GOVERNOR COOPER TIGHTENS RESTRICTIONS DURING PANDEMIC: Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited, although that limit doesn't apply to shopping centers, medical facilities and airports. Up to 50 people are allowed at funerals. People can go out to buy groceries, pick up prescriptions, visit a health care provider, exercise, care for family members, volunteer to serve the needy or visit a place of worship. "Essential" businesses that can continue to operate include health care providers, supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations, law enforcement, utilities, maintenance workers, human services organizations, farms and other food and beverage producers, banks and insurers, shipping, transportation, hotels, mortuaries and professional services, such as lawyers and accountants. Restaurants can continue to provide drive-thru, takeout and delivery services. Pet supply stores, electronics stores, lawn and garden shops, liquor stores and bookstores that sell education materials also can remain open.
STATE DEPARTMENT EASES RESTRICTIONS ON MIGRANT FARMWORKERS: On March 17, the State Department suspended routine visa services across U.S. embassies and consulates to fight coronavirus spread, allowing only workers who had previously been issued visas to return. The lack of new visas issued to first-time workers quickly prompted backlash from local and federal lawmakers. The removal of suspensions follows a letter authored last week by North Carolina Republicans Sen. Thom Tillis and Rep. Richard Hudson signed by over 100 members of Congress. It was addressed to the State Department, the Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security, urging that the nation’s agriculture and food supply chains were at stake from the restrictions. Sen. Brent Jackson, a Republican from Sampson County who runs Jackson Farming Company in Autryville that uses H-2A labor, had issued a statement in response as well. “The potential disruption of visa processing and limitations to visa processing and limitations to visa programs could significantly alter our state’s economy and our nation’s food supply chain,” Jackson said.
CAPE FEAR FURLOUGHS REFLECT SHIFT IN MEDICAL CARE PRIORITIES: Cape Fear Valley Health will temporarily furlough approximately 300 employees starting Sunday to reduce spread of the new coronavirus, officials with the health system said Friday. A news release said the health system has already temporarily closed some services and rescheduled nonessential surgeries, procedures or diagnostic testing, news sources reported. The closures and changes during the coronavirus pandemic have reduced emergency department visits by about 25% and inpatient stays by nearly 34%, officials said. “This reduction in occupancy will help the medical center accommodate the surge expected in the days ahead,” said Mike Nagowski, chief executive officer of Cape Fear Valley Health. Officials said employees will be allowed to use their accrued paid time off. Nurses and nursing assistants in affected areas will be offered temporary positions at the system’s hospitals, and Cape Fear said qualified furloughed employees will be offered temporary positions at their normal pay rate as the number of patients seeking care for COVID-19 increases, officials said.
TRUMP IS NOW FORCING MANUFACTURERS TO BUILD MORE VENTILATORS: Following days of sustained criticism for his administration’s slow efforts to distribute ventilators, personal protective equipment and other materials, Trump used his power under the Defense Production Act to compel a ramp-up in production. Trump issued an order to allow his government to force General Motors to manufacture ventilators, after a breakdown in negotiations with the auto giant caused in part by what aides said was White House indecision, and announced that eight existing ventilator manufacturers, including General Electric and Phillips, had agreed to speed up their production. The president vowed that the efforts would produce a combined 100,000 ventilators over the next 100 days. Trump’s action — which came on the day the United States recorded more than 100,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, surpassing every other nation — represented an about-face after the president on Thursday largely dismissed the outcry for ventilators. Trump said he believed that governors whose states were experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases were inflating their needs. And the president said state leaders ought to be fending for themselves and effectively shamed them for seeking federal help, even though he declared a national emergency two weeks ago and has described himself as a “wartime president.”
COVID 19 DEATHS IN ITALY AND SPAIN REACH HORRIFIC LEVELS: Spain and Italy, the two countries with the world’s largest coronavirus death tolls, have each recorded a grim new daily record: 832 dead in the past 24 hours in Spain, bringing the total to 5,690 on Saturday; 969 in the most recent figures in Italy, for a total of 9,134. As of Friday, 9,357 people were reported to have recovered from the virus in Spain, about double the number of victims. “A lot remains to be done, but the figures bit by bit indicate that we are reaching this peak,” said Fernando Simón, the director of Spain’s national health emergency center. The spike in deaths was particularly shocking in Italy, where until Friday’s figures were released deaths appeared to have been slowing. But both countries have seen recent falls in the number of confirmed new infections, though that figure rose again slightly in Spain on Saturday. Dr. Simón told a news conference on Friday that it was good news that the pace of recovery was accelerating significantly. Hopes were more muted in Italy, where the head of the national health institute, Silvio Brusaferro, suggested the outbreak “could peak in the next few days.”