COVID-19, NC Budget and Tax Center, public health

State and federal policy responses to the COVID-19 virus

This blog post will be regularly updated to capture key policy responses to the COVID-19 virus. (Last updated 1:45 p.m. Tuesday, March 24)

Reports from Budget & Tax Center Staff

This post summarizes steps taken thus far at both the federal and state levels. Scroll down to see a list of steps taken so far, or click on the following links to bring you directly to a specific section:

COVID-19 provides a sobering reminder of how much we need effective and well-resourced governance at the state and federal levels. Particularly in times of crisis, we need an infrastructure that delivers a coordinated, seamless response and reaches each and every person in the community.

The coming months will test federal and state leaders’ ability to blunt the impacts of this global pandemic and contain the harm to the health, well-being, and economic security of people.

Decades of tax cuts have left us vulnerable to a moment like this. Conservative leaders in Raleigh and Washington have given huge tax breaks to rich people and multinational corporations instead of building the systems we need to respond with a coordinated and collective set of programs.

Years of policies that attacked the very institutions that are so critical now have made the response more fragmented and challenged.  Our public health agencies are under-resourced for the growing complexities and services needed in the face of this new coronavirus pandemic coming on top of a very bad flu season. Our public schools haven’t received adequate resources to provide classroom materials and technology in school, let alone outside of it, and many school personnel are worried about their ability to make ends meet in this time. Indeed, many workers will struggle to make ends meet if their hours are scaled back, they get sick, or they lose their jobs because our policy choices have failed to provide access to affordable health care, paid sick days, and a strengthened unemployment system.

COVID-19 is likely going to have an even broader economic impact going forward and could push the United States into a full-blown recession.  Strengthening our programs that can automatically stabilize the economy by helping people make ends meet is critical, as will be aid for states to maintain balanced budgets without dramatic cuts to programs and services needed now.

In short, North Carolina will need a robust policy response at the state and federal level.

Read more

Higher Ed, News, public health

UNC increases COVID-19 precautions, travel restrictions during Spring Break

As students remain on Spring Break this week, UNC-Chapel Hill announced new precautions related to COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus.

In addition to Level 3 countries, as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the school is now prohibiting University-affiliated travel to Level 2 countries. Anyone returning from Level 2 or 3 countries is expected to self-quarantine off campus for 14 days, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in an update to the campus community Monday.

Level 3 countries — to which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises no non-essential travel — include China, South Korea, Italy, Iran and Venezuela.

Level 2 countries — in which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises travelers to “practice enhanced precautions — also include Japan.

The university is also restricting university-related travel to cities and states that have declared a coronavirus state of emergency. That list now includes Austin and San Antonio in Texas, as well as the states of California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington.

Students and faculty returning from those countries after Spring Break, which lasts until March 16, are expected to self-report and self-quarantine. Students who fail to do so will not be given excused absences and could be subject to action from the Office of Student Conduct, Guskiewicz said in an update e-mail last week.

Though there are as yet no confirmed cases in the UNC system, the system office is working with individual campuses as they formulate their responses.

Five new cases of the virus were confirmed in North Carolina Monday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the state to seven. The five who most recently tested positive for COVID-19 all attended the same Biogen corporate management conference in Boston last month, Wake County officials said Monday. More than 30 infections have now been tied to the conference, which hosted about 175 managers from around the world.

“It’s important to note that, even if the risks associated with COVID-19 are low for many individuals in our community, it is critical we all do our part to limit transmission and ensure the safety of everyone on our campus and in our communities,” Monday’s update read. “Limiting travel is one way the University is actively trying to do that, which is why we are issuing the following updated travel restrictions for students, faculty and staff.”

The university system is monitoring the national and international situation surrounding the virus and issuing updates as necessary.

“We are also developing a series of contingency plans that may apply to several different scenarios if the need arises to protect your safety and that of others on campus, and to ensure essential operations continue, even if work arrangements or staffing levels change,” Guskiewicz wrote Monday.

Those preparations may eventually include working and teaching remotely, Guskiewicz wrote.

News, public health

North Carolina has 2nd case of coronavirus

State health officials announced a second presumptively positive case of the coronavirus in North Carolina on Friday. This case is unrelated to the Wake County case, and is described as a man from Chatham County who visited Italy in February. The individual is doing well and isolated at home, according to state officials.

Here’s more from the Department of Health and Human Services:

A North Carolina man from Chatham County traveled in late February to an area in Italy that now has a COVID-19 outbreak. He had two days of mild, flu-like symptoms while in Italy. His fever resolved and symptoms were improving, and he flew back to the United States the following day. This person was a contact to a case in Georgia and the Georgia Department of Health notified North Carolina health officials.

Chatham County Public Health Department officials conducted a home visit and collected specimens, which came back presumptively positive last night. He has been cooperative and is in home isolation until follow-up tests are negative. The Chatham County Public Health Department will work to identify close contacts to monitor symptoms. Since the person had been symptomatic before travel, the CDC will identify close contacts on the flight thought to be at risk and notify the appropriate public health agencies. To protect individual privacy, no further information about the identity of the person will be released.

While awaiting confirmation of results from the CDC, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services will treat presumptive cases as positive and follow CDC guidelines to protect public health and limit the spread of infection.

COVID-19 is currently not widespread in North Carolina. Because COVID-19 is most commonly spread through respiratory droplets, North Carolinians should take the same measures that health care providers recommend to prevent the spread of the flu and other viruses, including washing your hands, avoiding touching your face and covering coughs and sneezes.

For more information on COVID-19, please visit the CDC’s website at cdc.gov/coronavirus. North Carolina resources can be found on the Division of Public Health website at ncdhhs.gov/coronavirus.

Additional resources:

News, public health

North Carolina identifies first case of COVID-19, state laboratory now able to test for virus

Editor’s note: A second, unrelated case of COVID-19 cropped up Friday.

Gov. Roy Cooper and state health officials announced Tuesday that a North Carolina person has tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

The individual from Wake County was exposed to the virus at a long-term care facility in Washington State.

The test, conducted by North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health, is presumptively positive. That test will be confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lab.

According to Gov. Cooper the person is doing well and remains in isolation at home.

Local health department officials are identifying close contacts to monitor symptoms and contain spread.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen says officials are also investigating who else may have been on the flight with the individual.

To protect individual privacy, no further information was released, including what health facilities that person came into contact with in the state.

“I know that people are worried about this virus, and I want to assure North Carolinians our state is prepared,” said Cooper. “Our task force and state agencies are working closely with local health departments, health care providers and others to quickly identify and respond to cases that might occur.”

To be removed from isolation, the person must test negative for the virus two times in a 24-hour period and show no symptoms. Health officials from the state are in contact with the individual twice per day.

Health officials stressed Tuesday’s announcement is an isolated case. COVID-19 is not currently widespread in North Carolina.

On a positive note, the State Laboratory of Public Health is now able to perform testing for the new virus.

That means the state can get test results much faster. Health officials say it is essential to be prepared for the possibility that it could become widespread.

Click below to hear Gov. Cooper discuss what North Carolinians can do to better protect themselves and prevent the possible spread of the virus.

If you have questions or concerns, call the COVID-19 Helpline toll free at 1-866-462-3821. You can also submit questions online by selecting Chat at www.ncpoisoncontrol.org.

For more on how to properly wash your hands (a best practice in preventing the spread of COVID-19), refer to this poster from the CDC:

 

News, public health, Uncategorized

Facing a ‘snowballing’ of uninsured patients, Waynesville presses for Medicaid expansion

State legislators do not return to Raleigh until late April, but leaders in one Haywood County community are going on record now urging the General Assembly to take action to pass Medicaid expansion.

The Waynesville town board unanimously passed a resolution last week calling for Medicaid expansion, desperately needed by the region’s medical community.

Here’s how reporter Becky Johnson reported that meeting in The Mountaineer:

Republican lawmakers who have resisted Medicaid expansion claim it would cost too much. But the irony is that failing to expand Medicaid has actually cost the state more, according to those who spoke at the hearing.

People without health insurance don’t get the early, preventative care they need, and instead wait until they are in dire straits before ending up in the emergency room.

“It’s snowballing and they are showing up in the ER on the tail end of their illness,” said Rod Harkleroad, the CEO of Haywood Regional Medical Center, who was one of those who spoke at the public hearing.

By then, they need far more expensive treatment, and society ends up picking up the tab for anyway, Harkleroad said. The unpaid medical bills are ultimately passed down in the form of higher insurance premiums and medical costs to everyone else.

Haywood Regional Medical Center has to write off $24 million a year in charity care for patients who can’t pay their medical bills. Of the 50,000 patients who come through the ER at Haywood Regional, around one-third don’t have insurance. Those stats demonstrate the pattern of the uninsured waiting until their health is in crisis before getting care.

It’s estimated that there are 3,400 residents in Haywood County without insurance who could benefit from expansion.

Read the full story here.

Conservative lawmakers in the state Senate have blocked any effort to expand Medicaid coverage, making North Carolina one of just 14 states to reject expansion and additional federal funds.