The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has wreaked havoc across the world and country over the past few weeks, and a lot has changed remarkably quickly in just the past few days alone. If you were too busy stocking up on groceries or “social distancing” this weekend to keep up with the ever-changing news, have no fear: we’ve got a full recap of all the major events that have altered the coronavirus landscape since last week.
Although concern over the novel coronavirus has been a topic on everyone’s mind for over a month now, it remained pretty much life as usual through much of last week. By Wednesday, however, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global pandemic, and by Thursday afternoon we abruptly found ourselves in a whole new world: the NBA canceled its season (and several other professional sports leagues later followed suit), the NCAA announced March Madness is canceled (after initially deciding to play without fans, which would have almost been weirder), churches began closing and switching to online sermons, major concerts and events like Coachella and Stagecoach were postponed, universities pretty much said “spring break forever,” and Tom Hanks officially tested positive for COVID-19. With all of this news– and more– breaking over a matter of mere hours it’s no wonder that we all sort of felt like the world was ending. And new developments and responses continue to shift the situation daily if not hourly.
A LOT has happened. Remind me where we stand now.
As of writing this post North Carolina has 33 confirmed positive cases of coronavirus, none of which have been reported as fatal at this time. The U.S. has reported 1,694 positive cases and a death toll of 41. Internationally the number of confirmed cases and deaths have continued to rise, and experts say we should expect things here in the U.S. to likely get worse before getting better.
Yikes. How is the government responding?
Governments at the federal, state and local levels have been super busy over the past few days as they work to contain and combat the virus. Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order last Tuesday declaring a state of emergency in response to COVID-19 which will help state agencies coordinate their response to the pandemic and access necessary funds. Several local governments have done the same in order to better aid citizens. At the federal level Pres. Trump signed a proclamation Wednesday restricting travel from certain European countries to the U.S., and just two days later he declared a national emergency concerning the novel coronavirus outbreak. North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley also announced Friday that most court cases in the state would face a 30-day continuation. On Saturday Pres. Trump signed another proclamation restricting travel from the U.K. and Ireland to the U.S., and Gov. Cooper issued an executive order prohibiting mass gatherings and closing public schools through the end of the month. Gov. Cooper’s executive ordered expanded upon the health and safety recommendations he issued much earlier in the week, and many other states and cities have taken similar measures. States like Illinois and Ohio have gone a step further and ordered bars and restaurants to close, as have some hard-hit cities and countries. All of these actions indicate just how seriously governments at many levels are taking this public health crisis, and perhaps the most striking example is the Supreme Court’s Monday announcement postponing oral arguments for the first time in 100 years.
Meanwhile, as many measures are being taken to combat the spread of the virus the feds are also working to provide relief. On Friday U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed that Congress reached a deal with the Trump administration on an emergency aid package for the coronavirus, and early Saturday morning the package passed the House of Representatives by a 363-40 vote. The bill next heads to the Senate, and is not to be confused with the emergency funding bill passed by the Senate and signed by Pres. Trump earlier this month. The Senate is expected to take up the emergency aid package this week, which, unlike the emergency funding bill, is geared more toward addressing economic fallout resulting from the coronavirus. Congress will likely continue to consider legislation in response to the pandemic over the coming weeks.
Got it. What else is being done to help?
One great, new tool that we can utilize during this outbreak is telehealth, and various organizations are making this option more accessible than ever before. North Carolina’s largest healthcare payer, Blue Cross Blue Shield, announced two weeks ago that it would expand access to telehealth in order to help members get the care they need without risking infecting others. Additionally, NC Medicaid has implemented policy changes allowing providers to bill Medicaid for virtual visits with patients. Medicaid funding and policy adaptations have also been addressed at the federal level in both the emergency funding bill signed by Pres. Trump earlier this month as well as in the relief package currently awaiting Senate approval. Hospitals are also kicking it into high gear and doing what they do best, and several area hospitals have activated Emergency Command Centers in an effort to combat the virus.
In addition to healthcare providers who are working around the clock to care for patients, other medical minds are similarly working long hours in an attempt to find cures and vaccines for COVID-19. Emergent BioSolutions and Novovax, Inc., are collaboratively working toward a vaccine to the novel coronavirus, with initial studies expected in the coming months. One government official said testing on another vaccine for the virus could even begin today. Meanwhile, doctors and researchers at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health have been working for over a month in an air-locked lab to find a cure for COVID-19.
Others are doing what they can to help in different ways. Restaurants and local grocery stores are stepping up to ensure kids who receive free or reduced school lunches will still receive some nutrition while schools remain closed. The Durham Distillery is also lending a hand to its fellow hospitality industry colleagues and using alcohol to make free hand sanitizer for local restaurants during the pandemic.
That’s great! So what do I do in the meantime?
We’ve all heard a lot of recommendations about “social distancing” during this time, and it seems to increasingly be less of a recommendation and more of a steadfast rule. Starting to feel that cabin fever setting in? Here are some tips to beat the boredom. In between finally getting around to organizing your pantry and rewatching The Office for the tenth time, be sure to stay up to date as the pandemic situation evolves. There are several great and reliable sources such as the N.C. Department of Health & Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites, as well as local outlet North Carolina Health News that has been closely tracking the situation. Don’t forget to continue to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds (and sing about it if you wish) each time and, most importantly of all, stay safe and well.