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Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of July 27

Coronavirus N.C. State prep mask
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 20.

July 31, 2020

6:10 p.m. - Governor Roy Cooper has declared a State of Emergency as Hurricane Isaias threatens to become North Carolina’s first test in responding to a hurricane in the midst of the pandemic. Forecasts differ, but the storm could reach the coast Monday as it tracks north. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases are near peak levels in the state. Cooper said social distancing means shelters won’t be able to hold as many people. So if evacuations are necessary, coastal residents should plan to stay with friends or family inland, or at a hotel. Those who need a shelter will be screened for COVID-19 and some may be housed in hotels for more isolation or, if they have symptoms, at a medical facility. - Jay Price, WUNC
2:10 p.m. - The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board has voted to extend online-only learning. The new plan will keep all students completely online until January 15. School officials say they will monitor developments, and could adjust the calendar and instruction style. Students in Chapel Hill and Carrboro return to class on August 17. - Dave DeWitt, WUNC

10:26 a.m. - When North Carolina FC faces off against Birmingham Legion FC in Cary on Saturday, it'll be the first professional team sports game played in North Carolina since the state's stay-at-home order began. The last professional team sports game played in the state was an AHL hockey game between the Charlotte Checkers and the Cleveland Monsters on March 11.

North Carolina FC plays in the USL Championship, the second-tier of men's professional soccer in the U.S. The league resumed play on July 11, splitting its 35 teams into a regional pod system. NCFC — coached by former U.S. men's national team manager Dave Sarachan — is in Group G with Birmingham, Charlotte and Memphis. Sarachan's side is looking for its first win this year after starting 0-1-1.

The match at WakeMed Soccer Park begins at 7 p.m. No fans will be allowed, but WRAL2 and ESPN+ will broadcast the game. It will have been 164 days since NCFC's last home match. - Mitchell Northam, WUNC

10:08 a.m. - The State Health Department says symptoms of depression and anxiety have tripled amid the ongoing pandemic, and emergency room visits for opioid overdoses have increased 15%. In a state briefing yesterday, health officials shared advice: practice self-compassion, try to remain physically active, be mindful of substance use, and stay connected with others. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

9:47 a.m. - The state prison system has completed a round of mass testing of all 31,000 inmates for COVID-19. In a briefing yesterday, Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said results are still pending for about 5,000 tests, but 2.5% had come back positive so far. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

9:05 a.m. - Former Democratic Governor Bev Perdue is advocating for Congress to spend more on education in the next pandemic relief bill. In an online news conference Thursday, Perdue said funding should be directed to help bridge the long-standing digital divide, including bolstering broadband access.

“The pandemic has made us all realize that, once again, infrastructure in North Carolina and America doesn't just include water and sewer and plumbing and electricity,” Perdue said. “It includes technology."

Perdue cited research from a report by the nonprofit Common Sense Media that says roughly a third of North Carolina students don't have access to high speed internet at home. The Superintendent of Guilford County Schools was also on the panel, and said three percent of students in the district didn't access remote learning in the spring.  Guilford Schools will do remote learning until at least October. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

July 30, 2020

7 p.m. - The state prison system has completed a round of mass testing of all 31-thousand inmates for COVID-19. Results are still pending for about 5,000 tests, but Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said during a briefing today that 2.5 percent have come back positive so far. Two inmates from North Carolina prisons are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

6:55 p.m. - Tropical Storm Isaias has formed in the Carribean and is headed toward the U.S. National Hurricane Center maps estimate the storm could arrive off the coast of North Carolina Monday in the form of a hurricane. In a briefing today, State Emergency Director Mike Sprayberry urged coastal residents to make plans for potential evacuation and arrange to stay with friends or family or in hotels inland. Sprayberry said the pandemic means it's especially risky to rely on congregate shelters as a backup. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

5 p.m. - The state health department reports that symptoms of depression and anxiety have tripled amid the pandemic and that emergency room visits for opioid overdoses have increased 15%. The head of mental health and substance abuse services for the state, Victor Armstrong, said during today's briefing that North Carolina needs to be prepared to address long-lasting stressors.

"We can do this by building resilience, raising awareness and increasing access to behavioral healthcare. We particularly need to target trauma, suicide prevention and substance use," said Armstrong.

He encouraged North Carolinians to practice self compassion, remain physically active, be mindful of substance use and stay connected with others. People needing crisis counseling or resources can call the "Hope for NC Help Line," which operates 24/7 at 855-587-3463. Front line pandemic workers can call the "Hope for Healers" support line at 919-226-2002. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

4:50 p.m. - State regulators say investor-owned utilities like Duke Energy have to keep delaying disconnections through August as some customers struggle to pay their monthly bills. The state Utilities Commission says companies that it regulates will be subject to a shutoff moratorium until September first.  A separate moratorium that applied to other utilities like municipal water and sewer systems expired yesterday. Some have also said they won't shut off service through at least August. - Will Michaels, WUNC

2:30 p.m. - State lawyers representing Governor Roy Cooper say he didn't need the consent of other statewide elected leaders to issue orders closing businesses, limiting assemblies and mandating face coverings amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The attorneys responded this week to a legal challenge by Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, who says Cooper needed to get concurrence from the ten-member Council of State before acting.  A hearing is scheduled for next week. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

12:50 p.m. - A majority of public school students in North Carolina will be returning to class remotely this fall. That has some districts reflecting on how the previous months went. Guilford County schools are set to operate remotely until at least October. Superintendent Sharon Contreras says the vast majority of students were able to access instruction online this spring, but thousands still were not.
She was speaking during a briefing alongside former Democratic Governor Bev Perdue. The panel of educators on the call Thursday are pressing for Congress to increase funding for education in the next federal coronavirus relief package -- funding they hope will be directed toward internet connectivity and supplying devices like laptops. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

12:41 p.m. - North Carolina has added another 2,300 COVID-19 cases since Wednesday. There are now more than 120,000 cases confirmed statewide. The number of people hospitalized for the disease decreased by 52. North Carolina's death toll is 1,903. – Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

7:40 a.m. - Notre Dame will play in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season as part of a plan to play 10 league games and start the week of Sept. 7. Those alterations were brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. The ACC's university presidents approved the plan for an 11-game schedule, including one nonconference game, and for pushing back the league championship game from Dec. 5 to either Dec. 12 or 19. Notre Dame will play in a football conference for the first time in the 133-year history of the program if the season is played. – The Associated Press

7:27 a.m. - An executive order that suspended disconnections for some utilities in North Carolina has ended.  Governor Roy Cooper said he let the order expire Wednesday night because some local utilities have dire cash-flow issues from unpaid bills. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

July 29, 2020

6:10 p.m. - Unemployment rates decreased in all 100 of North Carolina’s counties in June. The Department of Commerce reports that Scotland County had the highest unemployment rate at 11.5%, while Duplin had the lowest at 5.4%. All 15 of the state’s metro areas experienced decreases. When compared to the same month last year, not seasonally adjusted unemployment rates increased in all 100 counties as well as metro areas. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

6 p.m. - Greensboro's Central Carolina Fair is the latest big event to be cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The North Carolina State Fair and Winston-Salem's Carolina Classic fair have also nixed plans for this year citing mass gathering restrictions and public health concerns. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

5:50 p.m. - North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley has extended several emergency directives amid the pandemic. They allow increased use of teleconferencing and email-based document service to limit foot traffic in courthouses. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

3:30 p.m. - A study by Duke University during the switch to remote learning this spring caught a glimpse of how difficult it was particularly for students who aren't fluent in English. Leslie Babinski, an associate professor in the school of Public Policy, surveyed elementary school teachers in one district.

"Over half of their English learners, 57 percent in fact, participated in less than half of the online learning lessons that they provided during online learning in spring," she said. 

The preliminary findings of the study show remote learning brought serious inequities to the forefront — including disparities regarding access to devices, the internet and whether young students could get help from a parent or guardian. Researchers monitored seventeen elementary schools in a partially urban and suburban school district. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

3:20 p.m. - Vice President Mike Pence landed in Raleigh around noon to visit a private school. He's here to highlight how Thales Academy has worked to resume in-person classes safely in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thales has allowed 300 students to return to campus on July 20. After visiting the school, Pence tours NCBiotech, which is conducting Phase 3 clinical trails for a coronavirus vaccine. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

3:10 p.m. - Hospitalizations due to the coronavirus in North Carolina continue to rise. The state Department of Health and Human Services is reporting that 1,291 people are currently in hospitals with COVID-19. Nearly 600 new patients were admitted yesterday. Two more people have died, bringing the total to 1,865 since the outbreak began. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

3 p.m. - A moratorium on utility shutoffs the governor put in place early in North Carolina's COVID-19 outbreak expires tonight. Local power, water and sewer providers are setting up payment plans for customers who have missed payments during the pandemic. But some could begin disconnecting services this week. Vaughn Hagerty is a spokesman for Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, which provides water to about 200,000 people in New Hanover County. He says that utility is extending its moratorium on shutoffs through at least the end of August.

"Obviously, even before this, access to drinking water is essential and hand-washing is a frontline defense against COVID. At the same time, it costs money to operate a municipal water system, so it's important that we balance all of those and get it right," said Hagerty.

Investor-owned utilities regulated by the North Carolina Utilities Commission are still subject to a separate moratorium. So, shutoffs are still suspended for customers of those utilities like Duke Energy. - Will Michaels, WUNC

2:50 p.m. - COVID-19 has spread through meat processing plants and into the communities of those workers. A WUNC and NC Watchdog Reporting Network investigationfound that regulators could be doing more to stop the spread of the virus, but aren't. Dozens of worker complaints have been levied against meat processing plants. Yet none so far has prompted a visit from the North Carolina Department of Labor. To some experts and advocates, that means regulators aren't doing enough to keep workers safe. - Jason deBruyn, WUNC

7:30 a.m. - The Guilford County Board of Education has approved a reopening plan. The state’s third largest school system will begin the new academic year with remote learning for all students. Superintendent Sharon Contreras revised her original recommendation of starting the first five weeks of school with remote learning. Instead, she proposed nine weeks. After a long, and at times contentious meeting, the measure passed with a 6 to 3 vote. This means buildings wouldn’t open for classes until Oct. 20. Guilford County School leaders will revisit reopening scenarios in September. Meanwhile, school leaders say they’re discussing appointment-based open houses to help students readjust to remote learning. – Keri Brown, WFDD

7:13 a.m. - Officials in Winston-Salem have canceled their annual fair over concerns of the spread of COVID-19 and restrictions on mass gatherings. The Carolina Classic Fair was scheduled for October. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

July 28, 2020

5:50 p.m. - State Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said coronavirus infections appear to be stabilizing in North Carolina. She announced today that the number of new COVID-19 cases is leveling out, and the percentage of positive tests for the virus has ticked down. Hospitalizations due to the illness are at record highs, but Cohen says those patients were likely infected weeks ago. She credits public health directives to wear a mask, wait six feet apart, and wash hands often, for improving the metrics.

"Specifically we see a direct correlation to the start of the statewide mask requirement at the end of June. Two to three weeks after implementing thus requirement, we started to see the beginning of these more stable trends. The Three Ws are working," said Cohen. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

5:40 p.m. - Starting this Friday, restaurants, breweries and distilleries in North Carolina will have to cut off alcohol sales at 11 p.m.  The curfew is Gov. Roy Cooper's latest plan to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

"Pubic health experts and examples from other states show that bars and other places where people gather closely together are a high-transmission setting for this virus. We want to prevent restaurants from turning into bars after hours," said Cooper.

Cooper said COVID-19 cases have been rising disproportionately among adults under 40 and he wanted to put this precaution in place before college students return to campuses for the fall semester.

Cooper says the Alcohol Law Enforcement and Alcoholic Beverage Control systems will be allowed to take action against the liquor licenses of establishments which don't comply with his curfew order. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

5:30 p.m. - A potential treatment for COVID-19 is being manufactured in Johnston County. Spanish pharmaceutical company, Grifols, announced that its Clayton facility has delivered the first batch of plasma-based therapies to several federal agencies for clinical trials. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

5:20 p.m. - Winston-Salem is canceling the Carolina Classic Fair, citing rising COVID-19 case numbers. An email from the city says annual attendance nears 300,000 people, which would make it difficult to mitigate disease transmission. City staff project a loss of $670,000 for the year. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

5:10 p.m. - President Donald Trump plans to accept the Republican nomination for his re-election in North Carolina, after all. The president discussed his plans with WRAL this week. The about-face follows a feud with Governor Roy Cooper over precautions against COVID-19. Trump attempted to move portions of the Republican National Convention to Florida, but backpedaled after a spike in coronavirus cases in that state. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

2:55 p.m. - A record 1,244 people with COVID-19 are being treated in North Carolina hospitals. The statewide death toll of the disease has surpassed 1,800 people. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

2:50 p.m. - People traveling from North Carolina to Washington, D.C. will need to quarantine for two weeks. The nation's capital is the latest government issuing advisories on travel from states where COVID-19 rates are high. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut announced similar rules last month. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

2:30 p.m. - Vice President Mike Pence is expected to visit a private elementary school in Apex tomorrow. Pence's office said in a press release that he'll visit Thales Academy to discuss the school's reopening plan. The school is open to students and practicing social distancing. One of its employees tested positive for the coronavirus last week. The vice president will also tour NCBiotech in Research Triangle Park which is conducting Phase-III trials for a coronavirus vaccine. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

9:40 a.m. - UNC Chapel Hill athletic director Bubba Cunningham has announced the university will reduce fan capacity at Kenan Stadium this football season. Season tickets will not be offered, and only digital tickets to individual games will be sold. In a press release, Cunningham encouraged season tickets holders to donate their tickets to Carolina Athletics to help offset the costs of the pandemic. Refunds and transfers to next season will also be offered. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

9:01 a.m. - State senator Danny Britt says he's recovered from COVID-19 and heading back to work. The Republican from Robeson County announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus on July 10. WRAL reports that Britt says his family and all close contacts at the legislature have tested negative for the virus. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

8:13 a.m. - Vice President Mike Pence is expected to visit a private elementary school in Apex Wednesday. Multiple media outlets report Pence will visit Thales Academy's K-5 school. The school is open and practicing social distancing, but had one employee test positive for the coronavirus last week. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

July 27, 2020

5:10 p.m. - The North Carolina Board of Funeral Service is asking Governor Roy Cooper to intervene to make sure funeral directors know when they could be handling a body infected with COVID-19. In May, a letter from UNC REX healthcare said it would stop disclosing that information to funeral service workers. The letter cited privacy laws and guidance from the Chief Medical Examiner. But Funeral Service Board President Mark Blake argues that's a risky misinterpretation of the law.

"Under federal guidelines, we are exempt from nondisclosure. Just like first responders, health care workers, medical examiners, we should be told when someone has a communicable disease that we could come in contact and potentially spread to our families, to our coworkers, to the general public," said Blake.

Blake added funeral directors are not only at risk of coronavirus exposure from the deceased, but by interacting with their families and caregivers. He said early disclosure of a COVID-19-related death would help funeral service workers take additional precautions when necessary. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

5 p.m. - President Donald Trump is in the Triangle this afternoon, touring a biotechnology facility where work is underway on a possible vaccine for COVID-19. Last week Trump shifted his tone on the pandemic, with his poll numbers dipping in several key battleground states, including North Carolina. The president did not offer specifics, but offered optimism on treatment breakthroughs, while talking to reporters this afternoon in Morrisville.

"I can tell you therapeutically I think over the next couple of weeks we’ll have some really great things to say. We’re just having great answers," said Trump. "And it's also the vaccine that we discussed today in great length is coming along really well."

Trump is visiting the Fujifilm Diosynth facility where components for a potential COVID-19 vaccine are being manufactured. - Jeff Tiberii, WUNC

4:50 p.m. - Motorcycle road skills tests resume tomorrow at most of the driver license offices that are open around the state. The skills tests will be available by appointment only, and only on Tuesday, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Motorcyclists will have to wear a mask and are subject to COVID-19 screening beforehand. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

4:40 p.m. - North Carolina has had more than 114,000 lab confirmed cases of COVID-19. Eight percent of tests completed over this weekend came back positive. Six more people died bringing the state's death toll to 1,790. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

11:35 a.m. - The Winston-Salem Parks department is closing its pools until further notice after an employee tested positive for COVID-19. The Winston-Salem Journal reports the Bolton Pool employee interacted with staff members from other pools outside of work. All staff members who were in contact with the employee will be tested, and at least one person has tested positive so far. City officials said in a press release that the decision to reopen pools will depend on public safety and staffing availability. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

7:50 a.m. - North Carolina has racked up more than $300 million in COVID-19 related expenses since the pandemic began. That's according to an interim expense report filed by the state budget office to the federal government. The report accounts expenses paid for with CARES Act funding. That federal law allocated $4 billion for North Carolina. More than half of what the state has spent so far has gone to local governments. The second largest amount went to public health. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

7:42 a.m. - Two male inmates at the Albemarle Correctional Institution have died after testing positive for the coronavirus. The Department of Public Safety says one man died at the prison Friday, while another housed at the prison died at a hospital Thursday. Eight state prisoners have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began and three were serving their sentences at Albemarle. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

7:35 a.m. - Duke University is changing its fall reopening plans to reduce the number of students on campus. When classes start in a matter of weeks, only first and second-year students will be allowed to live in residence halls, with some exceptions. Students living off-campus will be allowed to use libraries and labs but will not have access to dining or recreation areas. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

7:29 a.m. - Local utilities are finalizing payment plans for customers who have unpaid bills during the pandemic. A moratorium on utility shutoffs ends on Wednesday, but an executive order signed by Gov. Roy Cooper says customers should be allowed at least six months to pay back the balances on their accounts. In Fayetteville, the local electric, water and sewer utility is automatically creating six-month payment plans for customers who have not had direct contact with the Fayetteville Public Works Commission. PWC spokeswoman Carolyn Justice-Hinson says the utility believes that can avoid any potential shutoffs until at least late August. Justice-Hinson says nearly 20% of Fayetteville PWC customers are behind in payments, totaling about $12 million in unpaid bills. – Will Michaels, 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
Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of July 13
Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of July 20

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