Editor’s note: This story was produced by North Carolina Health News.

It was an extraordinary day in updates around the coronavirus outbreak in North Carolina:

On Thursday morning, Gov. Roy Cooper, HHS Secretary Mandy Cohen and director of NC Emergency Management Mike Sprayberry convened the state’s Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Task Force, which had participants ranging from long-term care facilities and advocates for farmworkers to law enforcement and epidemiologists.

  • On Wednesday, Cooper signed an emergency declaration that allows for increased enforcement ability by public health officials.
  • Cohen said the state is now able to test as many as 700 people, and she announced new, different criteria for testing. Those include people who report to their providers having: fever; cough/lower respiratory symptoms; negative test for flu.
  • It is no longer necessary to report overseas travel or direct contact with a prior known case.
  • By the end of the day, the number of lab-confirmed cases was up to 15 with no hospitalizations as yet. Cohen said they are working with hospitals to make sure there is surge capacity, and the state issued “waivers to hospitals that allow for additional bed capacity, as well as to move around where beds are located.”
  • In the afternoon, Cooper and Cohen announced new “guidance” around restricting gatherings of more than 100 people. That includes sporting events, worship services, concerts, etc.
  • Recommended that workplaces encourage telecommuting. In offices where people are working together, the guidance is to place workers more than 6 feet apart.
  • Beyond North Carolina, the NCAA decided to cancel March Madness, along with regional tournaments.
  • The NHL suspended games, following the lead of the NBA, which suspended games on Wednesday after a player tested positive for the virus.
  • Georgia announced its first coronavirus death and the Georgia state House and Senate agreed to appropriate $100 million to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to sign the bill. Cooper said he and his team are working up numbers to present to the North Carolina General Assembly for coronavirus relief.
  • Legislative leaders began canceling interim committee meetings (The legislature is currently not in session.).

When asked earlier this week what prompted her increased concern around coronavirus, HHS Sec. Mandy Cohen said, “The fact that we had the next five cases in the Triangle area. I think we’ve been very open that we haven’t been testing to the level that I would like to be testing at this point.

“This is serious, we want people to be aware because if we can do them early, we can blunt the spread of the virus and protect people’s health,” she said.

Cohen also pointed to what happened in Italy, which has a well-funded health care system.

“They went from 600 cases to full countrywide lockdown in 11 days,” Cohen told lawmakers earlier this week. “What lockdown means to me is that their medical system got overwhelmed.”

“We are learning things minute by minute about the steps we should take,” Cooper said. “We have a team that knows about public health and about how this virus is spread. We need to do everything we can to prevent spread and also to mitigate.

“We know lives are at stake.”

This article first appeared on North Carolina Health News and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.