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Raleigh

Statewide Response to Coronavirus Ramps Up, Cancellations Abound



by: Tristan Dufresne,

RALEIGH — Business, government and general society in North Carolina have made sweeping, significant and sometimes painful adjustments this week to mitigate the threat of a mass COVID-19 outbreak.

Public events have been canceled, schools and school districts have switched to online class sessions and sports leagues have put the brakes on their regular seasons and playoffs. Governor Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, March 10.

At a March 12 press conference, Governor Cooper recommended that any gathering of more than 100 people either be canceled or rescheduled. As of now, compliance is voluntary.

“Health experts believe that it will protect the health and safety of North Carolinians and help prevent further spread of the virus,” Cooper said.

Colleges in the University of North Carolina system have extended spring break until March 22. Duke University has closed its dorms and told students to remain home for the rest of the semester, with course study resuming through remote access or online instruction.

The ACC abruptly canceled its men’s basketball tournament in Greensboro on Thursday, the same day the NCAA canceled its cornerstone March Madness tournament (and its kid brother, the National Invitation Tournament or NIT).

As of Friday afternoon, March 13 there were 15 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus statewide, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The number of documented cases may give an incomplete picture of cases and exposure to the virus in North Carolina and other states around the United States, as a paucity of test kits for the novel coronavirus has shrunk an available sample size to patients exhibiting the worst symptoms and those known to have come into contact with an infected person or traveled to an affected area.

There has been limited availability for COVID-19 testing in North Carolina, as in other states, and patients exhibiting the symptoms of coronavirus (and who tested negative for the flu) have been turned away from Triangle-area hospitals and told to isolate themselves.

The state laboratory continues to conduct coronavirus testing, and there are now two commercial diagnostics companies, LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics, offering testing if a private healthcare provider sends in a respiratory specimen.

LabCorp, headquartered in Burlington, developed its own COVID-19 testing protocol with an expected turnaround time of three to four days.

In an email, a representative of Quest Diagnostics told the Sundial that “providers anywhere in the U.S. are now able to order the new test service.”

“We expect to be able to perform tens of thousands of tests a week within the next six weeks,” the statement read.

Affected areas in which patients are confirmed to have tested positive now include Wake, Forsyth, Mecklenburg, Johnston, Chatham, Cabarrus and Durham counties.

The ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament was canceled (along with all other Atlantic Coast Conference athletic events) Thursday before play resumed for its quarterfinals in the Greensboro Coliseum.

The night before, the NBA announced that it was suspending its professional basketball season after a player for the Utah Jazz was confirmed to have novel coronavirus. The NBA season is not canceled, but there have been league discussions about the problem of holding games before empty arenas.

Then the NCAA, which had already announced that it would not have fans at its March Madness tournament and was reported to consider relocating the games to smaller venues, stunned college basketball fans Thursday by cancelling the marquee non-football sports event outright. The NCAA’s multiyear broadcasting deal for March Madness (officially called the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament) is worth $10.1 billion or around $721 million per year, reports Nasdaq.

At Duke University, students have not returned since leaving for spring break after Friday classes on March 6. Duke Chapel, Nasher Art Museum and Café, Rubenstein Arts Center, Karsh Alumni & Visitors Center, Athletics Hall of Fame, Duke Lemur Center and Duke Gardens have been closed to visitors.

“Classes will not take place on the Duke campuses and, with rare exception, students will be required to vacate campus housing and return home to complete their academic requirements through the remote teaching and learning that will begin on March 23 for undergraduates,” a Duke communication for students reads.

Residence halls at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill remain open, though the university has followed suit with Duke in suspending classroom instruction. “Remote instruction for the majority of courses will begin the week of March 23 and will remain that way for the foreseeable future,” UNC’s website reads.

NC State canceled classes for the week of March 16 through March 20 and is encouraging students to stay home until classes resume March 23. Additionally, university travel has been suspended and students returning from spring break are being encouraged to fill out a survey relating where they have traveled to. “Effective immediately and until further notice, NC State is prohibiting all university-related international travel, all university-related travel outside the state of North Carolina, or within the state to gatherings of 100 or more people,” NC State’s coronavirus webpage reads.

During Governor Cooper’s press conference, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen told reporters that school closures are not currently advised, adding that symptoms in children tend to be less severe.

Later the same day, however, Chapel Hill–Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Pam Baldwin sent a letter to students and staff informing them that all school facilities will be closed from Monday, March 16 through Sunday, April 5, with March 16, 17 and 18 designated as teacher workdays.

Spring break, which had originally been scheduled for April 6 through 10, will cover March 19 through March 27, while March 30 through April 3 will be a remote-learning week. Updates are expected on the district’s website.

“If all goes well, we will be back in school on Monday, April 6. However, we understand the severity of the current situation... That date could be altered depending on many factors," the letter stated.

Fort Bragg’s annual All American Marathon has been canceled (it was scheduled March 28 and 29), as has the Tobacco Road Marathon in Cary (March 15).

Religious leaders have also made the decision to suspend regular services. Both the state Episcopal dioceses and the United Methodist bishop overseeing their western N.C. churches are cancelling weekly worship for the near future.

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