Gov. Roy Cooper rightly warned North Carolinians Monday that the state should hold firm, for now, on his shelter-in-place policy.

The 30-day executive order took effect on March 30 and has created its share of financial and social hardships. But the strategy has been proven effective here and elsewhere in blunting the rate of spread of COVID-19.

“What we are doing is working,” the governor said during a news conference. “We are saving lives. Complacency is our biggest enemy.”

On Sunday the nation was projected to reach the peak of coronavirus deaths by Ira Longini, a professor at the Center for Statistics and Quantitative Infectious Diseases at the University of Florida who is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But that “peak” doesn’t mean the danger was over on Monday morning. Any reassessment would need to be based not on wishful thinking, but on the conditions on the ground — the science and the data.

After taking a hard look at the numbers, the CDC also modified its list of precautions, and now recommends on its website “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain” — while still reminding us that masks are no substitute for social distancing.

Initially the CDC had discouraged wearing surgical masks because they typically don’t prevent their wearers from contracting the virus. But now their more widespread use is encouraged mainly to keep those who have contracted the virus from spreading it to others. This particularly makes sense because it’s possible to carry and transmit the virus to someone else while not experiencing any symptoms yourself.

Meanwhile, the governor also issued an executive order last week to cap the number of shoppers who should be allowed at one time in grocery stores and other retailers across the state. The new rules took effect at 5 p.m. Monday. Cooper has issued new directives for nursing homes as well, requiring all workers to wear masks when interacting with residents and other staff members. All staff members must also be screened daily for signs of the virus and communal areas in such facilities must be closed.

It’s natural to want a return to normalcy, or something like it, much sooner than this. The economic toll of the restrictions has posed a particular hardship for restaurants and small businesses. But COVID-19 may be most insidious in how easily and quietly it can spread. A premature return to business as usual could be catastrophic, health experts say. Coronavirus is more than 10 times more communicable than the common flu.

As of Monday morning, the state Department of Health and Human Services reported 4,816 cases and 86 deaths but projections for total deaths have dropped over time from roughly 2,400 to 500.

We know this isn’t easy. Who doesn’t want to be able again to enjoy a night out at a restaurant or an afternoon at a ballpark? But for all of its pain and inconvenience, these sacrifices should be worth it. The governor is right: Stay the course. Follow the precautions. Don’t be tempted to squander the progress already achieved.

Wait until your safety can be assured, not by a whim or anxious desire, but by the evidence.

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