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North Carolina reported its first two COVID-19 deaths Wednesday as local governments ordered their residents to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus.

Iredell County has 11 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Wednesday morning, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Overall, the state of North Carolina had 504 reported cases as of the morning. The state is updating the county-by-county case data once a day.

Gov. Roy Cooper issued a statement saying the coronavirus-related deaths were a person from Cabarrus County and another person from Virginia who was traveling through the state. The Cabarrus County patient was over age 70 with underlying conditions, while the Virginia patient was over 60, according to the release, which did not include further details about them.

The news of the deaths came as overall positive cases of the virus reached more than 500 statewide, according to a state tally Wednesday.

“We extend our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones. This is a stark warning that for some people COVID-19 is a serious illness. All of us must do our part to stop the spread by staying at home as much as possible and practicing social distancing,” Cooper said in the statement.

A number of cities and counties are issuing stay-at-home orders, including Mecklenburg County, the city of Durham, Pitt County and Madison County. North Carolina has not issued a statewide sheltering order but has gradually reduced allowable gathering sizes and ordered some nonessential businesses to close.

Durham Mayor Steve Schewel said at a Wednesday news conference that the order covering more than 265,000 residents goes into effect Thursday and lasts through the end of April. Similar to other jurisdictions, the order includes exemptions for people going to get food or medicine and other essential tasks. Schewel said Durham County has 74 cases, including at least eight cases of community spread. The area ranks among the counties with the most cases in the state.

He said his order was important for protecting everyone, but especially healthcare workers in the area.

“What we know about this virus is that it spreads easily and fast," he said. "Once cases begin multiplying, as they have in Italy and New York, the rise in the number of cases is exponential. And that is exactly what we are trying to avoid and to stop here in Durham.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

In nearby counties, as of Wednesday morning, Mecklenburg County has 142 reported cases. Forsyth County has 15, Cabarrus County has 12, Rowan County has six, Catawba County has four, Gaston County has three, Davidson County has two and Lincoln and Davie counties have one each.

Meanwhile, local companies began shutting down Wednesday in response to an executive order from Cooper earlier in the week. As of Wednesday, it is a misdemeanor for there to be assemblies of more than 50 people, a guideline set by health officials.

In addition, all hair salons, barbershops, gyms, fitness clubs and movie theaters must close, as well as similar business activities that run counter to social distancing. Bingo parlors, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors also are on the closure list. Across North Carolina, restaurants and bars can continue to remain open only for delivery or take-out meals. Grocery stores also continue to operate.

-- From the Associated Press and staff reports

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