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LATEST NEWS AND UPDATES ON THE PANDEMIC

Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of March 8

Gov. Roy Cooper got his COVID-19 vaccine shot on March 3, 2021.
Robert Willett
/
The News & Observer, via GOVERNOR.NC.GOV
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper receives the COVID-19 vaccine from Carolyn Knaup, RN, at WakeMed on Wednesday, March 3, 2021 in Raleigh, N.C. Cooper received the Pfizer vaccine.

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 March 1.


March 12, 2021

7:30 p.m. - The latest school reopening requirements signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper yesterday have some school districts scrambling to adhere to new guidelines. The law requires elementary schools to reopen to full-time in-person instruction within three weeks. Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras says her district's current plans already meet the requirements. But she says getting schools ready to reopen in-person was a huge undertaking.

"It took months. And we still struggled. We're struggling with transportation still. We planned for the moves of furniture pretty early on, so that was taken care of but we still had to go into every single building," said Contreras.

Other districts, including Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, will have to scrap their plans to reopen elementary schools in a hybrid model and quickly develop new ones. Just a month ago, a few districts in the state were preparing to be in remote instruction all school year. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

4:40 p.m. - For the second day in a row, North Carolina has posted a COVID-19 test positivity rate below 4%. The rate has hovered near or below the state's 5% target since the start of this month. Fewer than 2,000 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported since yesterday. And just over one thousand people remain in North Carolina hospitals with the illness as pandemic metrics in the state continue to improve overall. – Amy Jeffries, WUNC

4:30 p.m. - The advocacy group Siembra NC has begun going door-to-door in Latino neighborhoods to share information about COVID-19 vaccines. The group recently conducted a survey of 800 people in 13 North Carolina counties and found that 70% of Hispanic respondents did not know where or how to get a shot. Laura Garduno Garcia is a community organizer with Siembra NC who led the door-knocking effort in Durham today.

"We know that on-on-one conversations with people in the community where they feel comfortable are going to be most effective in making sure that people have the information to access the vaccine appointments that are available in their community," said Laura Garduno Garcia, a community organizer with Siembra NC who led the door-knocking effort in Durham today.

Garduno Garcia said the group has also worked to dispel misinformation about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. The group has plans to canvass neighborhoods in four counties to reach up to 6,000 people. Hispanic people are under-represented among those who have received vaccines in North Carolina so far. – Amy Jeffries, WUNC

4:20 p.m. - North Carolina's match-up tonight with Florida State will be the only semifinal game in the ACC men's basketball tournament. The semifinal between Georgia Tech and top-seeded Virginia has been canceled following a positive COVID-19 test that's forced the Cavaliers into quarantining and contact tracing protocols. The cancellation comes one day after Duke withdrew from the tournament and ended its season because of its own positive test. – Amy Jeffries, WUNC

4:10 p.m. - Some elementary school students in Durham will be returning to classrooms Monday for the first time in a year. Durham Public Schools had planned to stick with remote learning through this spring but changed course as lawmakers pressed for all districts to get back to in-person instruction. Superintendent Pascal Mubenga, told school board members earlier this week that the district is doing everything it can to be safe.

"This comes with a lot of mixed emotions, but I'll promise this to our community: We are working really hard, and we will be ready for Monday," said Mubenga.

The district is following standard precautions, like requiring masks, cleaning, and arranging classrooms for spacing. Durham is also partnering with a lab company for rapid coronavirus testing of students and staff with funding from the state. Students in grades K-5 will have in-person learning four days a week. Middle and high school students will begin a return next month. – Amy Jeffries, WUNC

4 p.m. - North Carolina is making another wave of people eligible for COVID-19 vaccines next Wednesday. State officials say people in Group 4 with underlying health issues like cancer or obesity should be able to start getting shots then. But some providers are forging ahead earlier. Johnston County included those in Group 4 when it announced this morning it was offering doses of the Moderna vaccine on a first-come, first-served basis at a drive-thru event this afternoon. Within hours the clinic had reached capacity. – Amy Jeffries, WUNC

1:43 p.m. - The ACC has called off a second men's basketball tournament game due to COVID issues. Duke was already knocked out of the tournament and its season ended by a positive test within the program. Now quarantine and contact tracing protocols have ousted top-seeded Virginia too. ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips said in a statement that he is "heartbroken" for the student-athletes, coaches, and staff. With the semifinal game with the Cavaliers canceled, Georgia Tech advances to the championship. The Yellow Jackets will face the winner of Friday’s match-up between North Carolina and Florida State at the Greensboro Coliseum. – Amy Jeffries, WUNC

7:25 a.m. - Passenger trains in the state will be offering full service again for the first time since the pandemic began on April 5. The Raleigh News & Observer reports, Amtrak and the NC Department of Transportation will resume the third of the passenger daily round trips of the Piedmont train between Raleigh and Charlotte. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

7:15 a.m. - North Carolina A&T’s men’s basketball team has dropped out of the MEAC tournament because of a positive COVID-19 test, and the Aggies season is over. The team was scheduled to play Friday and was favored in the conference tournament, with a spot to the NCAA tournament on the line. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

7:10 a.m. - Governor Roy Cooper has signed into law that more North Carolina K-12 students will be allowed to attend class in person five days a week. By April, every school district will have to offer daily in-person instruction to all students in elementary school. The law also allows middle and high schools to have daily in-person instruction without requiring six feet of social distancing, as has been the case. Cooper had vetoed a previous version of the bill, but members of the General Assembly and Cooper negotiated to find a version they could agree on. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - President Joe Biden isn't the only chief executive to sign major COVID-19 relief legislation this week. Governor Roy Cooper put his signature on a bi-partisan bill that will allocate more than $1.5 billion in federal assistance across North Carolina.

The state legislature unanimously approved the bill and sent it to the governor last week, and Cooper signed it into law Thursday. The measure earmarks more than $290 million for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund and more than $12 million for emergency food assistance. The package allots money for elementary, middle and high schools and more than $500 million for rental assistance. In a statement, Cooper said the measure would bring needed relief to people who are struggling amid the pandemic but he wants lawmakers to look for ways to more quickly deliver help to people who can't pay rent. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

March 11, 2021

7:10 p.m. - The state is expanding eligibility for vaccines to people with medical conditions that put them at high risk from COVID-19 on March 17, a week sooner than previously planned. People living in congregate settings such as prisons and homeless shelters will also become eligible then. Top health officials say they want available doses to be used up as quickly as possible. Proceeding to Group 4 is an effort to keep demand ahead of supply. North Carolina will open up vaccinations to the rest of Group 4 – including more essential workers and students living in dorms – on April 7. – Will Michaels, WUNC

7 p.m. - A spike in COVID-19 cases at Duke University has led administrators to raise the possibility of instituting a curfew and halting in-person classes. Duke has been lauded as the model for how a college campus can keep the coronavirus under control. But even testing undergraduate students multiple times a week hasn't been enough to completely stop the spread this spring. University officials say they had a record high of more than 30 positive cases in one day this Tuesday, and more than 100 since last Friday. The university says male first-year students and others affiliated with the Greek System account for the majority of the cases. And they are reminding students that in-person rush events are not allowed.

A positive coronavirus test has forced the men's basketball team to drop out of the ACC tournament. Until now, the team hadn't had a case all season. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

6:50 p.m. - Governor Roy Cooper has signed a COVID-19 relief package into law. The spending measure allocates more than $1.5 billion federal dollars to address needs across the state including higher education, emergency food assistance, and COVID-19 prevention and testing. The governor did say the measure would provide needed relief for people who have been struggling but he would like lawmakers to look at possible changes to accelerate delivery of rental assistance. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

6:40 p.m. - North Carolina is making more medically vulnerable residents eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine starting March 17, a week ahead of schedule. Anyone over age 16 with any of 18 conditions outlined by the state will be able to get a shot. That list includes smokers. State officials say providers won't be asking for proof. North Carolina has been mocked for calling anyone who's smoked 100 cigarettes in their lifetime a "smoker," but Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen says that's enough to put someone at serious risk if they get COVID-19.

"Even being a smoker for a short period of time in your life can do underlying damage to your lungs. And again, this is a disease that can impact inflammation in your lungs," said Cohen.

Starting April 7, the state will open up eligibility to more workers who have not yet been vaccinated – people with jobs in public works, housing, financial services, and several other essential sectors. – Amy Jeffries, WUNC

1:04 p.m. - Positive tests for COVID-19 in North Carolina have hit their lowest mark since tracking started a few weeks after the pandemic hit the state. The state health department's latest data show a positivity test rate of 3.8%. Gov. Roy Cooper and state health leaders have hinted they might consider moving up the eligibility date for the next phase of people who can get vaccinated against COVID-19. Group 4 is currently set to be eligible on March 24. The group includes anyone with medical conditions the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies as increasing risk for severe illness. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

12:25 p.m. - Governor Roy Cooper will soon get to sign legislation aimed at getting more North Carolina public school students back into their classrooms. On Thursday, the Republican-controlled General Assembly gave final approval to a fast-tracked bill. It requires in-person learning plans for all elementary schools, and lets middle and high schools offer both in-person and hybrid options that include remote learning. The bi-partisan effort is a stunning turnaround from less than two weeks ago when the Democratic governor vetoed an earlier bill that would have made it harder for school districts to shut down in case of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Cooper hailed the compromise deal at a joint news conference with Republican and Democratic lawmakers Wednesday.

“Coming to agreement after acrimony isn't always easy, but it's the right thing to do for North Carolina,” Cooper said.

Cooper said he plans to sign the new bill into law by the end of this week. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

8:05 a.m. - Governor Roy Cooper and state health leaders have hinted that they might consider bumping up the date for the next phase of people eligible to get the vaccine. An announcement could come at 3 p.m. Thursday afternoon, when Cooper will deliver an update on the COVID-19 pandemic. Group 4 is currently set to be eligible on March 24. The group includes anyone with medical conditions the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies as increasing risk for severe illness. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

7:50 a.m. - A pharmaceutical facility in Durham will be part of producing more of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. The Raleigh News & Observer reports that Merck will get more than $100 million from the federal government to alter the facility. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

7:35 a.m. - Political leaders from both parties are hailing a plan to increase the number of North Carolina public school students getting in-person instruction. The bi-partisan measure is on a fast-track at the state Legislature just a couple of weeks after Governor Roy Cooper vetoed another mostly GOP-backed school reopening bill. Cooper criticized that measure for not giving middle and high schools the flexibility to offer full-time in person instruction OR a mix of in-person and remote learning. The Democratic governor also wanted it to be easier for school districts to shut down in case of a COVID-19 outbreak. Republican Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said at a joint news conference Wednesday the new legislation provides all that.

“The governor will be given the authority to order a closure, restriction or reduction of operations within schools but must only do so on a district-by-district basis,” Berger said.

The Senate passed the bill unanimously yesterday, and the House is expected to vote on it Thursday. Cooper said he hopes to sign the new bill into law by week's end. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - North Carolina Central University is now hosting a COVID-19 vaccination site for eligible people in Groups 1-3 on the state's priority list.

Tschanna Crenshaw of Durham is an essential worker who works in healthcare and real estate who came to get her shot. After Crenshaw signed up her mother was convinced to join her. Her mother was persuaded by the fact that the university site was offering the Johnson & Johnson “one shot” vaccine.

“That was the one thing she asked, was it the one-and-done? Because she's too scared to come back and get it twice, so I'm so thankful that it is,” Crenshaw said. “But I didn't have a preference actually. So it didn't matter to me. I'm glad it's just one shot. So I feel very blessed to have this opportunity.”

The vaccine clinic at NC Central is administering 700 doses this week and will have more appointments available in the weeks to come. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

7:10 a.m. - A Latino advocacy group says local health providers should offer more assistance to Spanish-speaking residents who want a COVID-19 vaccine. The group Siembra NC surveyed more than 800 Hispanic residents in 13 counties. More than 70% of respondents said they did not know how or where to get a shot. Siembra NC executive director Kelly Morales says the survey also found that most respondents would prefer to make an appointment by phone.

“I think overall the main takeaway here is that there's not a consistency throughout the different health departments,” Morales said. “There's not a consistency that there is going to be an option where a Spanish-speaking person can call and make an appointment.”

Nearly half of respondents also reported some level of doubt about how effective the vaccines are. Morales says county health departments should invest more in vaccine education programs. – Will Michaels, WUNC

March 10, 2021

4:40 p.m. - Governor Roy Cooper and leaders in the legislature say they've come to an agreement on how to open more schools to daily in-person learning. The bill requires all K-5 schools to hold classes five days a week with no need for physical distancing. Middle and high schools will have the option to limit in-person learning to a few days a week. Cooper says he plans to sign the bill once the state House and Senate pass it. – Will Michaels, WUNC

4:30 p.m. - Republicans in the North Carolina House want to revise state laws that have allowed Democratic Governor Roy Cooper to place restrictions on businesses, schools and activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their proposed legislation would clarify that orders a governor issues under a state of emergency need the approval of a majority of the Council of State to remain in effect. Lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully to overturn portions of Cooper’s pandemic orders. Cooper has vetoed a number of those measures and defended his actions in the name of public health. – Amy Jeffries, WUNC

4:20 p.m. - A survey conducted by a Latino advocacy group shows a vast majority of Hispanic North Carolinians aren't sure how to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The group Siembra NC polled more than 800 people in 13 counties. More than 70% of respondents said they did not know how or where to get vaccinated. Siembra NC Executive Director Kelly Morales says the survey shows the need for local health providers to offer Spanish-language interpretation.

"Every county should have an option where people can call in and make their appointment in Spanish. And another gap is the online platform; a grand majority of them are not even in Spanish," said Morales.

More than half of the people who responded to the survey said they would prefer to make an appointment by phone. Larger counties in the Triangle such as Wake, Durham, and Orange have Spanish-language options to make appointments, but some smaller providers do not. – Will Michaels, WUNC

4:10 p.m. - FEMA has opened a facility in Greensboro that can vaccinate about 3,000 people per day against COVID-19. The site will operate for the next eight weeks and will provide drive-thru and walk-in appointments. Governor Roy Cooper's office says the federal government is directly supplying the facility, and its doses will not come out of the state's weekly allotment. – Will Michaels, WUNC

4 p.m. - North Carolina Central University is hosting a community vaccination site that is administering 700 doses of the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine this week. Mari Ross-Alexander, assistant vice chancellor for Student Health & Wellness at NCCU, says the university wanted to have the clinic up and ready for when students can begin getting shots.

"Selfishly, we're trying to get to Group 5," she said. "And so the only way we can get to Group 5 is to make sure Groups 1 through 4 get vaccinated. So it's in our best interest to make sure our community gets vaccinated."

The university will announce Friday on its website when the next clinic dates will be and how many people can sign up. Their capacity will be based on when and what vaccine is distributed by the state. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

3:50 p.m. - High school students at Winston-Salem Forsyth County schools will have more in-person learning time after a change in the school's hybrid learning model. Last night the school board approved the superintendent's recommendation to have two cohorts of students rotating into buildings instead of four. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

7:25 a.m. - Duke University is pausing its spring football practice due to a cluster of COVID-19 cases. The university announced Tuesday that 10 students who attended team activities together are in isolation. All team activities are paused indefinitely. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

7:15 a.m. - Some North Carolina Republican legislators want to change state laws that allowed Democratic Governor Roy Cooper to enact strong restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. House Republicans scheduled a news conference today to talk about their proposal involving the state Emergency Management Act. Today is the one-year anniversary of Cooper issuing his first executive order related to the coronavirus. Lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully to overturn portions of Cooper’s orders with legislation. Cooper vetoed many of those bills. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

7:10 a.m. - Fourth and fifth graders in Wake County Public Schools will return to in-person classes 5 days a week beginning next Monday. The Wake County School Board voted last night to switch older elementary students from a hybrid schedule to full-time in-person classes, like younger students. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - The state may not get more of the new single-dose Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for a few weeks, but the supply of the other vaccines is improving.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state secretary of health, says North Carolina’s weekly allocation of the Pfizer vaccine is expected to increase. And there will be other additions, with a massive federally-run vaccination center opening Wednesday in Greensboro, and vaccine being distributed to some drug stores.

“So we are seeing supplies continue to improve, which is why we’re going to continue to monitor how quickly we can move to group four,” Cohen said.

That next group of North Carolinians on the state's priority list for inoculation includes those with underlying health conditions and the homeless. Cohen says they should be cleared for vaccination by at least March 24, and perhaps sooner. – Jay Price, WUNC

6:55 a.m. - Getting outside during the COVID-19 pandemic has improved teenagers' mental health. That's according to a new study from researchers at N.C. State University. Outdoor activity has helped teenagers maintain their mental health during a difficult time.

Brent Jackson was a lead researcher on a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Jackson says while the finding might sound obvious, it really is that simple.

“Youth that were able to continue to participate in these outdoor and nature-based activity actually had higher levels of mental well-being than youth that weren't able to continue participating,” Jackson said.

Even people who had regularly participated in outdoor activities before the pandemic hit, then had to stop, still had a buffer against mental health issues. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

6:50 a.m. - North Carolina's first FEMA-supported mass COVID-19 vaccination center in Greensboro had a dry run Tuesday. Wednesday, it opens at the Four Seasons Town Centre with both indoor and drive-thru clinics. North Carolina Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry says the biggest challenge will be preventing burnout with 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. hours of operation seven days a week, but enthusiasm is running high.

“They are stoked. We’re stoked. I mean, really, if you think about it, this is the best mission ever,” Sprayberry said. “We’re going to be saving lives here, right? And 3,000 shots a day, that’s fantastic. And so, we have this young captain here and she’s going to make it happen. She’s going to get it done, and so, with all of the rest of her airman, and so, very excited."

That captain is one of hundreds of workers from the U.S. Air Force, the National Guard, along with city, state, and private sector volunteers who will run the center. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

March 9, 2021

6:20 p.m. - The Triangle has another new location to get vaccinated against COVID-19. A clinic at North Carolina Central University in Durham began giving its first shots today to individuals from the campus and surrounding communities. Appointments for the first three days filled quickly, and registration for the next round is expected to begin soon. More information is available on the NC Central website. - Jay Price, WUNC

6:10 p.m. - Gov. Cooper is touting that more than a million North Carolinians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19

"With almost 8 million adults in our state, there's more work to do. But this is a huge milestone. This puts us even closer to a time when we can hug our loved ones and gather without fear of severe illness," said Cooper.

At an afternoon news conference, state leaders also said they've made progress in improving vaccination rates among the Black and Latino populations, which have been lagging. State Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen says last week about 7% of those vaccinated were Latino. Latinos make up about 9% of the state's total population. - Jay Price, WUNC

6 p.m. - Tyson Foods is vaccinating thousands of frontline workers at some of its plants across the country. That includes its large chicken processing complex in Wilkesboro.

The vaccines are being provided in conjunction with Matrix Medical and local health departments. Tyson spokesman Derek Burleson says the vaccine will be provided at no cost to employees.

“It’s not mandatory. We are not forcing team members to become vaccinated, but we are encouraging them to do it and we are spending a lot of time educating them with really expert third party materials from Matrix Medical, the CDC," said Burleson.

The company says nearly 10,000 of its U.S. employees have recently been vaccinated either at onsite events or through an external source. In Wilkes County, the Tyson plant employs around 3,000 people. - Keri Brown, WFDD

5:50 p.m. - There may not be more shipments of the new Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine that just arrived in North Carolina until the end of the month. But Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state secretary of health, says larger amounts of the other two COVID-19 vaccines will more than offset that shortage. That means plans are still on track to open vaccinations to the next group of North Carolinians by March 24, or possibly sooner. That next group includes those with underlying health conditions and the homeless.

Cohen herself got one of the initial doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. She says a significant boost in the supply of that vaccine is expected this spring. - Jay Price, WUNC

5:40 p.m. - Governor Roy Cooper and state Senate Leader Phil Berger are working on a deal to get more K-12 public schools reopened for in-person instruction. The pending agreement could end a fight over how best to get kids back into classrooms. Republicans want middle schools and high schools reopened with daily instruction available. The Democratic governor wants local school boards to have flexibility to adjust their plans in the event of a COVID-19 resurgence.

Word of negotiations came today as House Republicans advanced legislation pertaining to more than a dozen districts that wouldn't be subject to Cooper's veto. – Amy Jeffries, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - A group of state senators are reviving a bill they filed last year to make sure patients are able to have at least one visitor. The NC Insider reports, that comes even after most hospitals and healthcare facilities in the state have relaxed visitor restrictions they implemented because of COVID-19. The senate bill cites bans on visitors that occurred over the last year and says many patients without the coronavirus were forced to be alone during treatments for serious conditions. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - The State Legislature approved more rental and utility assistance last week in the latest pandemic relief package. Some advocates worry it still won't be enough.

It's a half-a-billion dollars aimed at averting evictions just as state and federal moratoriums are due to expire. But it comes with some red tape that advocates worry will slow the process of getting relief to renters. It also uses a new formula for allocating funding by county. Pamela Atwood with the North Carolina Housing Coalition says the need is never perfectly proportionate.

"Could have a situation where funds are depleted in a county with high need, while there's a county with low need that just has funds sitting and waiting. So it's a pretty inefficient use of the funds,” Atwood said.

The $117 million in the last round of rental and utility assistance was claimed by more than 40,000 renters in a matter of weeks last fall. - Jason deBruyn, WUNC

March 8, 2021

4:05 p.m. - Lee County announced it would plow ahead and today opened up registration for COVID-19 vaccines to people in Group 4 on the priority list — that's those at high risk of exposure or severe illness from the coronavirus. Calls almost immediately overwhelmed the county phone system. And the county has now suspended registrations until further notice, citing a limited supply of vaccines. The state is currently targeting frontline essential workers and people over 65. In the state’s plan, people in Group 4 should be able to get vaccinated beginning on March 24. – Amy Jeffries, WUNC

3:50 p.m. - North Carolina is now down to fewer than one positive result for every 20 coronavirus tests. That puts the rolling weekly average below the state's five percent target for the first time since it began tracking the metric nearly a year ago. At the same time, more than 1 million people in North Carolina have now been fully vaccinated. – Jason deBruyn, WUNC

11:36 a.m. - Enrollment across the North Carolina Community College System was down by about 7% this past fall compared to 2019. That's according to new data from the System office. System President Thomas Stith says that trend is typical of community colleges during the pandemic, but historically, their enrollment has increased during periods of high unemployment.

“This was very different. No one in our lifetime, has had to work through a global pandemic,” Stith said. “And that's what we're faced with now. But as we see the economy starting to reopen, we're seeing that return to our classes across the state.”

Community college enrollment was stronger in North Carolina compared to the national average. The greatest drops in enrollment in North Carolina were among Black and Hispanic males, older students, and those studying hands-on fields like horticulture and automotive repair. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

10:07 a.m. - A North Carolina government agency helping distribute economic aid is unhappy with language in a coronavirus relief bill now on Governor Roy Cooper's desk. The General Assembly passed legislation unanimously Thursday that distributes another $1.7 billion dollars in federal assistance. It also makes changes to how previously allotted funds should be spent. The Office of Recovery and Resiliency is worried new restrictions would make it harder to get rent and utility aid out quickly. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - North Carolina's COVID-19 case count and hospitalizations have continued on a downward trend. Fewer than 1,200 people were hospitalized on Friday and 2,027 new cases were reported on Saturday, according to the state dashboard. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

6:50 a.m. - Republican lawmakers in the North Carolina General Assembly are backing veto-proof legislation that would mandate a return to in-person learning for some public school districts across the state. The bill going before the House Education Committee this week would require K-12 schools in five districts to provide full-time in-person learning under 'Plan A'. All of the districts have already resumed at least some in-person learning under a hybrid model.

Greg Guthrie is principal at Atlantic Elementary in Carteret County, which is covered by the proposed bill. Atlantic has had most of its students back in classrooms since October and Guthrie says they've coped well with COVID-19 health protocols.

“You know it's not easy wearing a mask all day long in the classrooms,” Guthrie said.

As a local bill affecting fewer than 15 counties, the legislation would not subject to veto. The Republican-controlled legislature recently failed to override Governor Roy Cooper's veto of a bill to mandate in-person learning statewide. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

6:40 a.m. - A Superior Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by parents in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools who want in-person learning for their students. The Charlotte Observer reports that parents filed the lawsuit in September. They argued that remote learning is particularly difficult for special education students and those without computers. Judge Karen Eady-Williams ruled Friday that the parents failed to show how virtual learning hurt their children’s education. Students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools returned to in-person learning on a limited basis last month. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC


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

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