COVID-19 in Charlotte: A Timeline [Updated]

Day by day, where we’ve been and where we are
Covidclt 2
Logan Cyrus

Key dates in the spread of COVID-19 in Charlotte and North Carolina, and in responses by state and local officials:

February 11: Governor Roy Cooper names a Novel Coronavirus Task Force to coordinate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state agencies to monitor, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19. “Though currently the risk to North Carolinians is low, we are taking a proactive approach and are prepared for potential scenarios,” Cooper says. “This task force will continue coordination between our agencies and federal partners so we can keep the public informed and safe.”

March 3: North Carolina identifies its first coronavirus case: a Wake County resident who had recently returned from a trip to Washington state, where the person had spent time at a long-term care center that was combating an outbreak of the virus.

March 10: The number of reported COVID-19 cases rises to seven. Cooper declares a state of emergency.

March 11: The UNC system extends spring break and announces a shift to online-only classes for all of its schools.

March 12: Mecklenburg County reports its first two confirmed cases of COVID-19, and Cabarrus County reports one. The county cancels gatherings of 100 or more people and recommends that people 65 or older avoid any mass gatherings, including church services. The state recommends that gatherings of 100 or more be postponed or cancelled. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools suspends competitions, performances, and events before and after school hours, effective after March 13.

March 13: In an emergency meeting, the CMS board votes to move spring break, scheduled for April, up by a month, begin sending students home March 19, and keep them home at least through March 27. “Last night, I was getting texts in the middle of the night, throughout the night, from teacher friends and from social friends asking what we’re going to do,” says Chair Elyse Dashew. “This is a time of very high anxiety.”

March 14: Cooper orders all K-12 public schools closed for at least two weeks and bans gatherings of more than 100 people. “I am guided by one objective,” he says, “doing what we must to keep people from getting sick.” CMS reverts to its original calendar.

March 17: Cooper, on St. Patrick’s Day, bans sit-down service at bars and restaurants and relaxes certain restrictions on unemployment benefits. CMS begins distribution of grab-and-go meals for students outside closed schools.

March 23: Cooper extends school closures to May 15 and bans gatherings of more than 50 people.

March 24: Mecklenburg County Emergency Management imposes a stay-at-home order, effective March 26, that prohibits gatherings of 10 or more people, which requires the closure of amusement parks, water parks, museums, fairs, play centers, playgrounds, recreation centers, gyms, bowling alleys, movie and performance theaters, and clubs. It also bars anyone from visiting loved ones in hospitals or nursing homes except under limited circumstances; and visit family or friends unless necessary. The county later extends the order, initially set to expire April 21, to April 29.

March 25: The state Department of Health and Human Services reports the first two coronavirus-related deaths in North Carolina.

March 26: The White House grants Cooper’s request for a federal disaster declaration for North Carolina, which allows the state and local governments to be reimbursed for coronavirus-related costs.

March 27: Cooper imposes a statewide, month-long stay-at-home order that allows only essential businesses to remain open and bans gatherings of more than 10 people. The state reports 763 confirmed cases in 60 counties and three deaths; 230 of those cases are in Mecklenburg County.

March 29: Mecklenburg County reports its first coronavirus-related death.

April 2: The CEOs of Atrium and Novant Health, Charlotte’s two largest hospital systems, ask the county to build a mass care field hospital with as many as 3,000 beds. They later revise their estimate to 600 extra beds as the stay-at-home order and social distancing curb the number of cases.

April 6: A group of epidemiologists from UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University and other health experts release a modeling forecast that predicts as many as 750,000 COVID-19 cases statewide by June 1—a number that would overwhelm North Carolina’s health care system—if all social distancing practices ceased at the end of April. “The modeling affirms that the actions we take now will determine how this virus will impact North Carolina in the weeks and months to come,” says Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state DHHS secretary. “Please stay home now to save lives.”

April 15: The Atrium and Novant Health CEOs tell county officials they no longer need a mass care field hospital, although they warn that a premature relaxation of social distancing guidelines could lead them to revise their projections. “We are obviously pleased, but we can’t stop now,” says county Public Health Director Gibbie Harris. “We have to continue the compliance, flatten the curve, and get beyond this.” The county reports 1,039 cases of COVID-19 and 19 deaths.

April 23: Cooper extends the statewide stay-at-home order through May 8 and lays out a three-phased reopening of businesses and expansion of allowed gatherings over the next few months if the number of infections drops.

April 24: Cooper announces that K-12 public schools statewide will remain closed through the spring semester. The county Health Department reports 1,400 confirmed cases and 37 related deaths in Mecklenburg County.

May 8: At 5 p.m., Phase 1 of the state’s reopening plan takes effect. Cooper’s revised executive order eliminates distinctions between essential and nonessential businesses. Retail businesses are allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity and instruct customers to remain at least six feet apart; they also must clean regularly, provide hand sanitizer when available, and screen workers for symptoms. The order allows people to leave their homes and patronize any open business, although bars, entertainment venues, gyms, and personal care businesses remain closed. Sit-down service is still banned at restaurants, and gatherings of more than 10 people are still generally prohibited. The revised order encourages people to wear cloth masks when outside the home and among other people.

May 22: Phase 2 takes effect at 5 p.m., scheduled to remain in place until June 26. Phase 2 allows restaurants, swimming pools, and personal care businesses like salons and barber shops to reopen at 50 percent capacity but with social distancing and cleaning requirements, and personal care employees must wear masks. Bars, nightclubs, gyms, movie theaters, and bowling alleys remain closed. Mass gathering limits are relaxed to allow groups of no more than 10 indoors and 25 outdoors. Retail businesses that opened under Phase 1 continue to observe the 50-percent-capacity restriction. Childcare facilities and day and overnight camps for children can open with enhanced cleaning and screening requirements. Worship services can resume under health recommendations for cleaning, hygiene, and social distancing.

The City of Charlotte adds “Temporary Outdoor Dining Guidelines” that allow restaurants to use up to 25 percent of its parking spaces and limited sidewalk and street space for outdoor dining, up to 49 people.

June 24: Cohen announces health data that prevent North Carolina from moving into Phase 3 as hoped: consistent rises in the numbers of patients who report coronavirus-like symptoms and of new cases, plus a generally level but still elevated percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive. “The virus is still very prevalent in North Carolina,” Cohen says. Cooper extends Phase 2 to July 17 and orders North Carolinians to wear face masks in public when social distancing is not possible.

July 14: Cooper extends Phase 2 for another three weeks because of continued growth in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The governor also issues a set of safety requirements for schools as they reopen, including face coverings, social distancing, health screenings, and regular disinfecting of classroom surfaces; the plan allows school systems to opt for remote-only learning as well. The next day, during a marathon meeting plagued by technical problems, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board adopts a plan that brings students into school in staggered groups for the first two weeks of the school year, then shifts to remote-only for as long as necessary.

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