More stay-at-home orders issued in North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina reported its first two COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday as local governments in several higher-populated areas ordered their residents to stay at home. Gov. Roy Cooper says additional state directives are coming to slow the virus spread.

Cooper announced the coronavirus-related deaths were a person from Cabarrus County and another person from Virginia who was traveling through the state. The Cabarrus County patient was over 70 years old with underlying conditions, while the Virginia patient was over 60, according to a news release, which did not include further details about them.

The deaths came as overall positive cases of the virus reached more than 500 statewide, according to a state tally Wednesday. About 30 people were hospitalized, authorities said, and some were in critical condition.

“Today is a stark reminder that we must take this disease seriously — all of us, young and old, employers and employees,” Cooper said at a news conference while asking for privacy for the families of those who died. “This virus can be deadly, and that’s why our daily lives have had to change so dramatically. I know it’s hard, but it’s necessary.”

More local governments announced stay-at-home orders on Wednesday, including the cities of Durham and Winston-Salem; Buncombe County in the Asheville area; and Greensboro and surrounding Guilford County. Mecklenburg County announced one on Tuesday that takes effect Thursday morning.

Wake County, which includes Raleigh and ranks No. 2 in population behind Mecklenburg, planned to roll out a similar order very soon, said county commission Chairman Greg Ford.

North Carolina government has not issued a statewide shelter-in-place order but has gradually reduced allowable gathering sizes, ordered some nonessential businesses to close starting Wednesday and shuttered K-12 schools until mid-May. Trade groups representing hospitals and doctors have written Cooper asking him to issue more statewide restrictions.

Without giving specifics, Cooper said further guidance and orders would be upcoming. He urged people to stay at home and businesses to get their telecommuting options in order.

“Local communities are doing what they think is right and I understand that. It’s important for (state officials) to make sure we are deliberate and that we get this right,” Cooper said. “We will be issuing additional orders soon.”

Durham Mayor Steve Schewel said at a Wednesday news conference that the city’s order covering more than 265,000 residents goes into effect Thursday and lasts through the end of April. Similar to other jurisdictions, the order includes exemptions for people going to get food or medicine or completing other essential tasks. Schewel said Durham County has 74 cases, including at least eight cases of community spread. The area ranks among the counties with the most cases in the state.