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Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of May 10

In a socially distance setting, 2020 graduates of UNC Greensboro participate in a special graduation ceremony for their class Saturday, May 8, 2021 in Greensboro, N.C. University and college 2020 graduates got their moment in the spotlight and their own graduation, a year after Covid-19 cancelled in person ceremonies.
Lynn Hey / For WUNC
In a socially distance setting, 2020 graduates of UNC Greensboro participate in a special graduation ceremony for their class Saturday, May 8, 2021 in Greensboro, N.C. University and college 2020 graduates got their moment in the spotlight and their own graduation, a year after Covid-19 cancelled in person ceremonies.

This post will be updated periodically with the latest information on how the coronavirus is affecting North Carolina. Scroll down for older updates. For a recap of last week's news, check out Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of May 3.

May 14

7 p.m. - The Durham County Department of Public Health will temporarily reduce its vaccination clinic hours next week due to the ongoing gas shortages across the state. The clinic will be open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Officials say they want to ensure that their nurses, guests and other clinic staff can travel safely to and from their clinic. Vaccination clinic hours are expected to return to normal the following week. - Naomi Prioleau, WUNC

4:10 p.m. - Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday immediately ended the state's capacity limits on businesses and nearly all the remaining statewide mask-wearing mandates, returning the state to almost normal operations.

Cooper announced the lifting of gathering limit requirements 2 1/2 weeks before June 1 — the date by which he had previously said he wanted to rid the state of social distancing requirements. Restrictions had been scaled back slowly in recent months. - Associated Press, WUNC

8:29 a.m. - Friday is the last day of open enrollment for North Carolina's new Medicaid Managed Care program, which begins July 1. North Carolina Medicaid is switching from a traditional fee-for-service program to one in which health plans receive fixed monthly payments for every patient seen and treated. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

May 13

5:01 p.m. - With vaccines now available for anyone older than 12 and this school year coming to an end, the State Board of Education heard an update Thursday on the spread of the coronavirus in schools over previous months.

Dr. Danny Benjamin with the ABC Science Collaborative, which has been advising schools throughout the pandemic, presented preliminary data on COVID-19 cases in North Carolina schools and other states. He says it shows that as long as students and staff wear masks, how far apart they sit in the classroom doesn't make much of a difference. That concern has caused a lot of debate for schools this year about whether to use a hybrid teaching model or bring everyone who wants to be, back in person.

"There's no medical safety reason to support Plan B compared to Plan A," Benjamin said.

Benjamin says nearly all COVID-19 cases that have been linked to spread within a school setting are because of a lapse in mask wearing. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

2:31 p.m. - The state health department is now encouraging kids over 12 to get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, after the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the green light for it to be given to adolescents.

CDC guidance okays getting a COVID-19 shot while getting other vaccinations, which could make it more convenient for families. At the State Board of Education meeting Thursday, State Health Director Doctor Betsy Tilson said there are multiple ways families can get their children vaccinated.

"Also a lot of partnerships with schools, so yay, on thinking through another easy point of access to vaccines for not just adolescents, but their families, for school staff as well," Tison said.

More than one-third of schools that responded to a state survey have begun, or are considering, providing COVID-19 vaccinations on site. About half want to help students find a place to be vaccinated. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

1:58 p.m. - State officials did not design and implement procedures to make sure that $3 billion of federal coronavirus relief funds were spent properly, according to a state audit. The North Carolina Pandemic Recovery Office performed limited monitoring of the distribution of funds, even though federal regulations required them to do so. This led to a higher risk of recipients misusing the funds without state officials knowing. The office says it chose to prioritize coordinating and distributing funds to recipients instead. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:12 a.m. - Following federal recommendations, state officials are directing health providers in North Carolina to offer the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to teenagers ages 12 and older starting today. Some health providers were already offering the vaccine. Wake County Public Health will begin providing the vaccine today. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

May 12

11:31 a.m. - Durham city councilman and musician Pierce Freelon recently released a new song to encourage kids to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Children ages 12 to 15 can start getting their first dose of Pfizer's COVID vaccine after the F-D-A authorized it for that age group this week.

The song Cootie Shot is featured on Freelon's new album Black to the Future. Speaking to NPR, Freelon says the song is meant to show younger children that the vaccine can keep them safe.

"That's exactly the type of vibe I want to give kids. I want them to feel like there's a protective shield around them," he said. "That's what the vaccine does. It protects us from COVID."

Some health providers in North Carolina have already started offering the Pfizer vaccine to kids 12 and up. Durham County says it will begin giving the shot to those adolescents once state health officials give their approval. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

9:38 a.m. - Leading coronavirus scientist and Hillsborough native Kizzmekia Corbett is joining Harvard University as an assistant professor next month. Corbett will teach at Harvard's School of Public Health and lead the school's new coronavirus research lab. For the past six years, Corbett has been a research fellow at the National Institutes of Health. She played a critical role in research that led to the development of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Corbett graduated with her PhD in microbiology and immunology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2014. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:55 a.m. - As Raleigh works to re-open, city council members on Tuesday heard from business owners and patrons about what they want to see in a post-pandemic downtown. The Raleigh City Council heard several suggestions including having more outdoor events and expanding outdoor dining. The COVID-19 pandemic paired with last year's protests for racial justice shuttered businesses and emptied sidewalks.

Jim Mitchell is a Raleigh resident. He came loaded with lots of ideas for improvements.

"Limit the amount of office space and increase housing density downtown. Partner with rideshare apps to have lower rates that are going to and from downtown," he told the council. "That's very doable."

Council members will continue having meetings until they develop a plan to officially re-open. - Naomi Prioleau, WUNC

May 11

2:15 p.m. - Wake County will receive over $22 million in Emergency Rental Assistance through the American Rescue Plan. This money will provide direct assistance to eligible renters and help prevent evictions for those facing housing insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Department of the Treasury also issued updated guidance to expedite funds to renters and target those most in need of assistance. Around 35% of households in North Carolina are renter households according to the American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. - Naomi Prioleau, WUNC

1:15 p.m. - Children ages 12 to 15 could get their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as early as this week. Duke Dr. Michael Smith has been involved in the pediatric trials of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The FDA has just authorized it for use in adolescents. Smith says trial results showed a very high efficacy rate in both preventing infection and severe disease. Duke is also involved in testing the Pfizer vaccine on kids 9 and younger. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

12:45 p.m. - Two more incarcerated men at state prisons have died from COVID-19. One offender was in his mid-30s at Central Prison. He tested positive for the coronavirus in late April, and died last Friday. The other inmate tested positive in mid-March, and had been in the hospital since then. He died on Saturday. He was in his early 50s at Caledonia Correctional Institution. At least 55 offenders in state prisons have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - The state House passed a measure yesterday that prevents Governor Roy Cooper from mandating COVID-19 vaccines through executive action. The bill would also bar state public health authorities and licensing agencies from requiring North Carolinians to get vaccinated in order to obtain a license. Cooper has strongly encouraged residents to get vaccinated but has been reluctant to mandate it. The plan appears unlikely to advance ahead of a Thursday deadline in order to be considered this legislative session. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

May 10

6:40 p.m. - The Food and Drug Administration said Monday that children 12 to 15 years old are now eligible to receive a key COVID-19 vaccine as the agency expanded its emergency use authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting FDA commissioner, said the expansion "brings us closer to returning to a sense of normalcy."

"Parents and guardians can rest assured that the agency undertook a rigorous and thorough review of all available data, as we have with all of our COVID-19 vaccine emergency use authorizations," Woodcock said.

Until now, the Pfizer vaccine had been authorized only for people age 16 and older. Pfizer asked the FDA to broaden its emergency use authorization for the vaccine after announcing in late March that clinical trials found "100% efficacy and robust antibody responses" in study participants who were 12 to 15. - NPR News

2:10 p.m. - The CDC is investigating a possible correlation between COVID-19 and exposure to PFAS. The toxic chemical compounds can compromise the immune system. The CDC study will look for a link between the level of PFAS in someone's blood and how vulnerable that person is to viral illnesses, including COVID-19. Jamie DeWitt researches the impact of environmental contaminants on human health at East Carolina University. She says this study could help scientists better understand how PFAS affects the immune system.

"It's unfortunate that we're in the midst of a global pandemic, but it does provide an opportunity to scientists to really make those linkages between exposures and a real-time disease occurrence," said DeWitt.

The findings could be especially important for communities in North Carolina where drinking water has been contaminated with PFAS, like those in the Cape Fear River Basin. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

12:15 p.m. - Publix pharmacies are now accepting walk-ins for the COVID-19 vaccine at all of their locations across seven states. The Lakeland-based supermarket chain said on its website that customers have the choice of the two-dose Moderna vaccine, or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, subject to availability. The website still offers appointments as well. Publix had already been offering walk-in availability at stores in Alabama, North Carolina and Tennessee. - Jason deBruyn, WUNC

Vaccine doses administered by week
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services
There has been a steep decline in vaccination uptake in the past few weeks. Data for week of May 3 are still preliminary.

8:30 a.m. - Vaccine uptake again slowed last week, with preliminary data showing fewer than 21,500 first doses administered during the week, according to data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. These data update throughout the week, though trends have showed a significant drop in vaccination uptake over the past several weeks. Just about half of the North Carolina adult population has received at least one dose. - Jason deBruyn, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - North Carolina state health officials are turning away new doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government as demand keeps falling. The state may even return some of its supply to the federal pool if vaccination numbers don't improve. There's nearly 1-point-2 million doses waiting for residents to take. Health officials are considering offering financial incentives to boost participation. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

This post is compiled and edited by Elizabeth Baier, Jason deBruyn, Laura Pellicer and Mitchell Northam.

Previous weekly updates:

Stories, features and more by WUNC News Staff. Also, features and commentary not by any one reporter.
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