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Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of Feb. 15

Spc. Nicholas Kelly, a medic assigned to 236th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team, applies a bandage to a patient following her vaccination at the COVID-19 drive-through vaccination site at Macon County Public Health in Franklin.
Sgt. Lisa Vines
North Carolina National Guard Public Affairs

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 Feb. 8.

Feb. 19, 2021

6:20 p.m. - Republican senators in the North Carolina General Assembly want high school sporting events in the state opened up to bigger crowds for the remainder of the school year. A bill filed this week in the state senate would change the pandemic-related 100-person limit on spectators at outdoor high school competitions to 40% of a venue's capacity. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

6:10 p.m. - As the governor contemplates whether to sign a bill that would force public school districts to resume in-person learning, some systems are already taking such steps. Guilford County is putting a staggered plan into effect over the next few weeks. Guilford announced that under its phased approach, sixth and ninth graders will return to in-person learning this Monday or Thursday, depending on their assigned cohorts. Seventh, 10th and 12th graders will return the week of March 1st. Then, 8th and 11th graders will return the week after that.

Durham County's education board voted last night to resume in-person classes on a staggered basis starting March 15. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

6 p.m. - Teachers and pre-school staff in Wake County may request a COVID-19 vaccine appointment starting Monday. Child-care givers fall into the Group 3 category of frontline essential workers eligible for inoculation against COVID-19 starting February 24, under state health guidelines. That phase of vaccinations comes just as some lawmakers are pushing a bill that would force all public schools to resume in-person learning. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

5:50 p.m. - Severe winter weather has delayed shipments of COVID-19 vaccine for states across the country, including North Carolina. The state health department says that means vaccines previously scheduled to arrive in North Carolina this week won't get here until sometime between Monday and Wednesday. The delay has forced the postponement and rescheduling of vaccination appointments. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

11:57 a.m. - A specific type of polymer can be used to kill coronaviruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19. That's the finding of a new study co-authored by researchers at N.C. State.

This polymer could be used to coat face masks, or things people often touch, like door handles. The polymer could also be incorporated into building materials, like a window pane. Study co-author Frank Scholle says it's relatively inexpensive to manufacture, and also stays on longer than most other disinfectants.

“Now if you have these, these materials that will provide lasting protection right then you don't have to worry about pathogens surviving on these surfaces,” Scholle said.

The material creates a lot of acidity when it comes into contact with moisture. That high acidity kills the viruses. The moisture could come from sweaty hands or a sneeze. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:35 a.m. - Researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill say wearing two masks can increase protection against the coronavirus for the people who are wearing them, but they have to be worn properly. 

Scientists tested double-masking by putting someone in a chamber with benign particles and measuring how many of them penetrated their masks.  They found that wearing a standard surgical mask underneath a cloth mask was about 40 percent better at blocking particles than wearing just one mask. But toxicology expert Phillip Clapp says they have to be worn over the nose and mouth, and should be tight around the cheeks.

“If you have someone that can check to see the gaps around your face, that's the way that you can get the most immediate benefit from just a single mask,” Clapp said. “Beyond that, if you've already done that step, you can expect to get a slight bump in the filtration efficiency by adding a second mask on top of it.”

Clapp says the most effective way of blocking transmission of the coronavirus is still universal mask-wearing, physical distancing and hand-washing. – Will Michaels, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - Durham Public Schools will resume in person learning next month. K-5th grade students will attend in person four days a week. Students in 6th through 12th grade will attend school in rotating cohorts. Families can choose to keep their students in remote learning.

The school district planned on staying in remote learning through the end of the school year. The Durham Public Schools Board of Education changed plans in light of a proposed state bill that would require school districts to offer in person learning. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Feb. 18, 2021

12:51 p.m. - The ACC announced Thursday that tickets to its 2021 men’s and women’s basketball tournament will not be available to the general public. Admission to each game in the tournaments will be limited to family and guests of team personnel. Both tournaments will be played at the historic Greensboro Coliseum, with the women taking the floor March 3-7 and the men playing March 9-13. – Mitchell Northam, WUNC

12:39 p.m. - Shipping delays due to the inclement weather are forcing some providers to reschedule COVID-19 vaccine appointments. The state Department of Health and Human Services says only a limited number of the Pfizer doses expected this week have shipped. Doses of the Moderna vaccine have yet to arrive. And the agency says there's not enough vaccine available to shift supplies around to cover delayed doses. The vaccination sites UNC Health is overseeing in Chapel Hill and Hillsborough are closed Thursday. Those affected are being contacted. – Amy Jeffries, WUNC

7:25 a.m. - The General Assembly has sent a bill to the Governor that would require public schools to provide in-person learning to all students who want it. The bill would take away districts' ability to shut down if Covid-19 cases in the surrounding community rise again. Districts could go back to remote instruction for outbreaks and clusters affecting people in schools. In an email, Cooper said he would not sign the bill as is.  He says it takes away local control and violates health guidance. He could still let it become law without signing it, and the bill passed both chambers with enough votes to override a veto. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:15 a.m. - A Latino non-profit based in the Triangle is receiving more than $300,000 from Wake County to promote the safety of vaccines to the Hispanic population. El Centro Hispano is using the money toward buying personal protective equipment to hand out to people, and toward hiring community health workers to help inform the public.

Fiorella Horna is the project manager for the county's partnership with El Centro. She says getting information from a trusted source will help the Hispanic population be more willing to get vaccinated.

“It's important for our community to see the individuals that represent their community, that speak their language, that understand the challenges that their communities face,” Horna said. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - Governor Roy Cooper and other state leaders will hold a press conference this afternoon to share updates on COVID-19 and inclement weather. Coronavirus metrics across North Carolina have been steady over the past few days. Around 2,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19. About 7% of tests have come back positive over the past week. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Feb. 17, 2021

6:10 p.m. - University of North Carolina Systems schools will host COVID-19 vaccination clinics aimed at reaching under-served and rural populations. Community clinics are opening this week at UNC-Asheville, UNC-Pembroke and at Western Carolina University. That's in addition to a vaccine operation that started last week at North Carolina A&T State University. Vaccines will be available at the new clinics by appointment only to people who meet the state's eligibility criteria. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

6 p.m. - A bill that would require every school district in North Carolina to provide in-person learning to students who want it has passed the General Assembly and is headed to the Governor's desk. Governor Cooper could allow the bill to become a law without signing it. In an email this morning, Cooper said he won't sign the bill as is because it doesn't give districts local control in case of emergency, and violates health guidelines. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

5:50 p.m. - The wintry weather has caused Wake County to cancel its drive-thru vaccination site at PNC Arena tomorrow. The county will move all appointments scheduled for Thursday to Monday, February 22. Anyone scheduled to get the shot tomorrow who is not available to get vaccinated Monday should contact Wake's COVID-19 call center at 919-250-1515. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

12:35 p.m. - Wake County is partnering with local organizations and churches to increase COVID-19 vaccinations in Black and Hispanic communities. Larry Johnson is the senior pastor of Gethsemane Seventh Day Adventist Church in Raleigh. His church is currently a coronavirus testing site for children returning to school. He says informing his congregation about COVID-19 and vaccines falls in line with his church's mission.

"We want to be known as a church that is active in our community,” Johnson said. “In not only spreading the Gospel, but doing those things that we should; health, education and other areas that our community deeply and greatly needs."

Local chapters of the Divine Nine are also helping spread accurate information about vaccines to their members. The group is named for nine historically Black Greek fraternities and sororities. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC  

10:37 a.m. - The Wake County Public School System is adding teacher planning days to its spring schedule as students return to in-person learning.  The school board voted to provide each school with two to three "asynchronous" learning days.  The district says there will be no in-person or virtual classes on those days, which will give teachers time to develop lesson plans for the following weeks. – Will Michaels, WUNC

10:25 a.m. - More than $10 billion in state and federal unemployment benefits has been paid out to North Carolinians during the pandemic. Over $8 billion was paid out between late March and the end of September. Since October, unemployment benefits have totaled slightly less than $2 billion. Overall, there have been about 3.3 million unemployment claims in North Carolina since the start of the pandemic. Claims are continuing to drop in the state. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - North Carolina House Republicans are supporting legislation to create a summer school program for K-12 students at risk of academic failure because of virtual learning. The measure would require school districts to offer an in person six-week extension learning program. House Speaker Tim Moore says districts are getting enough COVID-19 relief money to fund the program. The program would have to receive both House and Senate approval before being sent to Gov. Roy Cooper. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Feb. 16, 2021

5:50 p.m. - Republican state lawmakers have introduced a bill calling for school districts to provide six weeks of in-person instruction this summer. At a press conference today, House Speaker Tim Moore said it's part of the solution to address parents' concerns that their children are falling behind.  

"What do we do to make sure these children get caught up? That they don't just fall behind this year, get promoted to the next year without getting the core fundamentals they need to advance," said Moore.  

The bill doesn't provide additional funding to districts to offer summer learning to every student who wants it. Moore says pandemic relief funds recently allocated for education will cover it. He added the possibility that they could pass more funding to support the summer program if needed. Legislators are still working out the details for final approval of a bill that would require every district to provide an in-person learning option for the remainder of the current school year.  – Cole del Charco, WUNC
5:40 p.m. - The state has changed its policy concerning vaccinations for people who don't live or work in North Carolina. WRAL reports health officials have told counties and other providers they aren't obligated to inoculate people traveling to the state primarily to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The adjustment comes a week after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to states. Some people have been crossing into North Carolina to get vaccinated, especially if they qualify here and not in their home state. Less than 3% of the first 1.1 million shots administered in North Carolina went to non-residents. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

5:30 p.m. - Like other large districts, Wake County Public Schools has seen a drop in enrollment with remote learning this year. But the district is anticipating more students will return in the fall. Many families who opted not to enroll their kids in kindergarten or first grade are expected to come back to public schools. 

"WCPSS enrollments are projected to increase in 2021 to nearly their 2019 level, and then begin to decrease," Wake County Chief Financial Officer Emily Lucas said at a school board work session.

Lucas says that's because 2016 had the most births in a decade, and fewer children have been born since.

Also, charter schools are enrolling a larger share of the students who aren't in public schools compared to previous years. – Cole del Charco, WUNC
4:50 p.m. - The winter storms making their way across the U.S. will likely delay the shipment of COVID-19 vaccine to North Carolina this week. State health officials got the alert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Multiple news outlets are reporting that the state is working with providers to minimize disruptions to vaccination clinics. – Amy Jeffries, WUNC

4:45 p.m. - UNC Men's Basketball has found a replacement opponent for their home game this week from outside the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Tar Heels will host Northeastern tomorrow. The only other time they've played was in 19-91 when the Tar Heels defeated the Huskies in the first round of the NCAA tournament. UNC was looking for someone to play, and received some humorous responses on Twitter, after a scheduled game against Virgina Tech was postponed due to COVID-19 safety protocols. – Amy Jeffries, WUNC

12:24 p.m. - The Charlotte Hornets are canceling their next two games because they may have been exposed to COVID-19 after playing against the San Antonio Spurs. Four players from the Spurs have tested positive for the coronavirus. The Hornets were the last team to play San Antonio on Sunday. Charlotte's next possible game is this Saturday at home against Golden State. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

12:19 p.m. - An inmate at Nash Correctional Institution has died after testing positive for COVID-19. The man was in his early-70s with pre-existing medical conditions. He tested positive for the coronavirus last week and died Monday. At least 46 state inmates have now died from COVID-19. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:25 a.m. - WakeMed hospitals are starting to perform more in-patient surgeries now that there's more room. The hospitals had to postpone non-emergency procedures in December and January as a surge of COVID-19 patients forced them to ration the available bed space. But no operations were postponed by more than two weeks.

Dr. Chris DeRienzo is WakeMed's chief medical officer. He says, more than ever before, the health system staff has had to expand and contract services in real time during the pandemic.

“I think what we hadn't seen is just the day to day degree of management that folks like our capacity management team have had to do,” DeRienzo said. “The skills that they've learned and the rigor around those operations are something that will absolutely carry through during this next period and beyond."

The number of COVID-19 patients at WakeMed hospitals has gone down by more than 60% since last month. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:15 a.m. - In Orange County, the population of inmates in jail awaiting trial is down 40%. That's largely because judges are relying less on cash bail as a way to keep the jail population low and prevent the spread of coronavirus. Advocates say that although the new policies were motivated mostly by health concerns, this type of practice should become permanent. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - A new study from the state health department and NC Central University shows providing communities of color with better information about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and improving local access can reduce hesitancy.

NC Central researchers used in-person and mail-in surveys to reach people who are overlooked in studies that rely on phone or Internet for interviews. Deepak Kumar is the director of the study. He says they found 62% are now willing to take the vaccine compared to only 26% of those they got responses from between August and October of last year.

"Our goal is a to see as many people as possible, get vaccinated. Second, have an equitable distribution of the vaccines. So logistics should not be a problem,” Kumar said.

Kumar says the state will use the data they've collected to develop a new communications and distribution strategy regarding the vaccine. - Naomi Prioleau, WUNC

Feb. 15, 2021

6:05 p.m. - During the pandemic, judges in Orange County have relied less on cash bail. This has reduced the number of people in jail awaiting trial – and reducing the jail population is something that has been shown to limit the spread of coronavirus. Advocates for bail reform say these new policies should be used as a model even after the pandemic ends. Kimberly Brewer leads the Orange County Bail/Bond Justice Project, which advocates for what she calls fairer pre-trial policies. 

"Let that person go home and wait for their trial instead of sitting in jail. That is often less expensive than jailing someone. So there's an economics reason and a justice reason as well," said Brewer.

The Orange County jail population is down about 40% from pre-pandemic levels. Brewer says that the numbers hit an artificial low at the height of the lockdowns for COVID as law enforcement interacted with fewer people. The jail population has begun to tick back up in recent months. – Jason deBruyn, WUNC
3 p.m. - A new High Point University poll has found that 3 out of 10 North Carolinians say they will not get a COVID-19 vaccination. This figure is down slightly from a similar High Point poll from November. There was a big difference, however. Many who were unsure last fall, are now sure they will get the vaccine — or have already received it.

These trends match similar findings from Elon University polls. – Jason deBruyn, WUNC

2:50 p.m. - Twitter was peppered with tongue-in-cheek responses today, after the UNC Men's Basketball Team posted it was looking for an opponent this week. The schedule opened up after a game against Virginia Tech was postponed due a positive COVID test within the Hokies' program. At 12-and-7 overall, the Tar Heels could use a few more wins to bolster their tournament resume. – Jason deBruyn, WUNC

2:40 p.m. - Basketball legend Michael Jordan is donating $10 million for Novant Health to launch two medical clinics in under-served communities near his hometown. The health system says the clinics are set to open in New Hanover County in early 2022. Jordan previously gave $7 million for clinics in Charlotte that opened in the past two years. Jordan grew up in Wilmington before going on to play at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and later winning six championships with the Chicago Bulls in the NBA. — Amy Jeffries, WUNC

2:30 p.m. - The number of COVID-19 patients at WakeMed hospitals has dropped by more than 60% since last month's peak. Now that the hospitals have more capacity, they're expanding operations to focus on other patient needs again. WakeMed's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Chris DeRienzo says that includes performing more surgeries that require in-patient bed space. In December and January, a team of surgeons, nurses and administrators had to decide which procedures to delay.

"To have a surgical task force in a leadership meeting every single day to look at the schedule and try to get as purposeful as we could possibly be to fit in opportunity to care for the highest number of people every day was not something I've ever really seen in my career before," said DeRienzo.
DeRienzo says no surgery was postponed by more than two weeks. Today, the state health department reported about 1,900 people statewide are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 — the fewest since November. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC
11:31 a.m. - In men's college basketball, North Carolina's game against Virginia Tech has been postponed. The game was originally scheduled for tomorrow in Chapel Hill. Virginia Tech is having COVID-19 issues within its basketball program. Because of this disruption, the Tar Heels put a call out on Twitter saying they're now looking for an opponent to play this week at home. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:57 a.m. - A Fayetteville City Council member has tested positive for COVID-19. The city is not identifying which member tested positive, citing medical privacy laws. This person attended a meeting on Feb. 5 with city and federal officials. The city says everyone who has been in contact with this member has been notified. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:20 a.m. - An inmate at the Craggy Correctional Center has died after testing positive for COVID-19. The man was in his mid-70s and had underlying health conditions. He died Saturday at Central Prison after hospitalizations. At least 45 state inmates have now died from COVID-19. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:35 a.m. - On Sunday, the state department of health and human services reported less than 2,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations for the first time since November. Over the past week, about 7.3% of coronavirus tests have come back positive. That's getting closer to the state's goal of a 5% test positivity rate. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - The head of North Carolina's judicial system has extended COVID-19 restrictions in state courtrooms for another month. Chief Justice Paul Newby is requiring remote court proceedings in most cases and electronic document filing through at least March 14. The order also allows for extended filing deadlines among other measures. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7: 10 a.m. - The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association is asking the General Assembly for $300 million in pandemic relief for the industry. The association says that money should go directly to restaurants, bars, and hotels that have experienced a decline in revenue of at least 15%. The funds could be used for expenses like rent or payroll not already covered by other pandemic relief grants or forgivable loans like those from the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

Association president Lynn Minges says the aid should be distributed proportionately, based on how big a hit a business has taken.

“If a business is down slightly they would receive a smaller percentage because their sales and the amount of decline would be significantly less then say a larger hotel who could be down millions of dollars,” Minges said.

According to the state Department of Revenue, the hospitality industry in North Carolina lost about $4.2 billion between March and November of 2020. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - State lawmakers could give final legislative approval as soon as Monday evening to a bill that would require school districts to offer in-person instruction to all students. Only about 10% of the state's 115 districts had planned to stay all-remote for the rest of this school year.

This bill would give districts, like Durham Public Schools, no choice but to allow some students in classrooms. It would also prevent Gov. Roy Cooper from telling schools to close if the outbreak in the state intensifies again. Just since the bill has been introduced and Cooper reached out to districts, some of the state's largest districts announced they were accelerating their plans to bring more students back. - Cole del Charco, 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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