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Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of July 13

Medical personel handle testing at a community coronavirus testing site operated by Cone Health and the county Health Department in Burlington, N.C., Thursday, July 9, 2020.
Gerry Broome

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 July 6.

July 17, 2020

4:15 p.m. - With coronavirus infection rates setting new records across much of the country, medical troops from Fort Bragg have been deployed to help in one of the worst-hit states. Seventy-one soldiers with the 44th Medical Brigade have flown to McAllen, Texas. According to an emailed statement from the Army, they’ll help civilian hospitals in that area deal with critical care COVID-19 cases. Infection rates are so bad  in parts of Texas — including McAllen — that intensive care units are full, hospitals are adding beds in temporary facilities and refrigerated trucks have been ordered to help with overflow at morgues. The state hit a new single-day record for Covid-related deaths this week. - Jay Price, WUNC
4:05 p.m. - Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin said she plans to require restaurants top stop serving alcohol at 11 P-M beginning Monday. She says it's an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

1:19 p.m. - The pandemic is sending a record number of people to North Carolina hospitals. The state reported Friday that 1,180 are hospitalized due to COVID-19. The number of cases confirmed statewide jumped by more than 2,000 since Thursday. – Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

8:04 a.m. - The city of Winston-Salem is going to try street dining to help restaurants increase their capacity while upholding social distancing standards. The Winston-Salem Journal reports the city will have a one-day trial run on one block later this month. Local restaurant owners are calling for streets to be closed off at peak dining hours in major restaurant districts. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

7:55 a.m. - Bank of America saw its profits drop by more than half in the second quarter. The Charlotte-based company set aside billions of dollars to cover potentially bad loans caused by the pandemic. The results from Bank of America are the latest dire sign that Americans and businesses are struggling to keep up with their debts. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

7:48 a.m. - The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference announced yesterday that it's suspending all fall sports due to the pandemic. In a press release the MEAC pointed to data showing that minority communities are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. The Division I conference is composed of historically Black colleges, including North Carolina A&T State and NC Central universities. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

7:40 a.m. - A group of musicians is releasing a benefit album to support the popular Carrboro music venue Cat's Cradle during the pandemic. The album named Cover Charge features tracks from Tift Merritt, Mandolin Orange, Mipso, Iron & Wine and others. The album will be released online only. The album's website says Cat's Cradle has struggled to pay for rent and overhead costs with concerts canceled since March. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

7:29 a.m. - More Triangle-area schools are opting for remote online learning for the start of the school year. Yesterday, the school boards for Chatham County, Durham County, Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools voted to begin the academic year with virtual learning. Each have designated online learning for the first four to nine weeks. WRAL reports the Wake County school board is considering a similar move after about a quarter of students have already signed up for their virtual academy option. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

July 16, 2020

5 p.m. - Harris Teeter will begin requiring customers to wear masks at its grocery stores. In a statement, the company says starting next Wednesday, all shoppers will have to wear a face mask. The statement also acknowledges those who say they can not wear a mask for medical reasons. Harris Teeter encourages those shoppers to wear face shields or another alternative. The company says anyone who can not wear alternative protection can ask an employee to shop for them or use delivery options. - Will Michaels, WUNC

4:30 p.m. - Alamance County has chosen an interim health director after the previous one resigned amid a court case over whether a local speedway should be open during the COVID-19 pandemic. The county says Alexandria Rimmer will take the position at the end of the month, Rimmer has worked as an environmental health specialist in Alamance County for two years. Stacie Saunders is resigning at the end of July to become the Buncombe County health director. She recently testified in a court case involving ACE Speedway that COVID-19 presented a local public health emergency. The Alamance County sheriff has resisted the governor's orders shutting businesses and requiring masks to curb the coronavirus pandemic. - Will Michaels, WUNC

4:20 p.m. - Students in Orange and Warren County Schools will start the traditional school year with remote learning. The Orange County school board voted unanimously today for a plan that mandates virtual classrooms for the first month in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Warren County Schools superintendent says students will learn remotely for at least the first quarter.  Governor Roy Cooper laid out a hybrid model this week of both in-person and remote learning to start the school year. But each district can decide to implement stricter measures. The board for Durham Public Schools is expected to meet this evening to discuss remote learning. - Will Michaels, WUNC

4:10 p.m. - State health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen says key indicators for the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak in North Carolina continue to trend in the wrong direction. At a briefing, Cohen said there were more than 2,100 new lab-confirmed cases reported today, the second-highest daily total since the pandemic began. Health officials said the state is also trying to improve access to testing in historically marginalized communities. The department also rolled out an online system today that allows Spanish-speaking North Carolinians to check their symptoms, and determine whether they should get a test for COVID-19. - Will Michaels, WUNC

1:30 p.m. - A new face-covering requirement in North Carolina's courts will attempt to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Chief Justice Cheri Beasley announced this and other additional emergency directives for the court system on Thursday. She says the delay of jury trials will continue through at least the end of September. Judicial and law enforcement leaders in each county need to come up with a jury trial resumption safety plan by Sept. 1. The number of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic started in North Carolina is now well over 94,000, and more than 1,100 people with the virus are in the hospital. – The Associated Press

1:18 p.m. - North Carolina’s Biltmore Estate will cut nearly 400 jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Asheville Citizen-Times reported Wednesday that the massive mansion-turned tourist destination had reopened on a limited basis May 9. But the lingering pandemic will lead to the elimination of about 15% of its positions. They’ll come through a combination of permanent layoffs and early retirements. That amounts to about 390 jobs. Biltmore had temporarily laid off most of its 2,600 workers in late March during the beginning of the pandemic. It was the first closure since World War II. – The Associated Press

12:05 p.m. - An analysis from the group Families USA found 238,000 North Carolinians lost their employer-provided insurance when they were laid off between February and May. The report estimates about 20 % of adults in North Carolina under the age of 65 now don't have health insurance. Willona Stallings is the director of NC Get Covered, a non-profit that helps people sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

“We know that there are more people who need help than may be aware of the services that are available to them,” Stallings said. “So yes, we've seen an uptick, but it still doesn't closely correlate with the unemployment numbers.”

The Families USA report says North Carolina's health insurance losses are the fifth highest in the country. The state is the ninth largest by population. – Will Michaels, WUNC

8:40 a.m. - Cone Health has announced a plan to ease restrictions on visitors to its Triad area health care facilities. Children will now be able to have both parents with them during hospital stays at Moses Cone Hospital. Starting Monday, surgery patients can have one visitor, and later this month emergency department patients will be allowed one support person with them. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

8:29 a.m. - North Carolina is seeing a few downward trends in COVID-19 metrics even as hospitalizations due to the coronavirus hit another all-time high Wednesday. The percentage of COVID-19 tests that are positive has dropped from a high of 10% down to 8%. Positive daily tests also declined since last weekend. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

8:20 a.m. - Officials say nearly 400,000 people visited Cape Hatteras National Seashore in June. That's the second highest total for the month in the history of the park despite the COVID-19 pandemic. A news release from the seashore on Wednesday says the park saw an increase of almost 4% over June 2019. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

8:07 a.m. - At least one school district that had been planning on a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning in the fall may now be considering going fully remote. WRAL reports the Orange County superintendent has called an emergency school board meeting today to consider a move to all-remote learning. The Durham Public School board also meets today to discuss its re-opening. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

7:55 a.m. - The Trump administration is going back on its recent ICE directive that would have made many international students eligible for deportation if their universities went to fully remote classes.

Dozens of universities including several in North Carolina filed briefs in support of a lawsuit to block the policy. The lawsuit also received support from businesses, faith communities and science and tech employers. Duke University spokesman Michael Schoenfeld says the policy would have affected many university departments, including labs conducting COVID-19 research.

“International students are absolutely essential to that,” Schoenfeld said. “So why would you want to rip out a vital, intellectual organ at a time when brain power is so important?”

The Trump administration rescinded its guidance ahead of a Tuesday court hearing. Schoenfeld says it will allow university administrators to focus on other pressing issues. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

July 15, 2020

4:50 p.m. - State prison officials say an inmate at Albemarle Correctional Institution has died of complications from COVID-19. So far, 98 inmates have tested positive at that prison. The Department of Public Safety reported six COVID-19-related inmate deaths across North Carolina so far. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

4:30 p.m. - The pandemic hasn't slowed visitation to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. With more than 399,000 visitors, the National Parks Service says the second-highest number of June visits the seashore has ever had. To limit the risk of the pandemic, the parks service is urging visitors to wash hands regularly, keep physical distance from others outside their household and to wear face coverings when that's difficult. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

1:02 p.m. – The North Carolina High School Athletic Association announced Wednesday that it is delaying the start of fall sports until at least Sept. 1. The first five student days of the 2020-2021 school year will be designated as a “dead period” for all sports, the association said in a statement. Phase one of summer conditioning and workouts can continue. This announcement by the NCHSAA comes a day after Gov. Roy Cooper announced the reopening plan for the upcoming public school year. – Mitchell Northam, WUNC

12:39 p.m. - North Carolina is experiencing yet another day of record-high COVID-19 hospitalizations. The count rose by 33 patients over yesterday's record-high that topped 1,100 hospitalizations. The state health department is reporting almost 1,800 new cases of the coronavirus Wednesday. That's trending down from Saturday's record high of new positive tests. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

12:25 p.m. - School districts across North Carolina are formulating or finalizing hybrid plans for students to return to school this fall. Those plans are taking many different forms. In Wake County – the 15th largest school district in the country – the plan is to put all students on one of three tracks, and have each track be in-person in a building for one week, and remote learning for the other two.

Durham's plan keeps all high school students in remote learning, and distributes the K-8 students in-person, in buildings across the district to meet social distancing requirements.  

Smaller school districts are looking at plans that incorporate similar hybrid models. Some also alter the calendar. All districts in the state are planning a remote learning option for families that want it. – Dave DeWitt, WUNC

9:06 a.m. - The UNC School of Medicine has partnered with Google to develop a mental health assessment app. It is intended especially for healthcare workers who are under stress during the pandemic. The "Heroes Health" app prompts workers to answer questions about their sleep, stress and anxiety levels. It gives them a weekly summary report where they can see trends over time. And it can link them with crisis support if needed.

The initiative was founded by UNC emergency physician Samuel McLean. He's felt the stresses of the pandemic himself. He contracted the coronavirus and infected two family members, something he says many health workers fear.

“When people are struggling, when they're stressed or very anxious, or depressed, not sleeping, understandably, they're not going to be able to bring their best selves to work,” McLean said.

Health organizations can also use the app to aggregate data to see worker stress trends. - Jason deBruyn, WUNC

8:40 a.m. - East Carolina University is temporarily pausing all athletic practices after 27 student-athletes and athletics department staff have tested positive for COVID-19. North Carolina A&T State University and UNC Chapel Hill have recently reported similar outbreaks among athletes. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

8:19 a.m. - County election boards in North Carolina are seeing a surge in the number of voters applying for mail in ballots for the November election. Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer credits the sudden interest to fears of COVID-19 and enthusiasm for the presidential race. He looked at some of the early data and found rural counties are seeing double the typical amount of requests at this point.

“Urban counties are slightly four times more than where they were four years ago in 2016 but surprisingly it's suburban counties that are nearly five times ahead of their numbers from 2016,” he said.

Bitzer said it's too early to read into which political party will benefit from those trends.  Applicants don't submit their political affiliation when they request a ballot for the general election. To join the trend, you can print an online application and mail it to your county board of election to receive a paper ballot in your mailbox this fall. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

July 14, 2020

4:20 p.m. - Despite the state's rising number of COVID-19 cases, Gov. Cooper announced at today's briefing that school districts will be encouraged to welcome students back under what he calls "Plan B." That involves procedures for daily screening of students and staff, physical distancing and frequent cleaning. He said school districts will also be allowed to move classes entirely online under a "Plan C" option. He said the state will provide at least five fabric masks for each student and staff member. Cooper also said the state will remain in Phase 2, restrictions on businesses and activity will remain as is for another three weeks. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

3:20 p.m. - The coronavirus pandemic is causing extra stress and anxiety for first responders and health care workers, so the UNC School of Medicine has partnered with Google on a new mental health assessment app to help those workers. UNC emergency physician Samuel McLean launched the "Heroes Health Initiative" after he contracted COVID-19 and infected two family members.

"The Heroes Health app is designed to be used by individual health care workers to help them keep track of their mental health and get immediate links to resources. And to be used by health care organizations to make it easier for health care communities to support and care for each other," said McLean.

The app is free to first responders and health care workers. In the app, they answer weekly questions about sleep and stress levels. - Jason deBruyn, WUNC

3:15 p.m. - North Carolina’s highest court has temporarily blocked a ruling that allowed dozens of bowling alleys to reopen. They'll have to shut down again for now. The justices also agreed to review the substance of the lower court ruling that overturned a portion of Gov. Roy Cooper's executive order that has kept some businesses closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

3:10 p.m. - Far more North Carolina voters are requesting mail-in ballots for the November election than usual. Political science professor Michael Bitzer of Catawba College analyzed early data from counties and found mail-in ballot requests are four or five times what they were at this point in 2016. He said usually, only about 5% of North Carolina voters cast their votes by mail.

"I'm expecting with this surge, we could see very much over 30%, maybe 40% of the ballots for the November general election come by mail," said Bitzer.

Bitzer said it's much too early to draw any conclusions about which party will benefit from this surge. But he feels confident that concern about the coronavirus and enthusiasm for the fall election are driving the trend. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

11:09 a.m. - The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in North Carolina has reached another all-time high since the start of the pandemic. Hospitalizations have topped 1,109 with hospitals reporting 15 more patients admitted with COVID-19 than the previous peak reached on Saturday. The state health department is reporting nearly 2,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

10:58 a.m. - Guilford County school officials are testing a new smartphone app that students could use to check their temperature before boarding the school bus. Guilford County School leaders say the technology would ease some of the burden on its employees, as required COVID-19 safety measures are implemented. It would also help cut down on thousands of pieces of paper each day from additional forms.

Superintendent Sharon Contreras says the app can even be customized, so that a principal can see that everyone on the bus has been screened. She also says the district is working with the software company to get a cost estimate for the 73,000 students and 10,000 employees it serves. – Keri Brown, WFDD

10:50 a.m. - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says his state will be enforcing strict two-week quarantines on visitors from states with high-COVID 19 spread, including North Carolina. When North Carolinians fly into New York, they'll be required to submit their contact information and details about where they're traveling. Anyone who does not submit the information may be fined up to $2,000. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

10:40 a.m. - A worker at the North Carolina Department of Insurance has tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the department to allow any employee to work from home. The NC Insider reports the department has seen at least one other case since March. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey said the offices have been sanitized, but teleworking will now be more widely available to employees after many called for the option. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

8:55 a.m. - Governor Roy Cooper has signed a law allowing businesses closed due to statewide COVID-19 precautions to delay renewing their alcohol permits until after they're allowed to reopen. ABC permits can cost thousands of dollars. The law allows businesses closed under executive order to apply for a refund for recent renewal fees. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

8:46 a.m.  - Governor Roy Cooper is expected to make an announcement Tuesday on whether K-12 schools will reopen to in-person classes in the fall. Cooper delayed that announcement two weeks ago to monitor COVID-19 trends. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

8:39 a.m. - The fall 2020 Shakori Hills Grassroots Music Festival in Pittsboro is being canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Tickets for the event will be honored at the next biannual Shakori Hills festival in spring 2021. Organizers are putting together a virtual concert fundraiser for this fall. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

8:32 a.m. - Four student-athletes at North Carolina A&T State University have tested positive for COVID-19. Multiple media outlets report the athletes are asymptomatic and isolated on campus. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

8:25 a.m. - The $600 federal supplement to pandemic unemployment checks ends after next week in North Carolina. That’s sooner than some had expected. Back in March, Congress decided to add the supplement through the end of July to state unemployment checks. But a quirk in the wording of the law means it will actually end a week earlier.

When the U.S. Senate reconvenes July 20 after its Independence Day break, it’s expected to consider another round of stimulus measures, but there’s disagreement over what kind of unemployment benefits, if any, to include. North Carolina’s unemployment agency says it’s paid out more than $2.8 billion in the supplements to standard unemployment checks since April. – Jay Price, WUNC

8:20 a.m. - UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz explained to a meeting of faculty leaders Monday that everyone who comes to campus will need to review and agree to community standards.

Jonathan Sauls is Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, and he proposed an accountability process for students who flout mandates for physical distancing or wearing face coverings.  Sauls said students can play it safe on campus or pursue coursework off the premises.

“But you can't choose to ignore the community standards and also be a full participatory member of the community,” Sauls said. “And I think that allows us to make much more rapid response to individuals who may be evidencing their failure to comply.”

Sauls also said two Greek community councils have agreed to recruit members virtually. – Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

July 13, 2020

5:20 p.m. - The North Carolina Folk Festival was scheduled to be held in downtown Greensboro in September. Instead, because of concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, pre-recorded performances will be streamed online. The Carolina Blues Festival will now be part of the virtual event. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

5:10 p.m. - The federal benefit that adds $600 a week to unemployment checks for those out of work during the coronavirus pandemic runs out after next week. When the U.S. Senate reconvenes July 20, it’s expected to consider another round of benefits to bolster the economy. But there’s disagreement over whether to extend the unemployment supplement. Many Democrats want to extend it, but Republicans, who control the Senate, have said $600 is too high because it acts as a disincentive for people to return to work. Whatever the outcome, the impact on the state’s economy will be substantial. North Carolina's unemployment agency says it’s paid out more than $2.8 billion in the benefits since they began. - Jay Price, WUNC

5 p.m. - UNC Chapel Hill is not ready to reschedule spring commencement, which was derailed by the pandemic. Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz wrote in an email today that COVID-19 is still too unpredictable a concern to host a large graduation ceremony. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

3:50 p.m. - Businesses in beach communities and mountain getaways are fretting about a shortage of workers as the summer season picks up. That comes after the Trump administration announced last month that it was putting a freeze on many temporary visas. Workers with these visas are employed in forestry to fisheries to hospitality businesses. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

3:40 p.m. About 1 in 5 childcare workers in North Carolina do not have health coverage. Many uninsured childcare workers fall into the Medicaid coverage gap, meaning they earn too much for Medicaid now, but would be eligible if North Carolina joined the 38 other states that have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. It's an old problem, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, the state health department has recorded nine COVID-19 outbreaks at childcare centers across North Carolina, with 68 cases total, a number that has many of these childcare workers on edge. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

3:35 p.m. - Wake County Public Schools has announced it will suspend sports and after-school activities indefinitely. In a news release, school officials said the district would have needed more extensive precautions requiring more resources to continue voluntary practices. Students are encouraged to keep practicing at home. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

3:30 p.m. - North Carolina hit another single-day record for new COVID-19 cases over the weekend. On Saturday, 2,462 people in the state tested positive for the coronavirus. Nearly 1,100 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 that day, which was also a single-day high since the start of the pandemic. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

8:30 a.m. - A North Carolina state senator has tested positive for COVID-19. Robeson County Republican Senator Danny Britt is the first-known General Assembly member to contract the virus. Britt told The Associated Press he received the positive test on Friday. The 41-year-old was on the Senate floor last Wednesday. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

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

Previous weekly updates:
Coronavirus Live Updates: Week Of March 9
Coronavirus Live Updates: Week Of March 16
Coronavirus Live Updates: Week Of March 23
Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of March 30
Coronavirus Live Updates: Week Of April 6
Coronavirus Live Updates: Week Of April 13
Coronavirus Live Updates: Week Of April 20
Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of April 27
Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of May 4
Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of May 11
Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of May 18
Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of May 26 
Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of June 1
Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of June 8
Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of June 15
Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of June 22
Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of June 29
Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of July 6

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