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Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of Dec. 21

Gov. Roy Cooper watches while Tracy Toner gives a COVID-19 vaccination to Duke nurse Arianna Motsinger at the Duke University School of Medicine in Durham on Monday, December 21, 2020.
Shawn Rocco
Duke Health

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 Dec. 14.

Dec. 26, 2020

6 p.m. - North Carolina has surpassed half a million total cases of COVID-19, according to data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. On Saturday, the state reported 513,930 total cases with 3,023 people currently hospitalized for coronavirus. North Carolina added 5,371 new reported cases on Saturday. The average percent positive for coronavirus testing stands at 10.4%. - Laura Pellicer, WUNC

Dec. 23, 2020

3:56 p.m. - The number of North Carolinians hospitalized with COVID-19 continues to rise, but the rate of the increase may be slowing. That’s according to a new analysis by the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC Chapel Hill. It found that if current trends continue, acute hospital beds across the state would be full in about eight weeks. That’s an improvement from just a six-week supply that Sheps estimated earlier this month, based on conditions then.

Projections for the supply of intensive care beds — which are crucial for the most dire COVID cases — also have improved some, but there’s still just four weeks, at the current rate of increase, before they’re full. That’s the state-wide supply. Beds are much more scarce in some local areas. For example, there’s fewer than three weeks of supply left in the Asheville, Charlotte and Triad areas, unless their rates of increase in hospitalizations slow more. - Jay Price, WUNC

3:38 p.m. - Governor Roy Cooper plans to extend the state's evictions moratorium on residential evictions for non-payment of rent through at least January 31. In an announcement today, the governor said too many families are struggling to pay rent during the COVID-19 pandemic. The details and language of the moratorium are forthcoming and will be based on how or whether Congress extends the federal moratorium. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

3:05 p.m. - North Carolina has set another daily record for the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19.  According to the State Department of Health and Human Services, 3,043 people COVID patients were in the hospital yesterday, with 696 of them in intensive care. The Department says nearly two-thirds of North Carolina counties are experiencing critical community spread. State leaders continue to urge North Carolinians to reduce public interactions and limit themselves to essential activities, like going to work or school, caring for family members, getting health care and buying food.  - Adam Hochberg, WUNC

12:06 p.m.  - Now that President-elect Joe Biden has nominated a new education secretary, some parents are hoping that he'll grant a waiver to in-person testing requirements. Even as many school districts are operating on rotations and remote learning, federal and state law requires that students take some end-of-course and end-of-year tests in-person.

The Trump administration has said it would deny all requests for waivers to in-person testing. But the North Carolina State Board of Education has already sent a waiver request to the U.S. Department of Education, in the hopes that a Biden nominee would allow exemptions.

It's not known whether nominee Miguel Cardona would waive in-person testing for districts that aren't operating in person.  If he does, North Carolina legislators would still have to allow a waiver for the state requirement. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

8:12 a.m. - Officials in the City of Durham are responding to complaints about a martial arts gym that appears to have flouted COVID-19 rules. WRAL and the Raleigh News & Observer report that a Facebook post by Triangle Krav Maga shows 22 people without masks close together indoors for a holiday party.  The city's attorney planned to notify the gym's owners of the complaints and reminding them of the state's indoor gathering limit of 10 people. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

7:50 a.m. - North Carolina's COVID-19 case numbers are headed in the wrong direction--just as people prepare for the Christmas holiday.

90% of North Carolina's 100 counties are experiencing either critical or substantial community spread of COVID-19 and hospitalizations hit an all-time high. Governor Cooper appeared at a news conference with faith leaders Tuesday, urging people to stay at home for the holidays and to connect remotely with others outside one's household. Or to keep gatherings small, outside, and adequately distanced. Reverend James White of Christ Our King Community Church in Raleigh joined in that message, saying: "Perhaps we all need to figure out how to create celebrations in the midst of limitation."

On the bright side, Governor Cooper said he would exempt Santa Claus from the 10 p.m. curfew for Christmas Eve. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

Dec. 22, 2020

6:30 p.m. - Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in North Carolina have hit their highest mark yet since the start of the pandemic, and more than 90% of the state's 100 counties are experiencing critical or substantial community spread of the viral disease.

At a news conference today, Governor Roy Cooper said the numbers need to be driven downward. A key to that, he added, would be for people to stay at home for the holidays and avoid gathering in person with others outside one's household.

"But if you gather in person, keep it small and outside if you can, get a COVID-19 test before you go, spread out the tables and the chairs," said Cooper.

And, Cooper added, always wear a mask. The governor also said he would be issuing an exemption from the 10 p.m. curfew for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

1:20 p.m. - State health officials are now posting data on COVID-19 vaccinations. The North Carolina Health and Human Services Department's COVID-19 dashboard features the total number of people statewide and by county who have received the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. In addition to counts, the dashboard will provide statewide data on vaccinations by race, ethnicity, gender and age group. Data on the number of people to get second doses will be added next month. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

12:04 p.m. - The State Department of Health and Human Services is reporting another record high number of COVID-19 hospitalizations on Tuesday. Approximately 3,000 people across North Carolina are hospitalized with the coronavirus. The state is also reporting over 5,200 new daily COVID-19 cases. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

9:23 a.m. - Six employees at the Macon County Sheriff's Office in western North Carolina have tested positive for COVID-19. The Macon County Health Department reported the cases last Friday. The sheriff's office is now undergoing contact tracing. Health officials say anyone who came within six feet of a sick employee for 10 minutes or longer is at risk of infection. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:19 a.m. - North Carolina Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr voted to approve the latest federal coronavirus relief package last night. The majority of North Carolina representatives also voted in favor of the package, except for Congressmen Dan Bishop and Ted Budd, who voted against the bill. Congressmen Greg Murphy and Mark Walker abstained from voting. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:02 a.m. - 68 inmates at the Forsyth County Detention Center have tested positive for COVID-19. The Winston-Salem Journal reports almost 570 inmates in total were tested. 12 percent of tests came back positive. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Dec. 21, 2020

5:05 p.m. - Bars and restaurants in North Carolina may now sell mixed alcoholic drinks for takeout and delivery, under a new executive order from Governor Roy Cooper. Limits on gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic have hit bars and restaurants hard. And a 9 p.m. curfew remains in effect for the sale of alcohol for on-site consumption. The governor's order received support from the Council of State, made up of top statewide elected officials, including the Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General. The council is majority Republican and has opposed some of the Democratic governor's previous COVID-related executive orders. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

4:30 p.m. - The state is trying to get high-speed internet access to more students from rural communities. The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources has installed wifi hotspots at more than 200 sites across the state as part of its "Park and Learn" project. When the project is completed, the department says rural students should have access to wifi at 350 locations, including state parks, historic sites, and libraries. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

4:20 p.m. - North Carolina will see its capacity to store COVID-19 vaccine expand with the purchase of 61 ultra-cold freezers. The UNC system announced today that it's purchasing the special units and setting them up at all of its campuses. The money is coming from federal coronavirus relief funds allocated by the state legislature to the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory at UNC Chapel Hill. Jeff Warren, the Collaboratory's executive director, says 29 of the 61 freezers will be mobile units. Most of those will be going to the UNC system's historically black universities and two other campuses serving more remote communities.
"You can actually put them into an SUV and hook them into the DC-charging port and we thought that that would be critical for transporting the vaccine especially in rural and under-served communities," said Warren.
He says the 32 larger units going to all the campuses should be arriving next month, with the mobile units following in March or April. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

1:20 p.m. - The State Department of Health and Human Services is reporting over 2,800 COVID-19 hospitalizations across North Carolina on Monday, the third highest amount of hospitalizations so far. The state also reported over 4,400 new daily COVID-19 cases, down from recent days. 11.1% of tests over the past week have come back positive. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:48 a.m. - Meat and poultry processing plant workers should be among the first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a CDC advisory committee. That's welcome news for workers' advocates in North Carolina. Lucy Thames, a project assistant at the Farmworker Advocacy Network, says working during the pandemic has been dire for workers, and a vaccine will help protect them.

In Wake County, leaders say vaccine information will be available in Spanish. County officials add they will not require people to show identification- so undocumented immigrants who often work at plants can get vaccinated easily. The state health department reports more than 4,000 COVID-19 cases have been identified at meat and poultry processing plants, resulting in 21 deaths. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:23 a.m. - The UNC System will soon expand the state's capacity to store the COVID-19 vaccine. A statement from the university system says all 15 of its research institutions will be getting 61 ultra-low temperature freezers needed to store the vaccine at negative-112 degrees Fahrenheit. The UNC system says the additional units will expand North Carolina's vaccine storage capacity by more than 1.8 million vials. Six UNC campuses that serve rural areas and assist under-served populations will receive mobile freezers. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

7:25 a.m. - On Sunday, the State Department of Health and Human Services reported 6,900 new daily COVID-19 cases, the third-highest amount yet. Hospitalizations were down slightly compared to recent days, but are still over 2,700. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:15 a.m. - Cumberland County Schools is suspending most sports and in-person extracurricular activities until at least mid-January as a result of rising COVID-19 cases. Cross country and volleyball teams can continue playing to enter state playoffs. Any team that does not make the playoffs will stop activities. – 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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