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Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of Jan. 11

In this file photo dated Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, a bottle of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on a table before being utilized in Topeka, Kansas.
Charlie Riedel

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 Jan. 4.

Jan. 15, 2021

5:40 p.m. - A county in southeastern North Carolina where older adults make up a large share of the population is appealing to Gov. Roy Cooper to provide more doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. Brunswick County Board of Commissioners Chairman Randy Thompson sent a letter to the governor outlining concerns about having enough vaccine for high-risk individuals who want it. Nearly a third of Brunswick County's residents are 65 or older, and are now eligible to get a shot after the state revised the priority groups this week. That's about 46,000 people. Thompson says the county's allocation of 1,500 doses a week is inadequate.

"If the phase or group is in that work objective, I need to do whatever it takes to accomplish that work objective. And that's not being done through the allocation of doses to the county level," said Thompson.

Counties across the state have said demand for the vaccine far exceeds supply. The state's draft allocation plan from October says local allocations are based on priority populations as well as the rate of coronavirus spread among other factors. - Will Michaels, WUNC
1:17 p.m. - Wake County seniors interested in getting the COVID-19 vaccine can avoid long lines by getting on a wait list. The county issued a notice Friday saying that starting Tuesday, Wake residents aged 65 and older and health care workers who want to get vaccinated can make an appointment online or over the phone. The order of appointments will be based on risk and need, not a first-come-first-serve basis. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

12:50 p.m. - Over the next two weeks, Novant Health estimates its hospitals will be between 90 and 100% full. The hospitals, which serve the Triad and the Charlotte area, have seen a sustained surge of COVID-19 patients for the past few weeks. ICU beds are at about 90 to 95% capacity. Dr. David Priest is the head infectious disease specialist at Novant Health. Speaking at a media briefing Friday, Priest said the biggest concern is having enough staff to care for patients.

“So we are redeploying our team members,” Priest said. “We're calling for qualified nurses to return to the bedside, and we've been contracting with traveling nurses and support staff."

Priest says 1,500 Novant employees have volunteered to move to different positions to support COVID-19 patients. As of now, Novant does have enough beds, staffing and PPE to care for all its patients. But Priest says they need the community's help to make sure it stays that way. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

12:35 p.m. - In Wake County, less than half of eligible firefighters have signed up for a COVID-19 vaccine. The Raleigh News and Observer reports firefighters who also provide emergency care for health care systems were among the first group of people allowed to get vaccinated under guidance from the state health department. About 70% of eligible EMS workers in Wake County have gotten the vaccine so far. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:49 a.m. - COVID-19 hospitalizations in North Carolina remain over 3,900. The State Department of Health and Human Services is reporting one of the highest number of hospitalizations since the pandemic began. North Carolina has reported almost 60,000 new cases in the past week. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

9:42 a.m. - Students in Wake County will remain in online only instruction through mid-February. The Wake County Board of Education voted Thursday for all students in grades Pre-K through 12 to stay in remote learning. Employees and school administrators expressed concern over increasing COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and community spread. They also shared worries about having enough staff to teach students in person.

Wake County School board chair Keith Sutton said the district needs more time.

“And if we can buy a little bit more time and get some vaccinations going,” Sutton said. “Buy a little bit more time and get our sub rate up. Buy a little bit more time and see if the rates go down a little bit. Then we can finally get our kids back in the school."

The board says they will review state and local guidance and data before deciding the next steps in February. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:50 a.m. - The Wake County Sheriff's Office says almost 100 inmates at two of its jails have tested positive for COVID-19 or are in quarantine because of possible exposure. 17 members of the jail staff have also tested positive. These inmates and staff are at the Wake County Detention Center and John H Baker Jr. Public Safety Center. All inmates who have tested positive are in isolation. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:34 a.m. - The North Carolina Office of State Fire Marshal is launching an online COVID-19 survey to track positive cases and quarantines within fire departments and emergency service agencies. State Fire Marshal Mike Causey says the goal is to gather real time data to understand what additional resources first responders need during the pandemic. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:28 a.m. - In men's college basketball, N.C. State's game against Georgia Tech has been postponed because of COVID-19 issues. A person within N.C. state's basketball program has tested positive for the coronavirus. The game was scheduled for Saturday. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Jan. 14, 2021

6:20 p.m. - The North Carolina Department of Public Safety is planning to begin COVID-19 vaccinations for prison staff and inmates over the age of 65 when supplies become available. Department Deputy Secretary Tim Moose said there are still many unknowns when it comes to federal distribution of vaccines to prisons. He says the state does not know how many doses will be shipped to prisons, or when.

"We don't have what you would call a vaccination plan per se because we can't plan for what we can't predict, instead we have the framework, a structure that's lean and flexible," said Moose.

The Department of Public Safety is planning to use four prisons across the state as hubs to receive the vaccines and then ship doses out to other facilities. The agency is prepared to vaccinate more than 800 staffers who qualify in the first group and have requested a vaccine. Prison staff and inmates have been surveyed to gauge their eligibility and interest in being vaccinated. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC
6:10 p.m. - The city of Greensboro is limiting the operating hours of some city offices to decrease the risk of spreading COVID-19. Some city facilities will now be open only from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. In a press release, city officials said this is to reduce COVID-19 exposure for city workers and residents. The state health department has labeled Guilford County red for critical community spread of the virus. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

6 p.m. - The city of Raleigh will hold a COVID-19 memorial next Tuesday evening to honor the lives of those who died in the pandemic. The city will illuminate several downtown buildings in amber, which is the designated COVID-19 memorial color. The event is in conjunction with other memorials organized by the National League of Cities. Residents are invited to join by lighting candles at home and taking time to pray or reflect. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

3:30 p.m. - North Carolina health officials announced a significant revamp of the state vaccine rollout plan today. 


State Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen says the new plan is an effort to simplify vaccine distribution and implementation. There are now five main categories for vaccinations:

  1. Health care workers and long-term care staff and residents
  2. Adults 65 and older
  3. Frontline essential workers
  4. Adults at high risk for exposure and increased risk of severe illness
  5. Everyone remaining

The new state plan no longer prioritizes college students above the general population. Cohen said the changes incorporate recent directives from the Trump Administration to administer vaccinations more quickly while focusing on people who need it most. She said the new plan is intended to give local health departments and hospitals more flexibility to "move to the next priority group as they complete the previous one." - Laura Pellicer and Will Michaels, WUNC

12:55 p.m. - The North Carolina Department of Health and Humans Services has announced that vaccine providers who are ready may begin giving COVID-19 vaccines to adults age 65 years and older. Previously, providers were administering vaccines to frontline healthcare workers and adults age 75 and older. This change will bring the state in line with new federal guidelines. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

12:04 p.m. - The State Department of Health and Human Services is reporting almost 4,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations; a new record high in North Carolina since the start of the pandemic. Over the past week, about 13.6% of coronavirus tests have come back positive. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:56 a.m. - North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby is issuing new COVID-19 orders for courts. In the order, Newby is allowing several previous directives from Former Chief Justice Cheri Beasley to expire. He says these issues are best decided at the local level. Courts can now resume jury trials without first submitting a plan to the state. They also don't have to discourage court visits or in person filings. Other orders have been modified, including mask requirements. Presiding judicial officials can now to order someone to remove their mask during trials or proceedings. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:53 a.m. - Western Carolina University will now begin the spring semester with remote instruction. The university announced on its website Wednesday that all classes will be remote until Feb. 15. The chancellor said the decision was made due to the pandemic's strain on the healthcare system and a projected local peak in cases in the next two to three weeks. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

10:44 a.m. – N.C. State University has reported a cluster of COVID-19 cases associated with its athletics department. The school made the announcement on its website Wednesday. The website did not say how many people tested positive, but a “cluster” is defined as five or more cases in close proximity. The Wolfpack’s No. 3-ranked women’s basketball team hasn’t played since Jan. 3 and recently announced the postponement of its game against Louisville set for Sunday. – Liz Schlemmer and Mitchell Northam, WUNC

Jan. 13, 2021

6:02 p.m. - The Wake County School Board is recommending that all students attend classes online for at least another month. The recommendation is part of a presentation that the board will see at a special meeting tomorrow as members consider how to operate the district in the spring semester. It lays out three potential plans to teach students in person mostly on a rotating basis, but suggests that the school system stay in remote learning for now, and reevaluate in mid-February. The board will vote tomorrow. - Will Michaels, WUNC

3:50 p.m. - One county in eastern North Carolina has started vaccinating frontline workers against COVID-19, including school teachers. The Hyde County Health Department says it has moved to Group 3 of Phase 1b in the state's vaccine distribution plan. Smaller counties have been able to work through the priority groups more quickly. But Hyde County Schools Superintendent Steve Basnight also attributes the swift rollout to the spike in COVID-19 cases after the holidays.

"When those numbers after Christmas jumped so quickly, so dramatically, you've got a lot of people that know a lot of people that either have COVID or who have family members that have COVID, and you're close to those people. And I think that rattled some cages," said Basnight.
Basnight says there are 225 teachers and staff in Hyde County Schools. About 30 have gotten the first dose of a vaccine so far. He says about 20% of the district's staff have said they will not get the vaccine, which is consistent with statewide polls. – Will Michaels, WUNC
12:52 p.m. – UNC-Chapel Hill has reported a new COVID-19 cluster on campus. A group of five or more students who were permitted to live in Carmichael Residence Hall over winter break have tested positive and are isolating. A limited number of UNC students have also begun moving in to dorms for the spring semester. Those students are required to submit a negative COVID-19 test result before returning and to test again on campus the day they move in. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

12:36 p.m. - The State Department of Health and Human Services is reporting another day of record high number of COVID-19 hospitalizations. Almost 4,000 people statewide are hospitalized with the coronavirus. Over the past week, there's been an average of about 8,400 new COVID-19 cases reported daily. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

9:08 a.m. - Governor Roy Cooper says the state will boost its lagging COVID-19 vaccination rollout by holding large-scale vaccination events "in the coming days". The Department of Health and Human Services will partner with 14 health systems, local health departments and community centers in 13 counties to give more than 45-thousand vaccinations at those events. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:10 a.m. - In-person learning for middle and high school students in Guilford County is being postponed for at least three weeks. The Guilford County Board of Education voted for this delay Tuesday. Middle and high school students were scheduled to return to partial in-person learning later this month. Meanwhile in Johnston County, K-12 students will continue learning remotely until at least the end of this month. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:55 a.m. - The COVID-19 outbreak at the Forsyth County Detention Center has grown to the second largest at a correctional facility in the state. The Forsyth County jail reports about 220 staff and inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus. The outbreak began in November. The largest outbreak at a jail in the state is at the Mecklenburg County Detention Center, with almost 280 total reported cases among staff and inmates. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:39 a.m. - The Durham County health department will move to Phase 1B of the state's COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan next week. People ages 75 and older will start getting their shots on Tuesday, the same day as in Wake County. Smaller counties started Phase 1B earlier this month. Durham County says they focused on vaccinating health care workers first. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:24 a.m. - The State Health Secretary says as North Carolina tries to speed its sluggish COVID-19 vaccine rollout, it will also concentrate on improving vaccination rates among historically marginalized populations. Dr. Mandy Cohen is acknowledging that so far those rates have lagged. And that follows the disproportionate impact of coronavirus infections on Black and Latino North Carolinians earlier in the pandemic.

“We know that the injustices that drive these disparities can also cause very legitimate reasons for people to be hesitant about vaccines,” Cohen said. “We're working hard to ensure historically marginalized populations are informed about the importance of getting vaccinated.”

Meanwhile, Cohen says, efforts to reduce the outsized effects of the virus on those communities are having an effect. COVID-related deaths among Black North Carolinians are down, and cases among Latinos have fallen significantly, from 45% of all cases this summer to 24% now. – Jay Price, WUNC

Jan. 12, 2021

7:05 p.m. - Governor Roy Cooper says the state will boost its lagging COVID-19 vaccination rollout by holding large-scale vaccination events "in the coming days." The Department of Health and Human Services will partner with 14 health systems, local health departments and community centers in 13 counties to give more than 45,000 vaccinations at those events. Those doses will come mainly from supplies that would have gone to counties and health systems that said they couldn’t currently use their full allocations.

Speaking in this afternoon's state briefing, Cooper also said hundreds of state employees have been identified who can be sent out to help ramp up vaccinations. - Jay Price, WUNC

6:50 p.m. - State lawmakers want to know why North Carolinians aren't getting vaccinated against COVID-19 at a faster pace. At a joint oversight committee hearing today, Republican State Senator Ralph Hise questioned state Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen on why North Carolina seems to be lagging behind most states in vaccine distribution. Cohen told Hise that state officials have emphasized providing all 100 counties with doses to distribute. Cohen said some counties have been more efficient at inoculating people than others.

"I think our job at the state is to help those who may be struggling right now to speed up and do faster, and that is my commitment to you, Senator Hise," said Cohen.
Cohen says as of Monday, 417,000 doses of COVID vaccine had been allocated to North Carolina, and 257,000 had been administered. She says the vaccination rate has increased 113% over the past seven days. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC
3:10 p.m. - Students in Cumberland County will not return to in-person learning until at least mid-March. The county board of education voted this morning to delay the start of in-person learning based on rising COVID-19 metrics. The district had planned for students to return to the classroom this month on a staggered scheduled. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

3:05 p.m. - The state Department of Health and Human Services is reporting 3,940 COVID-19 hospitalizations across North Carolina. That's the second highest number of COVID hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic. Over the past week, 14.5% of coronavirus tests have come back positive. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

2:50 p.m. - Durham County Health Department will start vaccinating people 75 and older in a week. County Health Director Rod Jenkins said today his department will move to Phase 1b of the state's vaccine distribution plan next Tuesday. Larger counties have been slower to transition into the next phase because of the sheer volume of people who want the vaccine. But Jenkins also attributes the bottleneck in part to the state's online database.

"The COVID Vaccine Management System has been a challenge," said Jenkins. "This has led us to utilize paper forms at times. And it has reduced our ability to move individuals through the entire vaccination process in a timely manner."

Jenkins says demand far exceeds Durham County's supply of vaccine doses.  
Wake County Health Department will also start Phase 1b next Tuesday, and other local providers including Duke and UNC Health have started scheduling appointments with their patients who are 75 and older. - Will Michaels, WUNC
8:11 a.m. - Governor Roy Cooper is scheduled to hold a press conference this afternoon to share an update on COVID-19. This comes as coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise across the state. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:50 a.m. - Thirty-six firefighters in Durham are in quarantine after possibly being exposed to COVID-19. WRAL reports many of the firefighters in quarantine should return by the end of this week. The fire department says their response times have not been impacted. Since the start of the pandemic, 35 Durham firefighters have tested positive for COVID-19 and as many as 65 have been in quarantine at once. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:38 a.m. - Appalachian State University and UNC-Charlotte are delaying the start of in-person classes for this spring semester. Both universities cite concerns of rising COVID-19 cases. App State and Charlotte will resume classes next week online only until at least next month. UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC-Pembroke have also delayed the start of in-person classes. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:25 a.m. - Larger counties in the Triangle area will soon start inoculating people in Phase 1B of the state's COVID-19 vaccination plan. That includes people 75 and older. Smaller counties started that phase earlier this month, but in Wake County, there are about 53,000 older adults who fit into that category. The county's pharmacy director Jason Wittes says his department has enough staff to administer the vaccine, but not enough doses.

The Wake County health department plans to start vaccinating people 75 and older next Tuesday.  Durham County's health director says he will start Phase 1B in the next few weeks, but did not give an exact date. Other local providers such as Orange County, Duke and UNC Health are already scheduling vaccination appointments with older patients. – Will Michaels, WUNC

Jan. 11, 2021

5:30 p.m. - The daily count of new COVID-19 cases in North Carolina spiked to over 11,000 Saturday as the outbreak metrics continue to reach new highs. Nearly 60,000 new cases were reported last week — an average of more than 8,000 per day, according to the latest data from the state Department of Health and Human Services. Hospitalizations have leveled off slightly, but are still at levels concerning to health officials. The number hospitalized is nearing 4,000. - Jason deBruyn, WUNC

5:20 p.m. - North Carolinians who still need rent and utilities help will hope to qualify in a second, and substantially bigger, round of funding. The state has distributed almost $50 million in housing aid for 22,000 households struggling because of the pandemic. That funding came through the HOPE Act, a state program that used federal coronavirus relief money. The state had to stop accepting applications after just three weeks because the demand was so high.

The latest federal relief package set aside another $700 million for rental and utilities assistance in North Carolina. The state General Assembly has to pass legislation to free up that funding before applications are opened back up. A statewide evictions moratorium is in place until the end of January. - Jason deBruyn, WUNC

2:30 p.m. - Wake and Durham Counties are making plans to move into Phase 1-B of the state's COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan. The Wake County Health Department says it will start vaccinating people in the first group of that phase next Tuesday. That includes anyone 75 and older, an estimated 53,000 people in Wake County. In Durham County, Health Director Rod Jenkins said in an online video update his department would start phase 1-B in the next few weeks, but did not give an exact date.

"Moving to a new phase depends on how much vaccine is available, how many people need to be vaccinated and logistical considerations, like making sure we are able to efficiently schedule appointments and safely accommodate people who may have different needs," said Jenkins.

Jenkins said demand for the vaccine far outweighs the county health department's supply right now. Other local providers like Duke Health have started vaccinating older adults by appointment. - Will Michaels, WUNC

11:43 a.m. - For this coming spring semester, UNC-Wilmington is requiring students who will take on-campus classes or live in on-campus dorms to test negative for COVID-19 within five days of returning to campus. Students must submit proof of a negative test result to the university. Any student who tests positive will need to isolate at their home before they are allowed back on campus. The university says if students do not comply, they may be in violation of the student of code of conduct and will be disciplined accordingly. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:25 a.m. - UNC hospitals in Johnston County are at or very near capacity. There are nearly 200 patient beds between the two UNC hospitals in Smithfield and Clayton. Of those, only a handful are still available in Smithfield. Tom Williams is the president of UNC Johnston Health, and he says the biggest challenge is burnout among staff.

Williams says the hospitals are resuming elective surgeries today after stopping them completely the week before Christmas. Extra staff was needed to care for ICU patients, but now the facilities have brought in more workers from contract nursing agencies. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:28 a.m. - As the pandemic worsens in the state, school districts are deciding how to conduct classes. Some leaning on expertise from the same scientific collaborative are coming to different conclusions. Scientists from Duke, UNC and the other groups that form the ABC Science Collaborative are often at school board meetings to help out with considerations on how to safely teach students during a pandemic.

The Durham Public School board decided unanimously last week to stay in remote learning for the rest of the school year. The percentage of positive COVID-19 tests in the county is above the threshold the board had set for reopening.

But New Hanover Schools, which also hears from the collaborative, will return to in-person learning in a couple weeks. For others, there's still a decision to make. Wake County Schools is considering its options for the spring semester, including having fewer students in each classroom. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

7:06 a.m. - Local governments in North Carolina are encouraging their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine when they are eligible, but it won't be mandatory. A Raleigh spokeswoman says the city is notifying employees when and how they can get a shot through the Wake County health department.  The city employs about 7,000 people.

So far, only firefighters with EMT certification have been getting inoculated. In Greensboro, deputy fire chief Dwayne Church says leaders there are trying to set an example for their employees.

“From all of the firefighters we've seen who have taken the vaccination, including myself, there have been very, very minor side effects,” Church said. “Maybe a sore arm. And it's much like the flu vaccine.”

A city spokeswoman says Greensboro wants the rest of its 3,000 employees to get the vaccine as well, but again, it will not be mandatory. – Will Michaels, WUNC

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

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