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Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of Sept. 28

NC National Guard Covid Mask
U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Mary Junell, via Flickr

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 Sept. 21.

Oct. 2, 2020

6:30 p.m. - Bars that have survived this long into the pandemic are now allowed to open to customers at 30% capacity outdoors. Phase 3 of Governor Roy Cooper's pandemic reopening plan went into effect at 5 p.m. The 11 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales in bars and restaurants is still in place. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

6:20 p.m. - Chapel Hill will not close off Franklin Street for Halloween this year. In fact, it's canceling all large town-sponsored festivals or special events through the rest of this year to reduce the spread of COVID-19. That includes the Festifall Arts Festival and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Holiday Parade. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC
6:10 p.m. - The state Health Department has updated its guidance for places of worship and now has an online tool kit to help them slow the spread of COVID-19. Doctor Ayaz Pathan, a physician and a congregant of the Islamic Center of Raleigh, was on the committee that decided to re-open for in-person Friday prayers a few months ago, after consulting the state and federal health guidelines in place at the time. Pathan says the prayer services are now shorter and socially distanced. Congregants have to reserve a spot in advance and health precautions are strictly enforced.

"People have been turned away for not wearing masks, they've been turned away for not bringing their own prayer rug from home. One of the main tenets of Islam is to take care of people and do right by people, so, that's why it's important," said Pathan.

Pathan said the Islamic Center has been interested in hosting a COVID testing event and the DHHS Tool kit includes information on how to do that. It also provides public health messaging and tips on how to request protective gear. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC
2:20 p.m. - Students are isolated in a UNC Charlotte residence hall, after the virus that causes COVID-19 was detected in the dorm’s wastewater. This morning, emergency management officials tweeted that the virus was detected during routine sampling. Under the university’s protocol, residents in the hall must remain in the building until they are tested for coronavirus this afternoon. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

11:50 a.m. - In men's college football this Saturday, UNC Chapel Hill will return to play Boston College after a three week break because of coronavirus concerns. NC State will face the Pittsburgh Panthers, who have started their season 3-and-0. And Duke will host Virginia Tech. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC


Oct. 1, 2020

5:17 p.m. - Western Carolina University will delay spring semester classes by two weeks and cut spring break in favor of a shorter mid-term reprieve. To mitigate coronavirus spread, Interim Provost Richard Starnes wrote in a statement that instruction will be a mix of in-person, online, and hybrid courses. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC
4:31 p.m. - A Wake County judge will consider a proposed settlement between the Democratic-led state elections board and a group of retirees who sued to make absentee voting easier amid the COVID-19 pandemic. If approved, the settlement would extend the period for counting absentee ballots post-marked by – but received after – Election Day. And it would allow voters whose ballots are missing statutorily-required witness information to cure the problem by affidavit. Republican lawmakers – co-defendants in the state case – vehemently oppose the proposal. They filed a motion in federal court to block it. Meanwhile, another federal judge has said the proposed cure violates his order in a different elections case – and will hold a hearing on that next week. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

12:20 p.m. - App State is rescheduling its football game against Louisiana-Lafayette because of positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing involving players. App State did not reveal exactly how many players have tested positive for the coronavirus. The game was originally scheduled for next Wednesday. It will instead be in December. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

9:25 a.m. - Some classes at UNC-Charlotte are resuming in-person learning Thursday. Select classes that are returning include programs that need in-person access to facilities, such as science lab and performing art classes and courses that primarily serve first-year students. All other courses will remain online. Students moved into on-campus housing earlier this week. They're only living in individual rooms. Students are required to complete a daily health check and get a flu shot. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:05 a.m. - A North Carolina county health department has identified a COVID-19 cluster at its sheriff's office. The Macon County Health Department announced the cluster in a news release on Wednesday. But the department didn't say exactly how many workers at the sheriff's office tested positive for the coronavirus. The sheriff's office would only say that “multiple employees” fell ill and were tested, and that some of the tests have come back positive. The health department also said it is working to identify anyone who has been in close contact with any of the workers in the sheriff's office. – The Associated Press

7:20 a.m. - Operators of farmers markets and local food hubs can now apply for COVID-19 assistance. The state department of agriculture announced 750-thousand dollars will be available from federal COVID-19 funds. Funding is meant to help offset losses from reduced number of vendors and offering PPE and hand sanitizer to vendors and customers. The deadline to apply is Oct. 22. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - Bars, movie theaters and event spaces will be allowed to partially reopen Friday evening, under Governor Roy Cooper's Phase 3 plan.  Some bar owners say it's too late for them, after six months of COVID-related closures.

As he announced the further easing of restrictions, Cooper said Thursday the state needs to do more to support small businesses.  He also said many people don't feel safe patronizing those businesses that have been allowed to reopen already. Cooper urged struggling business owners to apply for the relief program providing assistance for mortgage, utility, and rent payments through the Department of Commerce.

Cooper's mask mandate remains in place for everyone over age 5. Large outdoor venues with more than 10,000 seats can also re-open at 7% capacity. Venues with less than 10,000 seats can open to 100 people or operate at 30% capacity, whichever is less. The mass gathering limits hold steady at 25 people indoors. 50 people outdoors. – Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

Sept. 30, 2020

2:59 p.m. - As he lifts more pandemic restrictions, Governor Roy Cooper is allowing bars and other entertainment venues to reopen with limited outdoor capacity starting Friday at 5 p.m. Cooper said the COVID-19 trends in North Carolina are encouraging and enabled the "cautious" step forward to Phase 3 of his reopening plan. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

1:05 p.m.  - A Garner man has been charged with fraudulently applying for more than $6 million in COVID-19 federal relief funds. 38-year-old Tristan Bishop Pan submitted 14 Paycheck Protection Program loan applications and received more than $1.7 million for fake businesses. The applications for the businesses included falsified tax filings and statements about employee and payroll expenses. Pan was charged with wire fraud, bank fraud, and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:10 a.m. - Wake Forest Baptist Health is enrolling patients in a new Phase 2 clinical trial to determine whether four drugs already in use could be re-purposed to treat COVID-19. The health system is one of just 10 initial sites selected for the nationwide study. Dr. Clark Files, co-principal investigator for the trial’s Wake Forest Baptist site, says most of the drugs selected target the body’s immune response.

“There are a lot of aspects of severe COVID-19 that are similar to other severe infections where the problem really becomes,” Flies said. “Not necessarily only the virus that's causing trouble, but the body's response to the virus that causes a lot of trouble.”

Files says the goal is to reduce mortality, and the amount of time patients spend on ventilators. So far, 15 Wake Forest Baptist patients with severe COVID-19 have been enrolled in the trial. - April Laissle, WFDD

8:40 a.m. - The Wake County Firearms Education and Training Center will reopen to the public on Friday. Every-other lane will be closed off to keep shooters socially distanced. People must reserve a time and space online. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:20 a.m. - Governor Roy Cooper is scheduled to make an announcement about the next steps of the state's phased re-opening plan Wednesday. Last week the governor said he plans to allow large outdoor venues to open at 7% capacity starting Friday if COVID-19 trends continue to improve. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:05 a.m. - The Winston-Salem Forsyth County Utilities will resume charging late fees on past-due bills starting tomorrow. Customers unable to pay the total amount of their bill by the due date must enroll in payment plans by Oct. 30 to avoid disconnection. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:50 a.m. - State officials say it's taking extensive reprogramming to distribute additional unemployment benefits. The extra $50 a week won't go out until the end of October. State lawmakers approved the supplemental benefits through the end of this year in the latest COVID-19 relief bill.

Governor Roy Cooper signed the measure earlier this month. But the state's employment agency says it consulted with the U-S Labor Department and found that not all people getting federal unemployment benefits are eligible for the $50 supplement. There are also changes coming to federal benefits, including a shorter limit on how long people can get them.

That means the division has to reprogram and test its distribution system before the new, bigger checks can go out.  A spokeswoman says the agency plans to implement the increased benefit amount by Oct. 30. - Will Michaels, WUNC

7:35 a.m. - Wake County is using $17 million in federal pandemic relief funds to stave off evictions by paying landlords some back rent. Landlords would get up to 50% of what's owed since March in exchange for forgiving the rest and promising not to pursue an eviction. Landlords also have to agree to discount rent by 25% for the first three months of next year. Wake County Board of Commissioners Chairman Greg Ford says low and moderate income tenants will be given priority.

“We will not only prevent renters in our community from being displaced, but we will also ensure that landlords receive a portion of the money they're owed,” Ford said. “Both are good for our residents. Both are good for our economy.”

Ford says launching the program now will help prevent a crisis once a federal eviction moratorium expires at the end of this year. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Sept. 29, 2020

5:30 p.m. - A student at Appalachian State University has died of complications of COVID-19. Chancellor Sheri Everts gave her condolences in a press release today, confirming that student Chad Dorrill had died.

Dorrill lived off campus in Boone and was taking all online classes. After he started feeling unwell, his mother encouraged him to come home to the Winston-Salem area to isolate. According to the Wautauga Democrat, he died Monday night at Forsyth Medical Center. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC
4:50 p.m. - The Transportation Security Administration has installed new acrylic barriers at security checkpoints throughout Raleigh-Durham International Airport to prevent the spread of COVID-19. An email from TSA says it has erected 30 barriers where officers typically interact with passengers including document check podiums and baggage screening positions. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

2:20 p.m. - It will likely be another month before an extra $50 a week will be distributed to North Carolinians receiving unemployment benefits. When the legislature passed the latest COVID-19 relief bill in early September, it included the $50 a week supplement to federal unemployment benefits. But a spokeswoman for the state's employment agency says the division had to reprogram and test its IT system before sending out the money. She says the distribution has been made more complicated by the fact that the cap on extended federal benefits will drop from about 9 weeks to 6 six weeks next month. The additional funds will be sent by the end of October, and will be retroactive to September 6. The state has received more than 2.4 million unemployment claims since the pandemic hit North Carolina in March. - Will Michaels, WUNC

2:10 p.m. - More than a million voters in North Carolina have requested absentee ballots this year, and more than 200,000 have been returned already. County elections boards are getting a much needed head start on processing them. Bipartisan legislation enacted in June gave county elections boards an extra two weeks to start processing this year's deluge of absentee ballots. This week elections officials may begin feeding accepted ballots into tabulators. Durham County Elections Board Chairman Phil Lehman says this will help prevent any major delays in getting final counts after Election Day.

"They're actually counted but not for anybody to see, it's very confidential, no tapes are run, we have no idea what the totals are," said Lehman.

Lawmakers anticipated a surge of absentee ballots from voters concerned about voting in person during the COVID-19 pandemic. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

2 p.m. - Ten soldiers at the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg have taken their own lives so far this year. Only 4 did so last year. Division leadership is re-examining how they're addressing suicide awareness. Major General Christopher Donahue believes forced periods of isolation caused by the COVID-19 has been a major factor in the increase of suicides. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:45 a.m. - The Carolina Panthers is partnering with conglomerate company Honeywell to give fans who attend games in Charlotte personal protective equipment. The custom PPE kits will include masks, hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes. Honeywell also created an online dashboard to monitor the air quality of the Bank of America stadium. Fans could attend a home game as soon as this Sunday. Governor Roy Cooper said last week he plans to allow large outdoor venues to open at 7% capacity starting Friday if COVID-19 trends continue to improve. The Panthers host the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:35 a.m. - Southwest Elementary School in Durham is closed Tuesday because of a probable positive case of COVID-19 in a staff member. Durham Public Schools says contact tracing is underway. The school is a meal-pick up site. Families can instead get meals Tuesday from WG Pearson Elementary. The school will open again Wednesday. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:30 a.m. - Wake County residents whose finances have been impacted by COVID-19 can now apply for rental assistance to avoid eviction. The eviction prevention program will pay landlords up to 50% of rent owed since March. In exchange, landlords must forgive the remaining 50% and discount rent by 25% for the first three months of 2021. They must also agree not to pursue eviction.

Wake County Commissioners Chairman Greg Ford says this program will help prevent a crisis once a federal eviction moratorium expires at the end of this year.

“We cannot wait until January to provide housing assistance to residents struggling to make ends meet. By getting in front of this now we can help folks get caught up on rent payments or find alternative housing solutions,” Ford said.

Wake County is offering residents legal help to negotiate with landlords. If they can't reach an agreement, the county will help relocate residents. – Will Michaels, WUNC

8:25 a.m. - The Wake County Board of Education meets Tuesday night to decide on when students can return to in-person learning. Elementary school and some special needs students could resume in-person learning in late October. Sixth through 12th graders could also be back on a three-week rotation starting in November. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:10 a.m. - Wake County is launching a new, free COVID-19 testing site in Wake Forest. The site will open tomorrow and continue until Saturday. Appointments can be made online. People who have COVID-like symptoms or have been in close contact with a known positive case should get tested. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:50 a.m. - Two schools in Cumberland County will be closed Wednesday through Friday following positive COVID-19 cases impacting staff. Cumberland County Schools says Lewis Chapel Middle School and 71st High School will be deep cleaned. Learning will continue remotely. Officials did not specify the exact amount of positive cases. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:35 a.m. - The State Department of Health and Human Services has updated visitation guidelines for nursing homes, citing improved COVID-19 trends. Indoor visits will be allowed at facilities that have recorded no COVID-19 cases within 14 days and that are located in counties where no more than 10 percent of coronavirus tests are coming back positive. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - The Republican National Convention released a report saying no one contracted COVID-19 at the event in Charlotte in August. Last month, Mecklenburg County reported four people who were at the RNC tested positive for COVID-19. The Charlotte Observer reports the RNC followed up with 252 attendees in an effort to track COVID-19 infections. The event involved roughly 1,200 delegates, party officials and support staff. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Sept. 28, 2020

5:13 p.m. - Republican National Convention officials have released a report saying no one contracted COVID-19 at the event in Charlotte in August. When the report was released publicly Friday, the results had yet to be shared with Mecklenburg County health officials, according to the Charlotte Observer. The RNC followed up with 252 attendees in an effort to track COVID-19 infections. The event, however, involved roughly 800 delegates and party officials, plus 400 support staff. The report says mask-wearing was inconsistent and recommends reminders and more planning time for future events. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

12:54 p.m. - UNC football has added Western Carolina to its fall schedule. The in-state foes will play on Dec. 11 in Chapel Hill. The game fills a hole in the Tar Heels' schedule after their Sept. 19 game with Charlotte was canceled because of a cluster of COVID-19 cases involving that team. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:55 a.m. - A number of school districts are solidifying their plans to bring students back to the classroom. There is an emerging trend in districts choosing to resume in-person learning: Bring the youngest students, and those with special needs, back to classrooms first. That's the approach Johnston County and Guilford County Schools are taking, and others are considering.

The plans are being released following Governor Roy Cooper's announcements that elementary schools would be allowed to operate at full-capacity, full-time starting Oct. 5. Wake County Public Schools -- the state's largest district -- is yet to decide on its reopening plans. The Wake school board is slated to vote Tuesday on a plan to bring students back in stages, starting in November. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

7:40 a.m. - East Carolina University is furloughing 25 employees in its administration, finance and academic affairs departments. ECU estimates a loss of $25 million this fall semester because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The university says more furloughs may be coming soon. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina announced it will issue $200 million in health and wellness retail cards to eligible members. The cards will be pre-loaded with up to $500 to help pay for health-related expenses, including food, over-the-counter medications and first aid supplies. Eligible members include those with fully insured medical, vision and dental plans from Blue Cross NC, but does not include customers of Medicare or the state health plan. Members can expect to receive their cards in the mail between Oct. 19 and Nov. 7. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - President Donald Trump’s push to inject new dynamics into the final weeks of the 2020 election is being overshadowed by the frightening realities of everyday life in the pandemic. The Republican president and his allies continue to downplay the health threat, but for swing voters on the ground in North Carolina, the coronavirus and the related economic challenges are a much more pressing concern than Trump's push to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, his wild threats of voter fraud or angry civil rights protesters. Still, it’s far from certain that Trump’s messaging challenge will ensure a victory for Democrat Joe Biden.

"This is a must-win state for whoever is to become the next president," said Lara Trump, the President’s daughter-in-law and a North Carolina native.

A loss in the state, which Democrats have carried only once at the presidential level in the last 30 years, would make Trump's path to a second term incredibly difficult and signal dire challenges elsewhere on the electoral map. – Steve Peoples, The Associated Press

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

Previous weekly updates:

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