Duke, ECU and UNC form partnership to better understand COVID-19’s spread in NC

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A new partnership among three North Carolina universities is aimed at better understanding the spread of COVID-19, including among those who never showed symptoms, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said Friday.

The announcement came a day after President Donald Trump talked to governors about guidelines for reopening states.

Cooper said increased testing is a key part of making that strategy work.

“But, when governors are faced with global supply chain breakdowns when it comes to supplies and equipment, the federal government must help more,” Cooper said. “Easing restrictions here in our state without enough masks, gowns and gloves is like setting off on a three-day camping trip with enough food for just one night.”

The new partnership involving UNC, Duke and East Carolina is aimed at giving a more accurate idea of how widespread COVID-19 is, Cooper said, focusing on Chatham, Pitt and Cabarrus counties. 

He said as of Friday, at least 73,000 tests for COVID-19 have been performed in the state. Since the outbreak began, 5,859 people have tested positive for the disease in North Carolina, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The governor has faced calls from some to lift his stay-at-home order immediately, with more than 100 people attending a protest in Raleigh Tuesday.

“So, I think we’ve kind of dropped an atom bomb on a knife fight, to take a quote from a friend,” said Ashley Smith, one of the organizers of Reopen NC. “I think it would ease the minds of a lot of people if we could get some clarity on what (the governor’s) intentions are. So far, it’s been very murky.”

Cooper’s stay-at-home order ends in late April and could be extended or revised at that time, he said. Protesters plan to return to Raleigh next Tuesday. At this week’s protest, police arrested one woman for violating the governor’s executive order.

Rep. Dan Bishop (R- NC 9th) announced Friday he plans to attend the protest on April 21.

During Thursday’s call with the governors, President Trump outlined a three-phase approach to reopening. However, it first calls for states to experience a 14-day downward trend in documented COVID-19 cases and flu-like illnesses. Hospitals also should have the capacity to treat patients without crisis care.

“We are not opening all at once but one careful step at a time,” said Trump on Thursday.

When asked how widespread he thinks testing needs to be, Cooper said, “We are making significant progress, having increased our testing 88 percent in the last two weeks. I want us to feel good about whenever there is an outbreak in our congregate care facilities that we can go and test all the people there.”

He also said testing needs to be more readily available for front-line workers and people showing symptoms.

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