New Hanover County health leaders speak on COVID-19 State of Emergency ending

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) —  It’s been nearly 2 and half years since governor Roy Cooper declared a State of Emergency, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The State of emergency will expire on Monday, August 15.

Governor Roy Cooper declared the State of Emergency in March of 2020, in response to COVID-19.  The declaration allowed the governor special powers to direct state resources, request help from the federal government, and trigger anti-price gouging laws.

 New Hanover County Health Director David Howard shared how the state of emergency impacted the state when it was ordered, and what the expiration on Monday means for North Carolina. 

 “Some of those abilities to, –for healthcare in particular, to operate outside their normal parameters of practice for certain professions and those kinds of things and certain facilities in terms of capacity, had more flexibility within the state of emergency declaration. Letting it expire means confidence that healthcare facilities and other long-term care facilities and others are not in need of that flexibility anymore,” said David Howard, New Hanover County health director.  

Howard says the expiration of the state of emergency is not expected to have a significant impact on the community. 

Wilmington Health Infectious Disease Physician, Dr. Paul Kamitsuka, said healthcare systems are also not expecting an impact, but still advises residents to remain cautious, with COVID-19 still prevalent in the community.

“Basically our message to patients is exactly the same. The first thing is, if you want to avoid a serious illness with COVID, you want to make sure that you’re vaccinate and boosted at least once. The second thing is to underscore is that COVID, the virus now is extremely contagious,” said Dr. Paul Kamitsuka, Wilmington Health infectious disease physician.

According to a statement from North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, HB 103, signed into law on July 11, includes changes in the law requested by the NC Department of Health and Human Services to ensure flexibility that is currently made possible by Governor Roy Cooper’s Covid-19 State of Emergency.

The provisions in the budget are related to preserving access to COVID-19 testing and treatments, preserving health care access and preventing a workforce shortage, and they do the following:

  1. Allow for standing orders from the State Health Director for COVID-19 testing, vaccines and treatments through the end of 2023.
  2. Allow NCDHHS to waive rules for health care facilities and nursing homes so they can expand bed capacity (and mirror flexibilities offered by CMS).
  3. Allow us to waive some rules so ambulances can continue to have one EMT and one licensed driver instead of two EMTs.
  4. Allow a grace period for lead and asbestos inspectors to get re-certified, because it requires an in-person course which wasn’t offered during part of the pandemic.

The Governor’s office also provided WWAY with a statement, that reads in part:

“As you know, most of the COVID restrictions tied to the State of Emergency were lifted last year and most people will not see changes in their day to day lives from the end of the order. The State of Emergency has continued to allow regulatory flexibility in the health care industry necessary for the state’s response, and standing orders from the State Health Director that make it easier to get tested, vaccinated, and treatment for COVID-19. DHHS requested changes to state law so the Department can continue to ensure that North Carolina’s healthcare providers and system can remain adequately staffed, continue to administer vaccines and tests and protect people’s health. As legislators have now made these changes, medical providers, public health departments, local governments and others now have notice to prepare for the order to be lifted on August 15. “

The CDC released its updated COVID-19 guidance on Thursday, August 11 adapting as the virus becomes endemic.

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