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Mecklenburg residents may be at home longer than 3 weeks, county leaders say

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Local officials acknowledged late Thursday that Mecklenburg Charlotte News County’s stay-at-home order could stretch much longer than three weeks as coronavirus cases steeply increase in the region.

George Dunlap, chairman of the Mecklenburg County commissioners, told The Charlotte Observer that it is unlikely the initial action will manage to adequately “flatten the curve” and halt the spread of COVID-19. The county’s stay-at-home order is scheduled to end by April 16 but in announcing the order, officials said the restrictions could last longer.

“I want to be optimistic, but — given what we’re seeing — my guess is it will be in effect longer than three weeks,” Dunlap said in an interview. “Unless there’s some miracle that takes place, we haven’t seen the apex yet … and we’re still having difficulty with testing.”

Officials had debated other timetables for the order that began Thursday morning, including an option spanning 60 days, according to Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio.

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Diorio said they ultimately settled on a three-week order to give local hospitals an opportunity to better track new cases and potentially revamp county-wide restrictions.

Already, county commissioners say they wouldn’t be surprised if residents are asked to stay home several extra weeks — or possibly, months. Commissioner Mark Jerrell, for example, said a more realistic order would “probably be a good 45 days,” at least.

Commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell said the closure of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools through May 15 could represent an important benchmark.

“I’m looking at three weeks as a starting point,” Rodriguez-McDowell said. “I wouldn’t be shocked if it went further. But I hate the idea that it would — it’s just awful what people are going through.”

Officials struggled to predict exactly when the stay-at-home order could be lifted, though, as data collection efforts are ongoing to understand the extent of the pandemic within Mecklenburg.

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“I could see it changing in three weeks just because we’re learning what works and what doesn’t work,” Commissioner Susan Harden said. “If it’s reissued, I don’t think it will be the same order.”

There are more than 200 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Mecklenburg, a sharp climb since the first reported case on March 12. The county had surpassed 100 cases Press Release Distribution Services In Charlotte on Monday, officials said.

“I expect that we probably will extend it, but we wanted to get in place and see how things developed,” Commissioner Trevor Fuller said. “I would wait to hear from our staff and the emergency management folks to help us talk through that.”

Mecklenburg residents are still allowed to venture outdoors during the stay-at-home order for “essential” activities, such as buying groceries, caring for friends and loved ones, and seeking medical treatment. By restricting movements and mass gatherings, public-health experts hope they can avoid inundating Novant Health and Atrium Health.

A Harvard University analysis shows that if 20% of people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in Charlotte over six months, the area would need about twice as many hospital beds than are currently available, according to ProPublica.

One in five individuals treated for COVID-19 so far have required hospitalization, Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said earlier this week.

Commissioner Pat Cotham emphasized Mecklenburg residents will “get through this pandemic.” Yet a return to normalcy, Cotham said, will not be instantaneous following intense disruptions to the local economy.

“Just like it was hard to turn this on, it will be hard to turn it back the other way,” Cotham said. “We can’t go from one extreme to the other with no transition.”

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