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Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of Oct. 12

Duke head football coach David Cutcliffe
Nell Redmond
Pool Photo via AP

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 Oct. 5.

Oct. 16, 2020

7:10 p.m. - The Saint Augustine's University community is mourning the death of its president. Irving McPhail died this week from complications of COVID-19. Officials said he did not contract the virus from the campus. McPhail was president of the historically Black university in Raleigh for roughly 100 days before he passed. He started as president July 15, following a nationwide search. - Naomi Prioleau, WUNC
7 p.m. - It's been seven months since the COVID-19 pandemic hit North Carolina, and state officials are hopeful that a vaccine will soon curb infections.  The state Department of Health and Human Services has been working with other stakeholders to prepare a draft plan for distributing a vaccine once it becomes available. The North Carolina Institute of Medicine managed the discussions over how the initial doses would be sent out. Interim Director Michelle Ries said the people prioritized in the first phase of distribution fit into two categories.

"You've got exposure to high risk situations that might be because of employment, and then you've also got chronic conditions that might put people at higher risk of severe illness if they were to contract the virus. So those are the two buckets that landed in the first phases of the priorities."

The state was required to submit a plan to the federal government today. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

3 p.m. - North Carolina's COVID-19 case count hit a record high yesterday and kept on climbing. With 2,684 lab-confirmed cases announced today, the state Health Department is reporting a new single-day record. It's also the second highest day of COVID-related hospitalizations in the state. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

2:50 p.m. - The fall edition of the High Point Furniture Market is currently underway, despite the pandemic. Temperature checks, health checks and masks are required to get in. The nine-day event started earlier this week and organizers say they're receiving a great response from both buyers and vendors. Around 75,000 typically attend the bi-annual event. Only about 70% of exhibitors are open for in-person business at the trade show and the market is not open to the general public. The market spans 13 square blocks and takes place in more than 180 buildings in downtown High Point. This year it also includes virtual events. Furniture manufacturers are enjoying a boom amid the pandemic as people are staying home and buying more tables, chairs and sofas. The market wraps October 21. - Naomi Prioleau, WUNC

1:09 p.m. - Tenants who are behind on their rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic can now apply for help through the state. The new program is using federal housing and pandemic relief funds to distribute $117 million dollars in rent and utility assistance. Renters can apply online. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

12:45 p.m. - Six firefighters in the city of Sanford have tested positive for COVID-19.The city says the firefighters are recovering in isolation and contact tracing is underway. All employees at Sanford’s three fire stations are being tested. The city says each fire station has been cleaned and sanitized. -Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:40 a.m. - After weeks of improvement, North Carolina's COVID-19 metrics are going the wrong way again.  State Health Director Doctor Mandy Cohen announced at a briefing Thursday that more people are being hospitalized with COVID-like symptoms. And she also reported the highest daily count of lab-confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic. When cases peaked this summer, Cohen had reported a disproportionate concentration of cases among Latinos and construction workers.

“Unlike August, our current worsening trends don't link to any one place or any one age group or any one type of activity,” Cohen said.

Cohen says this indicates that COVID-19 transmission now is more widespread. She urged North Carolinians to wear masks and maintain physical distance from everyone who does not live in their home. – Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

7:25 a.m. - Chief Justice Cheri Beasley has issued a new order that allows jury trials to resume in districts with an approved plan. Those plans include rules for social distancing, mask wearing and daily COVID-19 screening. The order also extends several other emergency directives in response to the pandemic. Hearings can continue to be conducted remotely and courthouse access continues to be restricted. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:10 a.m. - As COVID-19 transmission rates climb again in North Carolina, contact tracers are struggling to get the information health departments need to intervene. At Thursday's briefing, State Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said only about half of the people contact tracers reach out to actually answer the phone or call them back. And now that the number of positive tests increases, many more calls are going un-answered.

"We are hearing numerous reports from our health departments of people refusing to share information and contacts of people they may have exposed to this virus,” Cohen said. “Please remember that all information is private and is never shared with a contact."

Cohen urged North Carolinians to return voicemails and text messages. That way, contact tracers can urge people who've been exposed to get tested themselves and self-isolate. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

Oct. 15, 2020

5:30 p.m. - Governor Roy Cooper says the state will release its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan tomorrow. This comes in anticipation of a federally approved inoculation. The state is required to submit a plan to the federal government, and Cooper said officials have had to prioritize who will receive the initial supply. 

"We'll be looking at making sure that we take care of at-risk front-line healthcare workers, at-risk staff in nursing homes, people in nursing homes," said Cooper.

Numerous potential vaccines are in clinical trials, but none have applied for approval from the Food and Drug Administration yet.  - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

5:20 p.m. - President Donald Trump campaigned in Greenville today, a couple weeks removed from being diagnosed with COVID-19. He told supporters that a vaccine is speeding to production, and asserted that even without it the pandemic is going to "peter out." However, state Health Secretary Doctor Mandy Cohen said at a briefing that the healthcare metrics tell a different story.

"We're reporting our highest day of cases since this pandemic has begun. Doesn't feel like petering out to me. But, we can get this under control if we work together."

Cohen urged North Carolinians to wear face coverings and maintain physical distance from everyone who doesn't live in the same home. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

11:50 a.m. - Shaw University has temporarily moved all classes online after six students and a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. Classes will remain online through tomorrow. Those who tested positive are now in isolation and contact tracing is underway. The university says the majority of the positive test results came from mandatory testing last week. All faculty, staff, and on-campus students are required to get tested again by tomorrow. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:50 a.m. - Guilford County is slowing down its students return to the classroom in response to rising coronavirus cases in Guilford County. Only pre-k through second grade students will return for in-person learning next Tuesday. All elementary and middle school students were originally planned to return to in-person learning by Oct. 26. Third through fifth graders and middle school students may return next month instead. High school students will still continue remote learning until next semester. After Thanksgiving, the county plans to only teach remotely for all students. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:35 a.m. – UNC-Greensboro is pushing back the start of its spring semester by one week and canceling spring break. Instead, UNCG has scheduled a health and wellness day on March 3. The first day of classes at the university will be Jan. 19. Several other universities have announced similar changes to their spring semester. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - Raleigh's tourism agency is launching a campaign to increase consumer confidence and increase local tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic. Visit Raleigh President Dennis Edwards says the initiative will show that businesses are following health and safety protocols.

“All of our imaging, all of our content, is geared around getting that message out,” Edwards said. “That we are following the protocols and it is safe to come and visit in certain capacities."

Visit Raleigh is using more than $1 million in pandemic relief funds for the campaign. Edwards says they're also using relief money to attend virtual trade shows to secure future in-person events for the city. Wake County has lost more than $135 million this year from canceled events. Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector in the metro is down 30% compared to a year ago. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - As the holiday season approaches, the hospitality and retail industries in North Carolina are urging consumers to follow COVID-19 safety protocols to keep restrictions on businesses from being tightened again. In a press briefing earlier this week, the head of the state merchants association urged shoppers to get their flu shot. Lynn Minges, president of the Restaurant and Lodging Association, pleaded for employees and patrons to practice social distancing and wear masks when they're not eating.

“We can't afford to go backwards and we're counting on you,” Minges said.

Minges says nearly 130,000 workers from the hospitality industry remain unemployed. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Oct. 14, 2020

4:40 p.m. - Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and his Republican challenger Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest will meet tonight in their only scheduled debate. The debate comes as COVID-19 outbreak trends have worsened as the state has transitioned to the third phase of reopening. Forest has attacked the governor for being too slow to lift restrictions on schools and businesses during the pandemic. Cooper has criticized Forest for holding in-person political rallies without masks or social distancing. The North Carolina Association of Broadcasters is hosting the debate. It will air on WUNC starting at 7 p.m. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

4:25 p.m. - Senator Thom Tillis is back in Washington after receiving medical clearance to resume in-person activities. Tillis tested positive for COVID-19 on October 2 and was in isolation through Monday. Tillis started attending in person the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett yesterday. -  Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - COVID-19 cases are mounting in North Carolina, reaching case counts not seen since summertime. State Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen described the situation in a press conference Tuesday.

“Right now, like much of the country and the rest of the world, our trends are moving in the wrong direction,” Cohen said. “If you look at our dashboard, our cases are up. Our hospitalizations are up. And our early surveillance data is up.

“What we're seeing now is this virus is everywhere, there's no single place, no single age, no single location. Which means we have to be sure we're being vigilant across the board.”

In the past week, daily counts of new cases have reached highs of more than 2,000, the highest mark in North Carolina since an earlier peak in July. Cohen warned that cooler temperatures will drive more people indoors to eat and socialize -- and risk spreading the coronavirus. She cautioned that the state might eventually need to tighten restrictions again to prevent the virus from spreading, but that could be avoided if individuals are diligent with safety precautions. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

Oct. 13, 2020

12:35 p.m. – Sen. Thom Tillis is back in Washington and attending in person the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett after getting the go-ahead following his COVID-19 diagnosis this month. The Republican was in the hearing room Tuesday, one day after Tillis' doctor told him he could end his self-quarantine for COVID-19. Tillis announced his positive coronavirus test on Oct. 2. The physician wrote that Tillis had fulfilled all the criteria from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to end his isolation. Tillis has said his symptoms were mild and ended within a few days of his virus announcement. - The Associated Press

7:25 a.m. - Some North Carolina parents are running out of time to make sure they receive additional money for help during the COVID-19 pandemic. A new state law directs $335 payments to go automatically to 2019 tax filers who reported having at least one child 16 years old or younger. Parents who didn't make enough money last year to file a return must file an application by Thursday to receive the payment. The money is meant to help with virtual schooling and child-care costs during the pandemic. The money will be disbursed by Dec. 15. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:10 a.m. - The Guilford County Courthouse is closing its superior and district court for the rest of this week after a county employee tested positive for COVID-19. The employee is with the Sheriff's Department. District Court first appearances will continue to operate. Juvenile Court will be open for secured custody hearings only on Friday. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Oct. 12, 2020

6:55 p.m. - The state prison system is performing COVID-19 tests all the staff Dan River Prison Work Farm, Scotland Correctional and Greene Correctional institutions. COVID-19 outbreaks have been reported at 47 state prisons since March, but this pilot program is the first time staff will be required to submit to tests. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

12:25 p.m. - North Carolina A&T State University has identified its first cluster of COVID-19 cases. News outlets report eight students living in Pride Hall on campus tested positive for the coronavirus. The university reported the cluster late last week. The eight students are in isolation and are asymptomatic. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - Stanly County in western North Carolina has temporarily moved students to remote learning because of increased spread of COVID-19 in the area. The Charlotte Observer reports the school board voted Saturday during an emergency meeting to switch to virtual learning for two weeks. Stanly County is outside Charlotte. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - President Donald Trump is holding an in-person rally in Greenville on Thursday. The event will be at the Pitt-Greenville Airport. The rally will happen 13 days after the president tested positive for COVID-19. Public health experts recommend people who test positive for the coronavirus to isolate for 14 days. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

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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