Brunswick County announced six new cases of the novel coronavirus over the past week, contributing its tally of 16 to the more than 1,500 positive tests North Carolina had counted as of Tuesday.

Thirteen of the Brunswick County residents who tested positive were infected during either domestic or international travel, and three people were exposed to the virus through close contact with one of the travelers.

There is also one non-resident who was on vacation at a Brunswick County beach when they became symptomatic and got tested. The individual, a resident of Cleveland County, was instructed to remain under self-isolation here but is not included in the local count.

In neighboring New Hanover County, 30 cases were reported as of Monday, while Columbus confirmed three and Pender remained at zero.

Varying numbers of tests are occurring each day in Brunswick County. It takes several days for the results to process and for the Public Health Department to receive the report, according to the county.

Currently, nearly 300 people are waiting for test results, but statistics suggest most will not have the virus. Of the 280 tests completed as of Tuesday, approximately 94% were negative.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends people with mild signs of COVID-19 stay home and call their doctor for medical advice. Most people who catch the coronavirus can recover at home and will not suffer severe illness.

Anyone with more serious symptoms – such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain or pressure, confusion or blue lips – should call their doctor or 911.

People who were within six feet of someone with symptoms of the coronavirus for at least 10 minutes should stay home for 14 days and monitor themselves for signs.

State deaths rise to eight

The death toll due to COVID-19 in North Carolina reached eight over the past week, according to the most recent data from the Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday.

The deceased are residents of Cabarrus, Harnett, Johnston, Mecklenburg, Buncombe, Rowan, Onslow and Forsyth counties.

Six of the patients were over 65 years old. The Harnett County resident was in their late 30s and had underlying medical conditions, and the Mecklenburg County resident was 60.

A resident of Virginia also died from complications due to the virus while traveling through North Carolina. The patient, who was in their 60s, is not included in the state’s death count.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 157 people were in the hospital on Tuesday. Early data from the CDC shows 21- to 31- percent of those who tested positive for COVID-19 in the U.S. were hospitalized, with four to 11-percent in intensive care.

The CDC now considers North Carolina to have widespread transmission.

“Some people who have tested positive don’t know how they got it,” Gov. Roy Cooper explained at Friday’s briefing. “They didn’t travel anywhere. They weren’t in contact with a known positive person. But now, they find themselves sick with this virus.”

Without a vaccine or treatment, health officials consider social distancing the primary tool that will slow the spread of COVID-19. The state government is now enforcing this practice through a mandatory, statewide stay-at-home order.

Announced last Friday, the executive order went into effect at 5 p.m. on Monday. It will continue through April 29, although it could be extended.

The order directs people to stay home unless they need to leave for essentials, such as groceries, medicine, a doctor’s appointment or work. Unnecessary errands are prohibited.

People may continue going to work if their service is considered essential within the executive order or if the business can meet social distancing requirements. Essential operations include grocery stores, health care, banking, construction and gas stations.

Individuals may leave their homes to help others, but they should not visit friends or family unless for an urgent matter.

Travel to and from places of worship or to volunteer is allowed. Additionally, people may exercise outdoors, which includes jogging or walking pets. However, many local municipalities have closed public spaces.

Gatherings of more than 10 people are banned and keeping a distance of at least six feet from others is required.

Law enforcement officers can enforce the order if people do not voluntarily cooperate. However, the Brunswick County Sheriff said its officers are not setting up roadblocks to check if drivers are complying, and the North Carolina State Highway Patrol is not conducting traffic stops for the purpose of the order.

All K-12 public schools in North Carolina will remain closed through May 15 and restaurants may only offer take-out or delivery service. Movie theaters, gyms, nail salons, barbershops and several other businesses that require close contact were instructed to close on March 17.

The state attorney general said during Tuesday’s briefing that more than 300,000 people were laid off over the past two weeks.

In two weeks, approximately 270,000 unemployment claims were filed, with most of them related to COVID-19, the Governor’s Office announced on March 29. The first payments are going out this week.

The state is temporarily increasing food benefits in March and April for current recipients and the governor is prohibiting utilities from shutting off customer’s electric, gas, water or wastewater services for the next 60 days.

“This action is particularly important since tomorrow is the first of the month, and I know that’s a date many families fear when they can’t make ends meet,” Cooper said during the March 31 briefing.

Cooper also asked that people avoid overbuying groceries, particularly at the start of April as families in need receive their federal food assistance.

“Food supplies remain strong, so just buy what you need so that there’s enough for everyone,” he added.

Nationwide, there were 163,539 cases and 2,860 deaths reported by the CDC as of Tuesday. The U.S. now has more known cases than any other country.

County requires appointments

As an essential government operation, Brunswick County is remaining open, but appointments are required for in-person visits.

People seeking assistance should visit the county’s website or contact departments through phone or email.

County libraries and Brunswick Senior Resources, Inc. sites are closed to the public, but the staff members are available via phone or email. BSRI is offering home delivery and drive-through meal services.

All Brunswick County parks are open for regular hours, however, playgrounds are closed. Park restrooms’ hours have been reduced to Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. to allow time for additional cleaning.

Most courts are closed, but the Brunswick County Courthouse Clerk’s Office is still open for limited services. People are asked to call in advance to avoid visits.

The Board of Commissioners canceled its April 6 countywide goal workshop. The regular board meeting on April 6 at 3 p.m. is still scheduled, but seating will be limited.

Southport police address concerns

Southport Police is not placing roadblocks nor pulling over drivers for the purpose of the stay-at-home order, according to a statement by Chief Todd Coring on Tuesday.

“We trust those traveling are doing so for the purpose of essential needs,” Coring added.

Under the city’s state of emergency, Southport closed all its offices, restrooms, playgrounds and city-maintained structures in the parks, including the decks, walkways, stages and the city pier.

Additionally, short-term rentals are temporarily banned within the city. Visitors were ordered to leave Southport by March 26.

St. James forbids short-term rentals

The Town of St. James amended its state of emergency proclamation to prohibit short-term rentals.

Until May 30, all short-term rentals or leases for less than 60 days are banned. Renters were instructed to vacate the town by March 30.

St. James Marina reduced its hours to 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and has suspended dry stack launches to the water. The fuel dock and pump-out station are open during the operating hours, and people are still allowed to work on boats in the marina or on the racks. Normal operations will resume once the state executive order is suspended.

Brunswick County Schools

Abiding by the stay-at-home order issued by the governor and effective March 30, Brunswick County Schools stated Friday on its website that “with the exception of the three high school cafeterias, all Brunswick County Schools buildings will be closed as of Monday morning until further notice.”

The BCS website had this note for staff: “We know there will be many questions, please be patient as we work to clarify the details of an evolving situation. As of right now, only essential personnel who are involved in the student meal services currently being offered will report to work until further notice. We will continue to offer meals to students as it is considered essential and under this order.

“Staff who have been teleworking are encouraged to continue their work from home during this time. Information on emergency paid leave and instruction for employees will be communicated to you in the coming days.”

Meal pickups at high schools

Meal pickup services continue for all students at the high schools. Breakfast and lunch pickup meals are now available from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday for all students at the three high school campuses. There is no charge for this service.

Brunswick Community College

Brunswick Community College (BCC), in a message Friday on its Facebook page, wrote the following:

BCC will continue to offer online will continue to offer online programming, wherever possible, through the end of the spring semester.

Workforce development courses and hands-on learning activities, including labs and clinicals, continue to be suspended. The status of workforce development and hands-on learning activities will be reassessed on April 9.

Access to BCC’s campus sites including the main campus, BETC, Southport Center and Leland Center continues to be limited to designated personnel and activities until otherwise notified.

BCC’s graduation ceremony will be postponed. A new date will be determined by April 15.

BCC’s Brunswick Interagency Program is suspended until otherwise notified.

The Odell Williamson Auditorium events are suspended until otherwise notified.

The Fitness & Aquatics Center will remain closed until otherwise notified.

State sets up food-help information

Gov. Roy Cooper announced that parents who need food help can text FOODNC to 877-877 to locate nearby free meal sites.

The service, which is also available in Spanish by texting COMIDA to 877-877, will allow parents to enter their address, then receive a text with the location and serving times for nearby pickup free-meal sites.

The sites are set up for children ages 18 and younger, including preschool children, who rely on free and reduced-price meals at school.

“School closings mean no meals for some of our most vulnerable children. Now families have an easier way to find food during these times of financial stress,” Cooper said.

Additionally, No Kid Hungry has created a map of local school sites, community organizations and food assistance programs across North Carolina where families can access food.

The map can be viewed at http://nokidhungrync.org/covid19/ and is revised daily.

Parents may also call 2-1-1 to speak with an operator who will help them locate meal sites in their community. The 2-1-1 service is available anytime. Services are provided in English, Spanish and many other languages.

State approves grading change

With schools being closed during the coronavirus pandemic, North Carolina public high schools will drop the use of traditional letter grades on spring courses for high school seniors, according to published reports.

The North Carolina State Board of Education approved the recommendation Friday from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) staff to pass high school seniors if they were passing their classes as of March 13 — the final day before schools were closed. Seniors will get a note on their transcript that they received a passing grade for those classes instead of the traditional A-F letter grade.

Under the new policy, grades from fall courses will count for a grade point average for seniors. If seniors are taking a yearlong class, the grade from the fall semester will count toward the GPA.

But grades from spring courses won’t be included in a student’s GPA. The only question will be whether they passed them.

If seniors had an F as of March 13, they’ll get a withdrawal code for the class, meaning they won’t get credit. But school districts are to give those seniors a chance to pass by offering remote learning opportunities and a locally developed final test based on what was taught up to March 13.

In grades K-11, schools are only to give traditional grades to students if they can meet specified remote learning requirements.

DPI says it will provide further guidance to schools on issuing final grades in grades K-11 if schools are closed longer than May 15.