which brings us to another point…
  • The General Assembly isn’t scheduled to go back into session until April 28th. We could call a special session – and many of us think it would be appropriate – but there has been vocal concern among some of our members about all of us meeting together in the same room. Right now, there is no procedure for remote voting.
  • We are working hard to procure masks/gloves/gowns for our health care workers. So far we have been able to fulfill the requests made by counties but we see this as a serious issue and it is a major focal point for DHHS.
  • There is some discussion of bringing in some National Guard soldiers to help with warehousing and transporting supplies and equipment where it is needed. At this point, that’s the extent of their involvement.

Final thought

When this is over, one of the things that will have changed in our society is our concept of who our heroes are. We’re used to seeing doctors and nurses and teachers in that light – and they certainly deserve it. But we’re also seeing that we are only as strong as our checkout clerks, our sanitation workers, our delivery drivers. Some of these people have never worked harder – or at greater personal risk – than right now. Without them, everything truly would come to a halt.

For more updates follow on Facebook or Twitter.

Talk soon,

Jeff Jackson
N.C. Senate
District 37 – Mecklenburg