Dr. Mandy Cohen sounding the alarm regarding the state’s rising COVID-19 numbers

Newsmakers

It’s hard to mention COVID-19 in North Carolina without mentioning the name Dr. Mandy Cohen.

During the last eight months, she’s become synonymous with the state’s response to the pandemic.

A regular participant in Gov. Roy Cooper’s frequent COVID-19 afternoon briefings, Dr. Cohen is an internal medicine physician who’s also North Carolina’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. It’s a position she’s held since early 2017. Before the governor appointed her, she was the Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Washington, DC, during the Obama administration.

Today, she’s sounding the alarm regarding the state’s rising COVID-19 numbers. Her message is quite simple: as a whole, we’ve done a good job and are better than many other states. We just can’t let our guard down heading into the holidays. Here’s the text of our conversation:

*Neill*
“I’m wondering about your concern about these rising numbers. How would you describe that concern now compared to your concern back when the pandemic was beginning?”
*Dr. Mandy Cohen*
“Yeah. What a great question. I do have a high level of concern right now, but we are more prepared as a state than we have ever been, which is good. But that doesn’t mean this virus doesn’t want to spread. It does. I think we are on very shaky ground right now. And that is why we’ve been trying to take some additional adjustment actions, try not to move us backwards.”

*Neill*
“You have specifically mentioned, we need to watch our hospitalizations specifically in the Triad area, my area — Greensboro, High Point, Winston Salem. I was wondering if you could get a little more specific with me. What are you seeing in my area?”
*Dr. Cohen*
“Yes. So we’re seeing some of the highest number of COVID hospitalizations that we’ve seen throughout this pandemic in the Triad area. Now places like in Guilford County have had a number of hospitals. Right? But they are also the feeder for many surrounding counties as you well know. And so when smaller hospitals start to get strained or overwhelmed, they send their patients into some of the bigger hospitals. So we know that we have to be watching across the board. So that’s why we’re trying to give folks a sense of impact in every single county across North Carolina.”

*Neill*
“From a public health perspective. How close are we to perhaps re-seeing the restrictive mitigation measures, stay at home orders, business closings that we saw back in March?”
*Dr. Cohen*
“I’m concerned. We definitely are watching this and in a short order here and that we may have to take some additional steps. I think that’s why we are really raising the flag right now to say, ‘hey, we don’t want to go backwards.’ There are some things we can all do. I know we’re tired. I know everyone wants this to be over, but if we just focus on masks, focus on social gatherings and keeping it small, and if we really are good through Thanksgiving we can try to hold steady here because there’s a light at the end of this tunnel.”

*Neill*
“As you know, public schools have been gradually reopening across the state. Have you seen any larger numbers that you’ve been able to link to the reopening of schools?”
*Dr. Cohen*
“Well, look, we have virus in our community, which means we will have cases in our schools. The question is, are schools sources of transmitting further virus? And right now it does not seem to be the case. So that is good.”

*Neill*
“How frustrating is it that you have still so many people out there who consider this a hoax who are still not wearing masks, who are still not social distancing?”
*Dr. Cohen*
“Well, you know, look, I think the vast majority of North Carolinians are really taking this seriously, but I get it. I get folks are tired. And so, so over this. So I’m just asking folks to hang in there, particularly through the holidays. We don’t want, you don’t want to be the source of making your family members sick.”

*Neill*
“Your message to the people of North Carolina as they plan family gatherings for Thanksgiving and Christmas, what is it?”
*Dr. Cohen*
“Yes. Really important to do a couple of things first, keep it small, keep it small. If you’re going to have a gathering, do it outside, wear masks all the time and consider getting a test three or four days ahead of time, ahead of travel or gathering.”

*Neill*
“Did you ever have any idea before COVID hit that your name would become a household name across North Carolina?
*Dr. Cohen*
No, not in any way that I tell the story most of the time, like if I go out to like Costco or target, they go, ‘Aren’t you the three Ws lady?’ and that’s even better. And I don’t need them to know my name, but if they know the three Ws, then we’re doing something right.”

To read more about North Carolina’s response to COVID-19, click here

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