Health experts urge caution ahead of holiday weekend as coronavirus cases continue to climb in Cape Fear

Caution urged for the Fourth of July weekend

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - North Carolina hit a record high new coronavirus case count Friday ahead of the Fourth of July weekend, underscoring concerns health experts already had ahead of the holiday.

Dr. West Paul, chief clinical officer at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, said he and others are particularly concerned about the holiday given what happened after Memorial Day weekend.

“We saw about a two and a half times increase for the — call it the Memorial Day bump,” Paul said of COVID-19 cases at the hospital.

Memorial Day coincided with the beginning of North Carolina’s “Phase Two” when the stay at home order was mostly lifted, and some restrictions were eased.

Ever since, Paul said cases have been quickly climbing, and given the higher propensity for large gatherings and activities, he said the Fourth of July is poised to make things even worse — if people don’t comply with masking and social distancing guidelines.

“We can see three, four or five times increase,” he said. “Now, we have capacity, we have plans in place for this hospital and for our county to be able to take care of this, but it would be a plan we would rather not activate if we don’t have to.”

He went on to say a four to five times increase would cause some capacity issues at NHRMC.

As of Friday, the hospital has treated 183 COVID-19 patients, with an average of 33 patients in the hospital each day.

To avoid a significant rise in cases and hospitalizations, Paul said the same guidelines should be heeded as have been urged throughout the pandemic.

“I know people will do this anyway,” he said of people gathering to celebrate. “It’s a holiday weekend. I certainly understand it, but certainly try to take precautions if you’re going to have a gathering or barbecue.”

Those precautions are keeping six feet between you and anyone not in your household and avoiding crowded settings, washing your hands frequently, and wearing a mask unless you are actively eating and drinking.

And those precautions should be taken even if the celebration is being held outside.

“Anytime there’s a gathering of people that are closer than six feet, there’s a risk of viral spread, even outdoors,” he said. “There’s several excellent scientific studies now that shows yes, the virus does spread outdoors, though we’d hoped it didn’t, but it does. So all of those parameters, all of those rules of trying to prove The virus spreads still apply outdoors”

As with Memorial Day, the repercussions of the Independence Day weekend won’t be felt for a few weeks, Paul said.

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