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Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of Nov. 9

In this Aug. 18, 2020 file photo, a student works outside Ehrighaus dormitory on campus at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C.
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 Oct. 26.

Nov. 13, 2020

4:50 p.m. - Students in Cumberland County will return to in-person learning in January, given that COVID-19 metrics are trending in the right direction at that time. The Cumberland County Board of Education approved a plan today for students to return to classrooms on a staggered schedule starting January 7. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC
4:40 p.m. - UNC Greensboro is laying off 13 employees who were part of operating the university's online programs. UNCG says the decision was driven by declines in enrollment and revenue during the pandemic.  The employees, who worked for UNCG Online, are getting severance packages and will be able to keep their health insurance for the next year. - Will Michaels, WUNC

4:30 p.m. - North Carolina has changed the way it tracks COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, which is reflected in today's report from the state health department. The CDC is now requiring states to count all patients with COVID-19 for their entire stay in the hospital. The agency previously only required the count to include patients hospitalized for up to 21 days. The change means the number of hospitalizations in now significantly higher, at more than 1,400. - Will Michaels, WUNC

11:05 a.m. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro has laid off 13 employees in its online division as it deals with financial constraints wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.

The News & Record reportedThursday that the job cuts took place last week. The losses occurred at UNCG Online. It runs the university's online graduate and undergraduate degree programs.

University spokeswoman Eden Bloss said the employees got "very generous" severance packages and can keep their health coverage for the next year.

Bloss said the layoffs follow enrollment and revenue declines as well as increased costs due to the pandemic.

"Difficult times will mean difficult, but necessary, decisions to reduce expenses and address large and unexpected budget gaps created by these major simultaneous challenges ... " Bloss said. "At UNCG, resource actions that impact people are a last resort, but will be necessary in some cases."

Nationwide, many colleges and universities are struggling with the financial effects of the pandemic, which has depressed enrollment and led to job cuts. - Associated Press


Nov. 12, 2020

6:20 p.m. - UNC-Chapel Hill is busy getting ready for the spring semester as the coronavirus pandemic wears on. Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz updated the university's board of trustees today. The campus is ramping up precautions following a semester that began with the university sending most students home due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
"Some of our plans have worked, other parts have not. We know that this has caused frustration and disappointment for many. But we've learned from our experiences this fall, from listening to our community and the experiences of other universities around the country," said Guskiewicz.

The university is encouraging students to get tested as they leave for winter break and will require re-entry testing. Next semester, campus housing will remain at reduced capacity, while the university quadruples its space for quarantine and isolation. And UNC is currently setting up its own diagnostic lab to process COVID-19 tests from three large testing sites that will be opened across campus next semester. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

6:10 p.m. - The state health department says rural parts of North Carolina have recently experienced twice as many new cases of COVID-19 compared to urban areas. At a press briefing this afternoon, state Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said the new cases are increasingly among the rural white population.

"I think these are communities that largely were spared earlier in the year, and because we are seeing that folks are letting down their guard in some informal settings, social settings and religious settings, we are seeing this virus spread," she said.

A new report from the state health department shows a high rate of community spread in rural counties. An updated executive order that lowers the limit on indoor gatherings to 10 people goes into effect tomorrow. The state reported nearly 3,000 new cases of COVID-19 today and the number of North Carolinians hospitalized with COVID-19 is at an all time high at nearly 1,300 people. - Will Michaels, WUNC

1:05 p.m. - The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is reporting a new high of almost 1,300 COVID-19 related hospitalizations across the state for the second day in a row. About 2,900 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus were also reported. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

12:55 p.m. - Experts with UNC Health are urging people to celebrate differently this holiday season as COVID-19 cases in North Carolina surge to record levels. UNC psychologist Crystal Schiller suggests families start by reflecting on what makes the holidays special for them.

“And then try to make a plan to emphasize the things that make the holidays special for you,” Schiller said. “So for example in my family we all enjoy cooking Thanksgiving dinner together so this year we're going to be doing that in a different way on Zoom.”

Schiller recommends meeting outdoors or walking trails with family and friends instead of eating together indoors. She emphasizes wearing a mask, staying six feet apart and washing your hands will still be the keys to prevention. North Carolina typically sees a spike in infectious disease cases after the holidays each year. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:20 a.m. - The athletics department at UNC-Charlotte is furloughing 48 employees for 10 days to help offset significant revenue losses caused by the pandemic. These 48 employees make more than $50,000 a year. The 10 days must be taken by the end of June. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:05 a.m. - The North Carolina Department of Labor has declined to adopt rules proposed by advocates to protect farm and food processing workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Advocacy organizations wanted health screenings to be mandated for all workers before each shift and guarantees that employers would provide PPE, among several other requests.

In response, Commissioner of Labor Cherie Berry said she believes educating employers and employees about how to limit the spread of the coronavirus is most effective, rather than imposing regulations.  She pointed to what she says is a reduction in documented cases of COVID-19 linked to meat packing since the spring as proof the educational approach is working.

Berry also argued that the virus has not been proven as an occupational hazard and that it's now so pervasive it would be difficult to show that someone got sick while at work. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Nov. 11, 2020

3:30 p.m. The state Department of Health and Human Services is reporting North Carolina's largest single-day count of new COVID-19 cases — over 3,100 confirmed cases. This is the first time the state has added more than 3,000 cases in one day. Other key outbreak metrics are also trending up. Hospitalizations are at more than 12-hundred. Almost 8% of coronavirus tests are coming back positive. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:35 a.m. - Duke University will continue to hold home games -- including basketball games – without fans during the winter season. The university has not allowed fans at home games throughout the fall season. Duke Director of Athletics Kevin White said this decision is imperative for the health and safety of students and athletes. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:25 a.m. - Wake County has reopened four public libraries with some restrictions. The county says the East, Northeast, Southeast and Eva Perry Regional Libraries are now open with lower capacity limits.  Staff are asking visitors to wear a mask, practice physical distancing and limit their time inside to no more than 30 minutes.  Wake County will announce more plans to reopen libraries later this week. – Will Michaels, WUNC

8:15 a.m. - The CEO of Atrium Health in North Carolina says he anticipates the hospital network will be chosen as an “early site” to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine being developed by Pfizer Inc. Atrium Health CEO Gene Woods said Tuesday that the Charlotte-based health system has purchased refrigeration units that could store 300,000 does of the vaccine. Those units are necessary since the vaccine needs to be kept at low temperatures. Pfizer says the vaccine has 90% effectiveness based on early and incomplete test results. The Charlotte Observer reports Atrium Health has taken a financial hit this year responding to the virus outbreak, and initially postponing many non-essential surgeries. – The Associated Press

7:40 a.m. - In Guilford County, first and second grade students will return to in-person learning on Thursday. Pre-K and kindergarten students, who have been learning in-person for weeks, will also move to a full-day schedule. All other grades will return to the classroom in phased approaches in January. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Nov. 10, 2020

4:40 p.m. - Governor Roy Cooper is lowering the limit for indoor gatherings amid an upward trajectory of new COVID-19 cases. In a briefing this afternoon, Cooper said indoor gatherings will now be limited to 10 people rather than 25.

"The science shows the transmission of this virus is much greater indoors, and the more people who are gathered, the easier this virus can spread," said Cooper. "We saw increasing spread from social gatherings in October."

The governor and state health secretary said people should limit travel for the Thanksgiving holiday and consider avoiding gatherings with family members who don't live with them.

The number of new daily COVID-19 cases has been rising since September. Other restrictions that are part of the Phase 3 portion of the state's reopening will remain in place for at least three more weeks. Those include a 50% capacity limit in restaurants and limited outdoor seating only at bars.

Cooper also announed that starting Thursday, full-service restaurants seeking help with rent payments or mortgage interest may apply to NC Commerce for up to $20,000 for assistance. - Will Michaels, WUNC

4 p.m. - The state health department reported more than 2,500 new cases of COVID-19 today as North Carolina continues to experience a surge in coronavirus infections. The state's weekly rolling average of new cases is slightly down from its peak last week but hospitalizations are back up near record levels. - Will Michaels, WUNC

11:55 a.m. - Staff members at the Durham County Sheriff's Office records division have tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, the records office will be closed until further notice while other staff is tested and the office undergoes a deep cleaning. The Sheriff's Office says anyone that visited the records department since last Monday may be at risk of COVID-19 if they were within close contact of the staff members that tested positive. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:35 a.m. - Like several other holidays this year, Veterans Day is being celebrated differently because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Various organizations and government agencies are holding virtual ceremonies or drive through celebrations to honor veterans this year. The North Carolina Department of Military and Veterans Affairs is hosting a drive through event this Friday in Winston-Salem that will include lunch for veterans. Meanwhile the city of Fayetteville held a small in-person, socially distant ceremony last week at Segra Stadium. The annual Fayetteville Veterans Day Parade was canceled this year. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:55 a.m. - On Monday, the State Department of Health and Human Services reported a new high in the seven-day rolling average of newly reported COVID-19 cases. The average is now over 2,400 cases. On Monday about 1,500 new cases were reported. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:40 a.m. - Salem College in Winston-Salem will continue all remote learning in the spring semester. The private liberal arts women's college has only held classes online this semester in response to the pandemic. School officials point to the current rise of COVID-19 cases and say their priority is the health and safety of students. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:25 a.m. - A public charter school in Fayetteville is moving to all online instruction until January after a teacher there died from COVID-19. WRAL reports 51-year-old Mary Ward died Friday. Ward was an elementary art teacher at Capitol Encore Academy. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:15 a.m. - There's been at least a 3% increase in North Carolinians who have lost their health insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic. That's according to a report recently published in the North Carolina Medical Journal. Report author Mark Holmes estimates an average of 257,000 North Carolinians lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs since the start of the pandemic. Holmes says people need more support when they lose their job and consequently their health insurance.

“Whether that's a transition to Medicaid, or finding a more effective way to get them their health insurance they need… We're in a period of a public health emergency now,” Holmes said. “And for people to lose their job and stacked on top of that economic uncertainty, a loss of health insurance, really is putting a big burden on them.”

The report also found a 7% increase in North Carolinians who enrolled in Medicaid. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Nov. 9, 2020

5:10 p.m. - A teacher at a public charter school in Fayetteville has died after being diagnosed with COVID-19. The Fayetteville Observer reports the teacher worked at Capitol Encore Academy, but the school has not released her name. Capitol Encore Academy closed some in-person learning, and says people who came into contact with the teacher are in isolation. - Will Michaels, WUNC

5 p.m. - A new study from UNC-Chapel Hill says the coronavirus is not significantly mutating, which could make potential vaccines more effective. The study also says community spread remains the key factor in the spread of COVID-19 among those infected in North Carolina. Scientists are targeting a specific part of the virus for a potential vaccine. They say it's remaining stable, which is a good sign in the effort to control it. - Will Michaels, WUNC

11:25 a.m. - About 257,000 North Carolinians have lost their health insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report recently published in the North Carolina Medical Journal. Report author Mark Holmes says it amounts a 3 percent increase in the state's uninsured rate.Holmes says he found a significant amount of people in both rural and urban areas losing both their job and their health insurance.

“It was pretty dramatic how widespread it was,” Holmes said. “And it really underscores how all of North Carolina really needs the option of what they can do when they lose their job.”

The report also found a 7% increase in North Carolinians who enrolled in Medicaid. Holmes says several factors play into whether newly unemployed people also become uninsured, including what industry they worked in. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:05 a.m. - Small businesses in the city of Fayetteville now have additional grant money available to them. The Fayetteville City Council recently allocated $123,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funds to the city's small business retention grant program. The program has over $200,000 available. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:35 a.m. - The State Department of Health and Human Services has reported over 2,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 every day for the past six days. On Sunday almost 2,100 new confirmed cases were reported. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:20 a.m. - Small businesses in Durham can soon apply for more COVID-19 relief. The Durham City Council has allocated $240,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funds to support small businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic. Small businesses in the city can apply for a grant of up to $10,000. Applications for the grants open this Thursday. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:05 a.m. - Guilford College plans to lay off 30% of its full-time faculty in part because of significant revenue losses caused by the pandemic. The Greensboro News and Record reports the private school in Greensboro is also considering cutting 19 of its 42 offered academic majors. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:50 a.m. - Thousands of middle school students return to in-person learning in Wake County starting Monday. A third of students will be in each building at a time. Students must wear a mask and get a health screening before entering. A total of roughly 6,000 middle school students make up the three cohorts. Two weeks ago, some elementary school students returned to the classroom. Since then, the school district has reported at least 20 cases of COVID-19 at over 15 schools. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:35 a.m. - The coronavirus pandemic may still be a drag on parts of the economy, but housing market remain hot. Strong demand from buyers and a shortage of houses for sale have pushed up the median sales price of single-family homes this year, in North Carolina and nationwide. Prices are up 10.8% in Charlotte and 13.6% in Raleigh compared with a year ago. Economist Chris Glynn at real estate website Zillow cites several factors.

“The first is historically low inventory. The second is extremely low interest rates,” Glynn said. “And the third is that households are re-evaluating their housing needs in light of COVID-19.”

Both Raleigh and Charlotte have about half the number of houses on the market this year as they did a year ago. So, even though prices are higher, homes are being snapped up super-fast – six days, vs. 11 days a year ago. The latest figures from Zillow show sales beginning to slow as winter approaches. That's typical, but the experts say that won't have much effect on skyrocketing prices. – David Boraks, WFAE

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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