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NC Gov.: Cancel large gatherings, work from home. Recommendation comes the same day 2 in Forsyth test positive for coronavirus.

On the same day health officials announced two Forsyth County residents tested positive for the new coronavirus, Gov. Roy Cooper recommended all events with an expected attendance of 100 or more — worship services, concerts, sporting events or conferences — be canceled or postponed. The governor also suggested employers allow employees to work from home where possible.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday morning it has identified two cases of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, in Forsyth County.

There are now 15 cases in North Carolina, with the majority of cases clustered in the Triangle. The two cases in Forsyth County were the first reported outside of the Triangle area. Later Thursday morning, the Mecklenburg County Department of Public Health announced two cases there.

The Forsyth County patients are a couple who contracted the virus after going on an international cruise where other travelers tested positive, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

Both are reportedly doing well and are in isolation at their home, according to the Forsyth County Department of Public Health.

Speaking at a press conference after briefing the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, Forsyth County Public Health Director Joshua Swift was mum on any details regarding the two patients.

Swift said he isn’t aware of the exact date the couple returned to the country, and declined to say where they had traveled within Forsyth County since returning or how many people they came into contact with since returning.

“I can’t release that information,” Swift said.

In a news release from the Winston-Salem Mayor’s Office, city officials say they are taking additional measures to slow the spread of coronavirus, and that two city employees have been exposed to the virus. While neither employee has tested positive, both are going into self-quarantine. One of the employees has a child who came into contact with someone who has COVID-19, and the child is displaying symptoms.

As a precaution, the city is canceling all non-essential city-sponsored events involving public participation. All business travel for city employees outside the county is canceled unless otherwise authorized by City Manager Lee Garrity or one of his assistants.

“Our situation in Winston-Salem is rapidly evolving,” Mayor Allen Joines is quoted as saying in a news release. “It is imperative that every citizen immediately begin practicing those measures that can slow the spread of the disease.”

Swift said the county health department is monitoring other individuals who are showing symptoms or may have been exposed but declined to say how many. Swift said the county has collected samples from possible COVID-19 patients but again declined to say how many.

The county health department will begin working to identify those who came into close contact with the local patients. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines close contact as being within approximately 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for 10 minutes or longer. Based on information provided by the patients, county health officials will assess risks of exposure and determine if any additional measures are needed, such as temperature checks, symptom checks, quarantine and testing for the virus.

Swift said public risk of getting the virus remains low, the same thing he said at a Wednesday news conference.

“Take it seriously, but remain calm,” Swift said when asked what he would tell the public. “Practice common public health procedures.”

On Thursday, multiple organizations abruptly canceled events or announced restrictions to combat the spread of coronavirus. The ACC Tournament in Greensboro canceled the remaining games. Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools implemented visitor restrictions and suspended volunteer programs as a precaution. On Wednesday, Wake Forest University announced it was moving to online classes for the foreseeable future.

Asked if the cancellations were an overreaction given his description of the risk as low, he did not directly answer the question.

“I cannot speak to those events because I am not the organizer of those events,” Swift said. “Anybody that has asked those questions, I refer them to the CDC and their guidance on mass gatherings.”

The state health department recommends event organizers adopt lenient refund policies for people who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 and to encourage those people to stay home. Additionally, they ask organizers to clean shared surfaces and give attendees more physical space to limit close contact.

People over the age of 65 or people with underlying health issues are especially at risk. Precautions for avoiding coronavirus are virtually the same as those for avoiding the common cold or flu. Health officials recommend everyone wash their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching their faces and stay home if they are ill or display symptoms.

Not everyone is eligible to be tested for COVID-19. To be tested, someone must show the symptoms — coughing, fever and shortness of breath — and either have a known exposure to the virus or have tested negative for the flu, Swift said.

The first North Carolina case was identified March 3, according to the state health department. The state can currently test 50 patients a day, according to the state health department. Supplies for an additional 900 patients are on back order from the CDC.

Coronavirus brings ACC, sports in the Triad to a halt

GREENSBORO — Florida State’s basketball team left the Greensboro Coliseum’s court at 12:02 p.m. Thursday and returned a half-hour later to collect its trophy.

The surreal scenes continued right through Commissioner John Swofford’s announcement that the ACC Tournament for men’s basketball was canceled, on a day that ultimately saw the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and all of its spring championships also canceled in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In addition:

  • The ACC put a halt to all of its sports activities.
  • The N.C. High School Athletic Association postponed its basketball state championships, including games involving the Winston-Salem Prep boys, and is stopping spring sports activity until April 6.
  • The Carolina Thunderbirds’ hockey regular season is over, but playoffs remain a possibility.

But it was the ACC that grabbed attention early in the day, nationally but particularly at home in the Triad after first saying quarterfinal games would continue but then bringing the 67th tournament to a stop moments before the Clemson-Florida State quarterfinal game was to start the day.

“The league has made a decision to end this year’s Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament as of today,” Swofford said, standing in front of regular-season champion Florida State and amid a swath of journalists. “It’s tough to say those words to these young men that are on the floor, that would be continuing to play.

“It’s tough to say those words for you fans that are in the stands, for the media covering this great event. But we believe it’s the right decision to make at this particular point in time.”

According to a report from the News & Observer in Raleigh, the league’s position had to change because Duke decided it would suspend its spring sports — meaning the Blue Devils wouldn’t be in the building for the quarterfinal matchup against N.C. State, nor would it participate if the NCAA Tournament had been held.

“We are taking this action to protect the safety of our student athletes, coaches, staff and others who are essential to these activities,” Duke president Vincent Price said in a statement. “I know it is a great disappointment to our student-athletes and coaches, whose hard work and dedication to their sports and Duke is inspirational to so many, but we must first look out for their health and well-being. This is clearly an unprecedented moment for our university, our region and the wider world. As we take steps to confront the spread of this virus, I’m grateful for the cooperation and support of the entire Duke community.”

The ACC announced Wednesday night, after the night session of the second round had begun, that tournament attendance would be limited to “essential tournament personnel, limited school administrators and student-athlete guests, broadcast television and credentialed media members present.”

Swofford held a news conference Thursday morning and reiterated that the tournament would be played as planned.

And then the dominoes fell. As nearly all of the major conferences across the country canceled league tournaments, Florida State and Clemson’s bands played to a mostly empty Greensboro Coliseum.

And then came the announcement.

“You can ask why was it not made sooner, that’s a fair question,” Swofford said. “The answer is that it’s an extraordinarily fluid situation with information coming that changes — I used to say by the week, now I say by the day, and now I say by the hour. So hopefully we’re doing the right thing in the context of this great country of ours and in the context of intercollegiate sports.”

Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, in a statement, supported the decision by his university.

“The welfare of our student-athletes, and all students at Duke, is paramount, and this decision reflects that institutional priority,” Krzyzewski said, according to the statement. “Certainly, I want to applaud Dr. Price, who took a leadership role with his presidential peers and the Atlantic Coast Conference in arriving at this decision.”

Later in the afternoon, the ACC announced that all athletic-related activities have been suspended until further notice — covering competitions, formal practices, recruiting and participation in NCAA events.

“This is uncharted territory and the health and safety of our student-athletes and institutions remains our top priority,” Swofford’s statement reads. “This decision is aimed to protect from the further spread of COVID-19.”

The ACC was the first Division I conference to make such announcement.

The ACC Tournament cancellation was the league’s first. Two games were played during Tuesday’s first round, and Wednesday’s second round featured four games in Greensboro, the host for a record 27th time.

Schools suspend proms, other gatherings in Winston-Salem/Forsyth system

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools will suspend all volunteer programs and limit school visitors for the foreseeable future amidst a potential coronavirus outbreak, according to the school system.

The district will still allow parents to visit children on campus, but those who do visit their children must do so in a private area to limit potential COVID-19 exposure.

WS/FCS is also suspending all school-sponsored group events and gatherings, including school plays, concerts, schoolwide meetings and proms.

However, as part of the school schedule, before and after school childcare programs will continue as scheduled unless otherwise noted by the provider.

There are two confirmed cases of coronavirus in Forsyth County, although the patients don’t appear to have any relation to the public schools, according to a news release.

Additionally, the system has plans in place should schools have to close because of the virus. Classes would move online, with the school system providing devices and internet hotspots to families who need them.

More details about obtaining loaner devices will be made available should the schools close, the school system said.

The school system has about 14,000 registered volunteers from all over the community, according to school spokesman Brent Campbell.

They do such jobs as tutoring, coaching, reading and serving as lunch buddies.

The school district tweeted Thursday that its high-school students are still scheduled to take their SATs this weekend.

Meanwhile, students at Salem Academy and Salem College were packing up Thursday for what will wind up being a longer-than-usual spring break, which is scheduled to start Friday. Both schools sent out an email to its students on Wednesday discouraging travel during spring break. Students were encouraged to take course work with them.

School officials said Thursday night in a letter to students, faculty members and staff that spring break will extend through March 29.

Beginning March 30, students will transition to a remote learning platform, Salem Academy and College said.

On-campus classes will be suspended through April 10. At this time, on-campus classes are scheduled to recommence on April 13.

Students in Salem’s residence halls must temporarily leave their on-campus housing from March 17 through April 11, school officials said.

Housing will be available to students who have no option but to remain on campus.

All Salem athletics practices and events will be suspended from March 13 to April 13, school officials said. During this period, all athletic facilities, including the Fitness Center, will be closed.

Effective March 16 through April 13, Salem Academy and College is suspending all in-person school-sponsored events involving visitors, all in-person student events, and all in-person external events scheduled to take place on campus, schools officials said.

All Salem-sponsored travel from March 13 to April 13 is suspended, and personal international travel is strongly discouraged, school officials said.

After spring break, Salem faculty and staff should report to their jobs on campus, school officials said.

Piedmont International University is continuing classes but has canceled all home and away athletic events and other gatherings of more than 20 people, including chapel services and spring formal, according to a letter sent to the university community from President Charles W. Petitt.

Expect more local coronavirus cases, infectious disease expert says. But limiting the spread will keep overall risk low.

Two people tested positive for novel coronavirus in Forsyth County, but that should not — right now — crank up local fear about the crisis, said a leading infectious disease expert at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

Dr. Christopher Ohl provided what is becoming a weekly community update during which he cautioned “there will be more cases in our county, our region and the state because testing is expanding.”

Ohl said it remains advisable for communities to focus on limiting the spread of the disease rather treatment “because we don’t have sustained community transmission” of COVID-19.

The two Forsyth cases involve a couple returning from a cruise, according to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

Federal, state and local health officials said that, as with the flu, individuals with pre-existing health conditions, immune deficiency issues and the elderly are projected to be more susceptible to serious cases of coronavirus.

“It’s important to be prepared for shifting to mitigation and social distancing, particularly limiting gatherings in large public settings,” Ohl said.

“We will have more local cases in the next days and weeks, but I want to stress that it remains low risk for the community as a whole.”

For 85% of the people infected, cases will mild to moderate and could last two to three days or a week, Ohl said. The goal with mitigation is to prevent a steep spike in cases, leading instead to a flat leveling of cases and then a decline.

“The scope is the big thing,” Ohl said.

“Saying there is a 1% to 3% fatality rate with coronavirus doesn’t sound all that unnerving, but as you scale up the number of those exposed, the number of deaths will be significant.”

Ohl said most local hospitals can provide initial isolation care for individuals demonstrating severe symptoms, such as high temperature, severe coughing, shortness of breath and trouble walking.

“Individuals with those symptoms should be seen in an emergency room anyway,” Ohl said.

He cautioned, however, that individuals should first seek care from a primary care physician or a community safety-net clinic, so they can be tested for flu, strep throat or another illness.

It could take until early April before the Food and Drug Administration will approve hospital-based coronavirus tests.

In that instance, Ohl projects metro hospitals primarily will be the ones performing those tests as patients are passed along by affiliated community hospitals.

“We won’t see point-of-care testing, like for the flu or strep, for a while,” Ohl cautioned.

Ohl said that “there may be a little bit of climbing on the bandwagon” with events being canceled or postponed “when it’s a little early to do that.”

However, Ohl questioned whether the High Point Market should be held on April 25-29 even with Chinese manufacturers not participating and the likelihood European manufacturers won’t be there following a travel ban instituted by President Donald Trump on Wednesday night.

“We’re trying to prevent having our own BioGen event,” Ohl said.

At a BioGen conference in Boston, exposure to coronavirus contributed to several cases nationwide, including five in Wake County.

Tom Conley, president of the market’s operating authority, told the High Point Enterprise on Wednesday that it plans to conduct the trade show, as well as the premarket activities set to start Monday.

That’s even after Gov. Roy Cooper’s recommendation against having large public gatherings for now. Authority officials said they will continue to assess based on conversations with local, state and federal authorities, as well as monitor federal and global reports and advisories.

However, on Thursday the market authority opted to postpone the market until early June "should conditions improve."

“The decision was difficult, as any change in date could have tremendous economic repercussions on our industry and community, as well as the countless small businesses whose livelihoods rely on High Point Market," said Dudley Moore, Jr., the authority's chairman and president of Otto & Moore.

"It underscores our shared concern and well-being of the citizens in our community and our industry partners."

Conley said Thursday the authority board's plans is to have a decision in early May as to if market can occur, given the uncertainties of this rapidly evolving situation.”

Ohl is advising public school officials to hold off on closing.

“It’s easier to shut down a public school than a university because most public school students have a local residence,” Ohl said.

“Unlike the flu, where kids are like petri dishes, they appear to be charmed with coronavirus so far with few cases and mild cases for most.

“But it will matter more what school officials hear from the governor and DHHS in terms of taking a community approach,” he said.

There has been talk among U.S. and global health-care experts about how quickly coronavirus spreads once an outbreak occurs, citing those in China and Italy.

Ohl said Central Europe appears next, “likely about two to three weeks behind Italy,” which is experiencing a countrywide shutdown of most public activities.

“Italy could be the worst-care scenario for the U.S, but it’s not likely to get that far, particularly if our mitigation efforts are applied effectively to blunt the spread,” Ohl said.

Ohl remains confident that Wake Forest Baptist and most Triad hospitals will be prepared for a slow increase in coronavirus cases.

“A surge in cases will be taxing for all health care systems, but we’re prepared for such situations, just like we were for the bird flu and SARS,” he said.