LOUISBURG -- Franklin County nearly went a week without reporting a new COVID-19-related death. That changed by Wednesday, though, when the state reported another person who had been a resident at Louisburg Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center had died.
Still, the downturn in new cases and deaths comes as Gov. Roy Cooper began unveiling a plan to reopen the state in phases, beginning on Friday
"Statewide, Gov. [Roy] Cooper's three-phase approach, which emphasizes testing, tracing and trending, the metrics appear to have the state poised for a movement into Phase 1, barring any new trends over the next few days," county Health Director Scott LaVigne told commissioners during their May 4 meeting.
Phase 1, LaVigne said, doesn't look all too different from the current restrictions, only that it allows some additional retail establishments to open.
Bars, salons and similar places would still be shuttered during Phase 1 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"The main thing that's significant about Phase 1 is that in two to three weeks, if trends continue, it allows to move into Phase 2, and that is a lifting of the stay-at-home order, LaVigne said.
"That's why Phase 1 is somewhat significant and we need to pay attention to how things are going."
Also, under Phase 2, houses of worship, restaurants and bars could reopen, according to reports, but with reduced capacity. The maximum number of people in gatherings would increase, but the state will encourage vulnerable populations to stay home.
If healthy trends continue, in Phase 3, which would start after four-to-six weeks of success in the second phase, according to reports, there would be an increase in maximum-capacity numbers and mass gatherings will allow more people.
Going into Phase 1, LaVigne said, the next issue is surge testing capacity and the governor has a task force.
The goal of the task force is to get to 7,000 tests per day. Right now, LaVigne said, the state is at 5,300 tests per day. "To keep that in perspective," LaVigne said, "if we ran 7,000 tests a day, seven days a week, it would take us a little over four years to test everyone in the entire state.
"So, really, we're going to try to test a lot more people, but we're not going to be testing everybody by any stretch."
The next part is tracing, LaVigne said. And, this week, the state announced that there will be an increase [in that capability]. A new initiative will double the 250 tracers employed in local health departments.
• While the state and area prepares for Phase 1, LaVigne said the county remains diligent about working with its congregate care facilities in the county to limit, mitigate or prevent outbreaks.
"Obviously, the outbreak continues to be something that we're very concerned about," he said, noting that 54 residents and 13 staff members tested positive for COVID-19, with the virus claiming the lives of 18 residents. One other person, not a resident of the nursing home, has also died of the virus.
"We have been working with their staff, daily," LaVigne said. "As of [May 4], we are cautiously hopeful that the outbreak has moved into a containment phase.
• LaVigne said the Franklin County Health Department was able to reopen this week. In late April six employees tested positive for the coronavirus and all but emergency services were shut down at the health department last week.
LaVigne informed the board that the department was able to reopen on May 4.