Gov. Roy Cooper was right on Tuesday to declare a state of emergency for North Carolina, just a day before the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a pandemic. As we write, 12 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in North Carolina, including two in Forsyth County. There’s little doubt that many more infections will be reported as time passes.
As Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, explained at a press briefing Tuesday: “That Wayne Gretzky, he doesn’t go where the puck is, he’s going where the puck is going to be. Well, we want to be where the infection is going to be, as well as where it is.”
North Carolina is among those places where the infection is going to be.
There’s no reason to panic, but there’s every reason to step up precautions. We should not only be washing our hands, often and thoroughly, but it’s time to start isolating people who exhibit symptoms and limiting or prohibiting gathering at large public events, as Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s health secretary, told legislators Tuesday. This includes children who may exhibit illness, especially if they’re running a temperature. They should be kept at home, as Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school officials have asked.
It’s a difficult prescription to follow, especially in light of the many enjoyable activities that accompany the spring. But, as Fauci said Tuesday, “We would like the country to realize that as a nation, we can’t be doing the kinds of things we were doing a few months ago. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a state that has no cases or one case.”
Cooper at first said that he didn’t intend to avoid the ACC Tournament (which eventually was canceled for the first time in its history, along with the NCAA), because he’s not a high-risk person, but he later changed his mind and said he wouldn’t go. That’s wise.
Even though it may be painful and inconvenient, we urge readers to practice caution — especially those who are in high-risk groups, including those over 65 and those with chronic illnesses or weakened immune systems.
It’s unfortunate, but seemingly unavoidable, that politics will play a role in this crisis. Americans will be assessing their leaders’ responses. The aforementioned press briefing Tuesday was led by Vice President Mike Pence, who is coordinating the federal government’s response. As Politico’s Jack Shafer reported, “He was calm. He was direct. He was polite in the face of shouted, competing questions. He deferred to the medical and policy professionals on the dais with him.”
As for President Trump, he finally acknowledged the seriousness of the situation on Wednesday night in a prime-time speech read from the Oval Office. He announced tangible steps being taken by his administration in response to the pandemic, including a 30-day ban on travel from Europe. He urged Americans to “put politics aside” and “stop the partisanship.”
But he confused the measures he was announcing, requiring his administration to clarify later — the ban doesn’t apply to American citizens, legal permanent residents or trade and cargo. His claim that insurers have agreed to waive copays for coronavirus treatment also required correction — insurers have agreed to cover testing, not treatment.
And before the sun rose Thursday, he was retweeting criticism of the Democratic leaders he had called on to work with him.
None of this engenders confidence in his ability to handle the crisis.
It’s encouraging that businesses from Apple to Walmart have announced updated sick leave policies, thus allowing sick workers to avoid public contact. (Perhaps these policies should already have been more reasonable, but that’s a topic for another day.) But there are still many low-wage workers who will be vulnerable, should they or their customers become infected. This weekend, tip your waitstaff generously; you may not see them next week.
We’ll have more to say about North Carolina and coronavirus on Sunday. We remain confident that by pulling together, with preparation and common sense, we will get through this.