The Latest: This week's updates on COVID-19

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Plans to reopen North Carolina during the ongoing global pandemic have been put on hold for now, amid concerns about the efficacy of containment measures taken thus far.
As statewide cases of COVID-19 continue to rise at an alarming rate, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced last week that the state would remain in phase two of his three-stepped plan to return to normal for at least three weeks.
The governor cited worsening numbers in several of the key metrics being tracked by the state as the primary cause for the pause in the plan.
“North Carolina is relying on the data and the science to lift restrictions responsibly, and right now our increasing numbers show we need to hit the pause button while we work to stabilize our trends,” said Governor Cooper. “We need to all work together so we can protect our families and neighbors, restore our economy, and get people back to work and our children back to school.”

Face coverings required

In addition to the decision to remain in a holding pattern at phase two of the reopening plan, Cooper’s office also announced a new requirement for face coverings in public spaces across the state.
“I know North Carolinians are strong, resilient and care deeply about our communities. We pride ourselves on helping our neighbors. The best way we can do that now is by taking the simple action of wearing a face covering that covers your nose and mouth. If we each do our part, we can get back to the people and places we love,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, NCDHHS Secretary.
According to the governor’s release, growing evidence shows that cloth face coverings, when worn consistently, can decrease the spread of COVID-19, especially among people who are not yet showing symptoms of the virus. Until now, face coverings had been strongly recommended. Under the new executive order, people must wear face coverings when in public places where physical distancing is not possible.
In response to the governor’s most recent order, Jackson County officials passed a supplemental declaration both extending the existing state of emergency initially declared on March 16 and requiring face coverings be worn inside any building housing Jackson County operations.
The declaration makes exceptions for a number of cases, including for people with medical concerns preventing them from wearing a mask, people who are actively eating, drinking or exercising, children under the age of 11 and several other less common instances.

First case at SCC

Southwestern Community College officials confirmed on June 20 that a student has reported testing positive for COVID-19.
It’s the first case involving a student or employee at the college. The student was last at the Jackson Campus on Monday, June 15. SCC officials are working with local health department officials to locate anyone who may have come into contact with the individual.
All employees and students determined to have come into contact with the student have been notified and urged to get tested. Relevant classes have been canceled for Monday, June 22.
Due to federal privacy laws, no information about the individual can be released at this time.
SCC officials urge anyone who was at the college’s Jackson Campus on Monday, June 15, and is experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness (fever, cough, shortness of breath, etc.) to isolate and contact a healthcare provider immediately.
According to a release issued by SCC, housekeeping crews thoroughly cleaned and disinfected all locations where the student reported having visited.
Since the pandemic began, SCC officials have followed all protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and the N.C. Department of Health & Human Services - as well as direction from N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper.
On March 24, SCC primarily transitioned to a virtual college - other than a handful of programs designated as essential by state officials. Following Gov. Cooper’s phased reopening plan, designated employees began returning to campus for a soft reopening on May 26. While most summer classes are meeting online, classes that require face-to-face instruction began meeting on June 1.

By the numbers

30 new cases of COVID-19 have been discovered in Jackson County in the past week, bringing the total to 107 confirmed tests since the beginning of the pandemic. Those cases were discovered among 4,819 total tests conducted in that same timeframe. The age group with the highest number of cases remains the 25-49-year-old demographic, with 42 percent of confirmed cases falling in that age range.
Statewide, there have been 63,684 confirmed cases, with 1,341 deaths reported thus far. Nationwide the number of confirmed cases has passed 2.65 million, with 128,000 deaths reported due to the virus.