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Health
LATEST NEWS AND UPDATES ON THE PANDEMIC

Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of Feb. 22

COVID-19 vaccine dose drawn from a vial at WakeMed Health.
WakeMed 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 Feb. 15.

Feb. 26, 2021

6 p.m. - Governor Roy Cooper has vetoed legislation that would have forced North Carolina school districts to offer in-person instruction for the rest of this school year. Cooper has expressed concerns the measure could compromise safety for students and teachers and stifle the ability of local school boards to open and close schools based on cornonavirus spread. The bill could still become law if enough of the handful of Democrats who joined the Republican majority in supporting the bill decide to override the governor's veto.  - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

4:10 p.m. - Tonight bar-goers can drink inside for the first time in months. Gov. Roy Cooper has eased several restrictions on businesses and public gatherings after a significant drop in coronavirus infections in recent weeks. Bars had only been allowed to serve alcohol in outdoor spaces, but now can have 30% of their normal capacity inside. And the hours allowed for serving alcohol at bars and restaurants has been extended. Last call was 9 p.m., it's been moved to 11 p.m. 

Dozens of bars and restaurants across the state have closed permanently since the first restrictions went into place last March. – Amy Jeffries and Will Michaels, WUNC

12:56 p.m. - Cone Health is closing its hospital dedicated to treating COVID-19 patients. The former women's hospital in Greensboro opened for COVID patients last April. With cases and hospitalizations declining, it will close March 5. On Friday, there were only about 30 patients left in the clinic. That's down from an all-time high of almost 220 patients during the second week of January.

Cone Health's Chief Operating Officer Doctor Mary Jo Cagle says having this facility gave them time and space to figure out how to care for COVID patients.

“What we've done now is taken that learning and been able to spread it across all of our hospitals,” Cagle said. “And design special COVID units in all of our hospitals."

The hospital building will now be used as a COVID-19 testing site and as an antibody infusion clinic. Cagle warns that everyone still needs to wash their hands, wear a mask and practice social distancing to keep cases down. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

12:10 p.m. - A federally supported COVID-19 vaccination center will open in Greensboro on March 10. The center will open for eight weeks at the Four Seasons Town Centre. The site will operate seven days a week and provide up to 3,000 vaccinations a day. The federal government will provide the center’s vaccine supply. This will be in addition to North Carolina’s weekly allotment from the CDC. Federal officials chose to locate the vaccination center in Guilford County because they said there's a large underserved population in the area. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:25 a.m. – UNC-Chapel Hill plans to allow a limited number of fans to attend home sports games starting this weekend. The Tar Heels men's basketball team has two home games left this season, including their match against Duke. For these games, 75% of available tickets will be reserved for students. Other tickets will go to the families of players, health care workers and donors. No tickets will be available for sale. Tickets are on sale for men's and women's lacrosse games and U-N-C's baseball game against Virginia tomorrow. More tickets go on sale next week. Fans have to sit at least six feet apart and wear masks. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - Bar owners whose businesses were impacted by COVID-19 restrictions can now defer permitting fees to the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission until they are allowed to fully resume operations.

A new bill Governor Roy Cooper signed into law yesterday allows this extension. The measure also allows businesses with ABC permits whose operations were impacted by pandemic restrictions to request a refund for any fees they paid last year. Payment deferrals on registrations and renewals will remain in place until Cooper's directives limiting operations expire or are rescinded. Once the restrictions are lifted, owners would have 90 days to pay the fees. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

6:55 a.m. - Charlotte will host the 2021 ACC Baseball Championship this May. The city was originally supposed to host the tournament last year, but that event was canceled because of the pandemic. The ACC Baseball Championship has been held in the Charlotte region twice before at Fort Mill, South Carolina in 2000 and 2001. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Feb. 25, 2021

3 p.m. - Gov. Roy Cooper's latest COVID-19 related executive order will allow for larger gatherings at indoor facilities. If health guidelines are followed, facilities with over 5,000 seats can operate at 15% capacity. That paves the way for professional sports teams like the Carolina Hurricanes and the Charlotte Hornets to let in about 3,000 fans to games. Smaller sports facilities, bars and movie theaters can operate at 30% capacity, up to 250 people. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

2:50 p.m. - The state Department of Health and Human Services is reporting 1,498 COVID-19 hospitalizations – the fewest in months. Today is the 10th consecutive day of declining hospitalization numbers. Over the past week, 6% of coronavirus tests have come back positive. That's very close to the state's goal of 5% or less. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:07 a.m. - Buildings at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh now have bi-polar ionization air purification equipment installed. The upgrade comes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The equipment, which is integrated into the air conditioning system, inactivates viruses and removes other contaminants.

"Certainly will be a help in filtering COVID-19 from the air, but it also filters other viruses or contaminants, such as seasonal flu,” said Ken Yelverton, the North Carolina State Fair manager.

The equipment was installed late last year in seven buildings that can support the system. The effort cost about $400,000 and was covered by federal COVID-19 relief funds. State agriculture commissioner Steve Troxler insists there will be a State Fair in Raleigh this fall. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:27 a.m. - The Raleigh Convention Center is hosting a youth volleyball tournament this weekend. It will be the first major event at the venue since the facility closed last year because of the pandemic. Everyone entering the building must complete a temperate check and wear a mask, even while playing. Occupancy in the center will also be significantly lowered to only 10% capacity. The tournament is projected to generate more than $2 million for Wake County. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - A more contagious variant of COVID-19 that originated from the U-K has been identified in Forsyth County. The resident diagnosed with the variant is in isolation. The Forsyth County Health Department is beginning contact tracing. At least 40 cases of this variant has been found in North Carolina. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

6:55 a.m. - The state House has unanimously passed a bill that would require every school district to provide in-person summer learning for students who've fallen behind during the pandemic. The bipartisan measure calls for roughly six weeks of instructional time. Most districts have already been planning to have summer learning programs. The bill now heads to the state Senate. – Will Michaels, WUNC

Feb. 24, 2021

4:30 p.m. - North Carolina's agriculture commissioner says there will be a State Fair in Raleigh this fall. Commissioner Steve Troxler is encouraging people to go get vaccinated against COVID-19 to ensure a safe event and possibly record attendance. Troxler says plans are not only underway bring back the State Fair in October, but also to hold the Mountain State Fair in Fletcher in September. The State Fairgrounds lost more than $9 million in revenue in the past year because of the cancellation of events, including both fairs. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

4:20 p.m. - The state health department says North Carolina's COVID-19 trends are promising enough to lift some pandemic restrictions. Governor Roy Cooper has issued an executive order that ends a nightly curfew, starting Friday. It also raises limits on indoor and outdoor capacity for restaurants, gyms and retail businesses among others. Bars will also be open indoors for the first time in nearly a year. In a briefing today, state Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said coronavirus infection numbers are stabilizing.

"Our cases are down, our percent positive's been down and our hospitalizations are down, so we think with those protocols in place, we think this is the right time to take this step forward. It is just a step. And again, we will watch our trends," said Cohen.

A statewide mask mandate will stay in effect. But now even large outdoor concert venues and stadiums will be allowed to operate at 30% capacity. And indoor arenas can allow spectators at up to 15% capacity.

Metrics for COVID-19 test results, new cases, and hospitalizations are all improving. Gov. Roy Cooper says that's given him confidence that restrictions can be eased safely. But he warns that mask wearing, hand washing, and social distancing is still necessary to prevent a backslide. - Will Michaels and Amy Jeffries, WUNC

4:10 p.m. - The state House has unanimously passed a bill that would require every school district to provide in-person summer learning for students who've fallen behind during the pandemic. The bipartisan measure calls for roughly six weeks of instructional time. Most districts have already been planning to have summer learning programs.  The bill now heads to the state Senate. - Will Michaels, WUNC

7:10 a.m. - Teachers and child care workers are now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines starting Wednesday. These essential workers are in Group 3 of the state's distribution plan. Because vaccine is in short supply, many teachers may find themselves waitlisted even as the state continues to vaccinate those over 65. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - Proposed legislation in the General Assembly would require every North Carolina school district to provide summer learning in-person for students who've fallen behind during the pandemic.

Most districts have already been planning to have summer learning programs.  But some teachers have other jobs and commitments lined up. Katherine Joyce is the executive director of the state association of school administrators. She says some educators are worn out with the added stress of this school year. So it may be hard to recruit for the summer.

“Many teachers just want and need a break after a grueling year of navigating both remote instruction and in-person learning,” Joyce said.

Joyce says summer programs are an important first step, but hopes the legislature will allow schools to start classes in mid-August for the coming school year, which would affect all students and not just those who opt in for the summer. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

6:55 a.m. - Senior advocates say they are encouraged by the vaccine uptake in long-term care facilities. Almost 80% of long-term care residents have received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Lisa Riegel is the manager of advocacy for AARP North Carolina. She says having seniors vaccinated will make loved ones more comfortable visiting their parents or grandparents. And that will help combat the loneliness that has impacted many long-term care residents.

"It's not even just being able to visit. It's being able to touch. Because a lot of the older adults with dementia, they don't understand not being able to touch their loved ones,” Riegel said. “Or, why are you wearing all that protective gear?"

The federal government is contracting directly with CVS and Walgreens to administer vaccines inside long term care facilities. - Jason deBruyn, WUNC

Feb. 23, 2021

6:30 p.m. - Graduating high school seniors in North Carolina left almost $110 million in federal financial aid on the table by not filling out the FAFSA in 2020. That's according to My Future NC, a nonprofit focused on educational attainment. The organization is attributing a significant drop off in FAFSA applications to the pandemic and students not being in schools where they would typically meet with counselors.

So, for the second time in the past year, My Future NC is leading an initiative to get students help from a distance. Advocacy director Chris Charbonneau says the program is offering virtual advising hours and drive-up events for students to ask questions.

"The pandemic has really limited the flow of information for many of our students and families. But it's important to know that the aid and assistance is available," said Charbonneau.

Almost 40% of seniors graduating high school this May have completed their FAFSA so far. The FAFSA application rate for the class of 2020 was about 63%. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

6:20 p.m. - A group of Republican state senators want to increase limits on spectators at outdoor high school athletic events. Their proposal would allow high school stadiums to operate at 40% capacity.  The current limit is 100 people. - Will Michaels, WUNC

6:10 p.m. - Nearly four out of five long-term care residents in North Carolina have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. And half have received both doses. That's welcome news about an especially high-risk population. While those 65 and above make up just 14% of COVID cases nationwide, they account for more than 80% of deaths.

Lisa Riegel, manager of advocacy for AARP North Carolina, says she's encouraged that more long-term care workers are taking the vaccine. There are about 150,000 long-term care residents and staff in North Carolina. Vaccines are being administered in long-term care facilities through a federal pharmacy partnership expected to continue through late April. It's separate from the state's vaccination program. - Jason deBruyn, WUNC

6 p.m. - State lawmakers are considering legislation that would require every school district to provide a summer in-person learning program this year. The goal is to help students at risk of falling behind make up for classroom time lost during the pandemic. Katherine Joyce, the executive director of the NC Association of School Administrators, says most districts had already been planning to have summer programs.

"When it comes to learning loss from COVID-19, we know that not everything can be addressed and cured in a summer learning program, but it can be a good first step," said Joyce.

Joyce says school leaders across the state are concerned about whether they'll be able to recruit enough teachers and staff to make the programs happen. In the current version of the bill, the summer educators would be classified as temporary employees and not eligible for retirement and other benefits. – Cole del Charco, WUNC
 
11:07 a.m. - A Hillsborough native and graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill was named to the Time 100 Next list. Kizzmekia Corbett is the scientific lead for a team at the National Institutes of Health that's been central to developing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
 
The country's leading expert on infectious disease Doctor Anthony Fauci says Corbett's work will have a substantial impact on ending the pandemic. The 100 Next list from Time Magazine spotlights rising stars who are shaping the future. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC
 
7:15 a.m. - Governor Roy Cooper has ordered all U.S. and North Carolina flags at state facilities to be lowered to half-staff until sunset on Friday to honor the half a million Americans who have died from COVID-19. Nearly 11,000 people in North Carolina have died from COVID-19. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC
 
7:10 a.m. - People living with intellectual and developmental disabilities are in vaccination Group 4. Advocates want to see them bumped up on the state's priority list. The state health department denied a request to move people with intellectual disabilities up, saying if they did, there would be other vulnerable populations they would need to consider reprioritizing as well.

Holly Watkins works for the advocacy organization The Arc of North Carolina. She says they will keep pushing.

She says vaccinating people with intellectual disabilities is urgent because they get infected and die from COVID-19 at higher rates. They often need in-home care from a nurse or aide, who might see multiple clients. Some have sensory disorders that make it nearly impossible to wear a mask. Or have difficulty understanding the need for hand washing or physical distancing. - Jason deBruyn, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services says it's received eight complaints about COVID-19 vaccine providers not following the rules for distribution.

The majority were related to line skipping – providers giving shots to those who don’t qualify for them under the state’s priority guidelines. At a press conference last week, Deputy Health Secretary Kody Kinsley said providers found out of compliance could face consequences.

“For those times where folks are egregiously or intentionally stepping out of the phase, we want to learn about that and hopefully work with those providers to get them back into compliance, to do the right thing,” Kinsely said. “And then we will take into account their allocations if we need to, if they continue to step out of phase unnecessarily.”

Of the eight complaints received, six were resolved through education or dismissed due to lack of evidence. Investigations are ongoing in the last two cases. - April Laissle, WFDD

Feb. 22, 2021

6:05 p.m. - Twenty-seven counties remain red on the state's alert map showing where the spread of COVID-19 is most critical. Forty counties are labeled orange with substantial spread. Thirty-three counties are yellow for significant spread. It's an indication that the outbreak metrics are continuing to improve statewide. When the health department released the previous map less than three weeks ago nearly two thirds of the state was in red. Now, the percent of coronavirus tests coming back positive has fallen to near 6%. The rolling average of new cases being reported in North Carolina each day is below 3,000, and less than 1,600 people are hospitalized with COVID-19. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

3:40 p.m. - Advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities want to see that population moved up the vaccination list, but state health leaders said late last week they will not change the  prioritization. That means this population, alongside others with underlying health conditions, will remain in Group 4. North Carolina is starting to vaccinate teachers and child care workers in Group 3 this week. Holly Watkins is the public relations manager for the advocacy group The Arc. She says her organization will try to convince Governor Roy Cooper to reconsider the health department's decision.

"People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are at an increased risk to become infected and to die from complications of COVID-19," said Watkins.

In a written response explaining the denial, Deputy Behavioral Health Secretary Dave Richard said moving one population, would mean the health department would have to reconsider all groups. - Jason deBruyn, WUNC

1:33 p.m. - Local health providers are preparing for an influx of COVID-19 vaccination requests as educators become eligible to get their shots. 

The state health department wants providers to start inoculating K-through-12 teachers, staff and child care workers this Wednesday.  In Wake County, registration opened today [MONDAY] for teachers who want to make appointments. Ryan Jury of the Wake County health department says the county's three mass vaccination sites will handle the bulk of newly eligible residents.

“Focused vaccination through onsite events and other things will be a mechanism that we use to ensure that certain communities and groups have access to vaccines, but by and large the quickest way and most efficient and effective way for us to vaccinate is through mass vaccination,” Jury said.

Those sites can now vaccinate about 4-thousand people a week.  The Wake County Public School System is the largest district in the state, and has about 20-thousand teachers and staff.  The state health department estimates there are nearly a quarter of a million school employees statewide. – Will Michaels, WUNC

7:25 a.m. - Nash and Wilson counties are each receiving $900,000 in state grants to help its citizens during the pandemic. WRAL reports Wilson County plans to use the money to improve infrastructure for senior citizens. Nash County will use most of the money to prevent evictions and utility shut offs. The county also plans to invest in Wi-Fi hot spots and public hand washing stations. These grants are part of $27 million that went out to rural communities across the state. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - The Wake County health department is opening up COVID-19 appointments for school and child care workers today. Child-care givers fall into the Group 3 category of frontline essential workers eligible for inoculation starting Wednesday. Appointments can be made online. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:15 a.m. - On Sunday the state department of health and human services reported about 1,600 COVID-19 hospitalizations - the fewest amount of hospitalizations in months. Over the past week, 6.6% of tests have come back positive. That's very close to the state's goal of 5%. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:10 a.m. - Orange County is using its emergency medical technicians to help administer COVID-19 vaccines. They've been putting shots in arms since the first doses went out in December. EMTs are usually not allowed to give vaccinations. In September the state approved the county's request to temporarily change that protocol.

Dr. Joseph Grover is the medical director for Orange County Emergency Services. He points out that EMTs already know how to administer injections. They can give patients epinephrine for anaphylaxis, or Narcan for opioid overdoses. 

“If we already teach them this skill for doing intramuscular injections, it would just be intuitive to allow them to do this in a stable, healthy patient, in contrast to the two other settings where they do intramuscular injections, which are the critical sick patients,” Grover said.

Grover says he's now working closely with state health officials on a permanent change to the rules so EMTs can continue vaccinating people in the future. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - Local health providers are catching up on COVID-19 vaccinations after last week's inclement weather and shipment delays forced them to cancel appointments.

A drive-through vaccine clinic at PNC Arena in Raleigh will administer about 1,400 vaccinations Monday.  It's a make-up day from last Thursday, when the threat of freezing rain shut it down. This site can now handle about 4,000 appointments a week, double from two weeks ago.

A Wake County spokeswoman says the local health department is still on track to use all of its first doses from last week and expects to get more than 8,000 new doses this week. The health department in Durham County had to push back nearly a week's worth of appointments.  They expect to get last week's shipment sometime this week. Durham is only getting 1,200 new doses this week. - Will Michaels, WUNC

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

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