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Health

Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of March 22

An employee of the City of Greenville receives the Johnson & Johnson vaccine shot.
Aaron Hines
/
City Of Greenville, Via Flickr
All employees of the City of Greenville, NC were eligible to begin receiving the Janssen single-dose COVID-19 vaccine at the city's mass vaccination events at Jaycee Park beginning Friday, March 5, 2021.

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 15.


March 26, 2021

6 p.m. - Wake County schools are loosening COVID-19 restrictions at mealtimes. While still encouraged, students won't be required to sit six-feet-apart. Floor seating will still be available but also not required. And students can speak to each other again while eating, though they will still be encouraged to hold conversations while masked. Parents had complained that previous restrictions were too onerous. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

5:50 p.m. - People in North Carolina can now gather in larger groups and businesses can open at greater capacity as Governor Roy Cooper's latest executive order takes effect. Bars, sports, and entertainment venues can open at 50 percent capacity. The 11 p.m. cutoff for on-site alcohol consumption is fully lifted. But the statewide mask mandate remains in place and businesses can openly open up to the extent they can provide six feet of social distancing. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

3:50 p.m. - North Carolina’s unemployment rate fell for the fifth consecutive month in February. The seasonally adjusted jobless rate was 5.7% last month, compared to 5% in January and better than the national rate for February, which was 6.2%. The state unemployment rate peaked at 13.5% percent last spring when the most severe business restrictions kicked in at the beginning of the pandemic. But North Carolina still has a ways to go to get back to pre-pandemic levels. - Associated Press

3:40 p.m. - At 5 p.m. today, some businesses, including salons and shops, can open at full capacity again - granted they have space for customers to be six feet apart. With the latest easing of pandemic restrictions announced earlier this week, Governor Roy Cooper is keeping the statewide mask mandate in place. Cooper has also loosened limits on gathering sizes to 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors. The curfew on alcohol sales is lifting. And starting this evening bars, sports arenas, and live performance venues can fill up to half capacity where spacing allows. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

3:30 p.m. - The North Carolina department of health is making in-home COVID-19 tests available to certain at-risk populations. Residents who are disabled or receiving food assistance can have a test mailed to them with instructions for using the nasal swap and prepaid shipping back to Labcorp for analysis. There are 35,000 kits available in the pilot program. - Jason deBruyn, WUNC

3:20 p.m. - The number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 in North Carolina has topped 12,000. As of today, the state health department is reporting that 12,028 people have died from the illness caused by the coronavirus. The milestone comes as the number of new cases has plateaued around 2,000 daily and hospitalizations have fallen below a thousand. Nearly 16% of the population is fully vaccinated against COVID, and Gov. Roy Cooper announced this week that all adults will be eligible to get a vaccine in the state on April 7th. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

3:10 p.m. - Elon University is the latest to announce plans for in-person graduation ceremonies this spring. Celebrations for undergraduate and graduate students in the class of 2021 will be held in multiple ceremonies on two dates in May. Elon is inviting the class of 2020 back for celebratory events in September. UNC Greensboro says it will host in-person commencements for this year's and last year's classes at Greensboro Coliseum over a Friday and Saturday in May. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

7:18 a.m. - The Wake County health department is partnering with local homeless and transition shelters to help administer COVID-19 vaccines to their clients. The county is using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because it's easier to transport and only requires one dose, which is ideal for people who may move around a lot. The county hopes to vaccinate at least 500 people at seven shelters by the end of today. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:10 a.m. - The men’s and women’s NCAA Division I soccer tournaments will be held in and around Cary this May. NCAA officials say having all the teams in one region will help minimize travel, reduce the risk of COVID-19 and centralize coronavirus testing. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - Several businesses can open up to more customers starting today at 5 p.m., including bars, restaurants and gyms. Other businesses, like museums and hair salons, can open up at full capacity both indoors and outdoors. The statewide mask mandate remains in place. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

March 25, 2021

6:10 p.m. - Twin nine-year-old girls at Duke Health in Durham have received the very first shots in a national trial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in children. In this first phase, researchers are collecting data from 48 healthy children under age 12 to evaluate tolerability and immune responses with different dosage levels. The trial testing the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine will enroll up to 4,500 children nationwide in future phases. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

4:10 p.m. - As of Thursday, the state has seen 2,112 new daily cases of coronavirus. Over 900 individuals are currently hospitalized for COVID-19 in the state and 11,987 people have died of COVID since the beginning of the pandemic. The state currently has a 4.2% positivity rate for cases, which is below the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services' goal rate of 5%.

In a media briefing Thursday, state officials announced a new "Healthier Together" partnership with the NC Counts Coalition aimed at ensuring communities of color and marginalized communities have equitable access to the vaccine. - Laura Pellicer, WUNC

4 p.m. - Gov. Roy Cooper announced an acceleration in the pace of vaccine eligibility in the state. As of April 7, all North Carolinians over the age of 16 will become eligible for the vaccine. State Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said only the Pfizer vaccine is currently authorized for emergency use for 16 and 17-year-olds.

On March 31, the state will open vaccine appointments for the remaining subgroups of Group 4. Cooper said that includes "essential workers in commercial services such as hospitality and retail, chemical and pharmaceutical facilities, construction, housing and real estate and other essential sectors."

Cooper said 4.3 million doses of COVID vaccine have been distributed in the state and almost one-third of the adult population has received at least one shot. When asked, Cohen would not specify a target for the rate of North Carolinians who must be vaccinated before the state will fully reopen. - Laura Pellicer, WUNC

12:59 p.m. - Wake County is partnering with seven local homeless and transition shelters to help administer the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to their clients. The county hopes to vaccinate at least 500 people by the end of tomorrow. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:50 a.m. - More than 1.5 million people in North Carolina have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The state Department of Health and Human Services reports that's 14.9% of the state's total population. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

9:35 a.m. - North Carolina public school districts are having trouble projecting enrollment numbers because of remote learning caused by the pandemic. Enrollment projections are the foundation for allocating teacher positions and state funds. Before the pandemic, most school districts were seeing enrollment inch down. This year, school districts saw an unusually steep enrollment drop of 5%. Kindergarten enrollment dropped 15%. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

March 24, 2021

9:42 a.m. - At least 20 cases of COVID-19 are linked to an outbreak at Duke Raleigh Hospital. The cases have been traced to a fifth floor inpatient unit for surgical and cancer patients. The majority of the people who tested positive are hospital staff members. Duke Health is continuing to search for more cases through contact tracing. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:55 a.m. - One year ago today the first person in North Carolina died from COVID-19. The person was in their 70s and had underlying health conditions. Since then, almost 12,000 people in the state have died from the coronavirus. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:48 a.m. - The state's public schools will no longer be required to do daily temperature checks and symptom screenings. The update comes along with Governor Roy Cooper's easing of some pandemic restrictions on businesses and gatherings. The state health department will still require safety protocols like masks and cleaning of high traffic areas, and will recommend schools conduct COVID-19 screening testing. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

7:21 a.m. - The COVID-19 vaccine is becoming a shot-in-the-arm for the state's largest school district and the likelihood of a successful in-person semester this spring. This comes after Wake County was hamstrung by a shortage of substitute teachers in the fall.

When Wake County Schools decided to shut down in person learning at the winter break, one of the biggest factors was teachers having to quarantine, and a shortage of subs who could take their places.

But, now two thirds of teachers in the district have or plan to soon get their first jab of a COVID-19 vaccine. The timing is good -- Wake Schools is offering daily in person learning to all students starting in April. The district hopes new rules from the CDC that vaccinated people don't need to quarantine will make a big difference. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - North Carolina has recorded nearly 900,000 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. But Governor Roy Cooper says measures of the outbreak in the state are currently stable. Positive test results have been hovering near the 5% target and fewer than a thousand people are hospitalized. So, Friday at 5 p.m. Cooper says people can have bigger gatherings and businesses can host more patrons. The early cut-off for alcohol sales will be lifted.

“The mask mandate will remain in place,” Cooper said. “It'll be as important as ever to stay socially distant and use good judgment."

Where space allows for six feet of social distancing, Cooper's updated order will allow shops, salons, and museums to return to full capacity. Venues like bars and sports arenas – which health officials consider to be riskier environments for the spread of coronavirus – can fill to half capacity both indoors and out. – Amy Jeffries, WUNC

March 23, 2021

6:50 p.m. - About two-thirds of teachers in Wake County schools say they have or will soon get a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. That's according to a survey of the nearly 20,000 teachers in the district. Among those who did respond, 16% say they don't have plans to get the vaccine yet, though teachers have been eligible since late February. Another 8% didn't want to share their information, and about 10% of district teachers didn't fill out the survey. Wake County Schools is offering daily in-person instruction for middle and high school students next month. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

2:50 p.m. - As of Friday at 5 p.m., Gov. Roy Cooper is further easing pandemic restrictions on businesses and gatherings, And last call for alcoholic beverages will go back to the regular time. Cooper says good judgment, masks, and six feet of social distancing are still required. But where space allows, the state's improving COVID-19 metrics mean that shops, salons, and museums can return to full capacity.

Restaurants, fitness centers, and amusement parks can open at 75% capacity indoors and at 100% capacity outdoors. Bars, movie theaters, and sports arenas are riskier environments for the spread of coronavirus, so they will be limited to half the normal capacity both indoors and out. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

12:19 p.m. - A top budget writer in the North Carolina state Senate has tested positive for COVID-19. A spokesman for Senate Republicans said on Tuesday that Sen. Ralph Hise of Mitchell County tested positive on Sunday and is now in isolation. The 44-year-old Hise is in his sixth term. He serves as deputy president pro tempore and is a co-chairman of both the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee. At least six North Carolina General Assembly members have acknowledged publicly since last year that they tested positive for the coronavirus. - The Associated Press

8:42 a.m. - Almost two-thirds of North Carolina voters favor keeping the statewide mask mandate, according to a newly released poll from Meredith College. Over half of respondents also favor keeping restrictions on businesses. There's a large partisan gap between these responses. Most Democrats favor keeping these rules, while most Republicans want it to stop. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:34 a.m. - A COVID-19 outbreak has been traced to Duke Raleigh Hospital. News outlets report several cases of both patients and staff were traced to the fifth floor inpatient unit. In response, Duke Health is conducting contact tracing and deep cleaning the unit. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:26 a.m. - Students in 6th through 12th grade in Johnston and Wake counties can return to daily in person learning starting next month. The boards of education for both counties approved this plan Monday night. Students will have to wear masks, practice social distancing and complete wellness checks. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - North Carolina has now distributed $94 million in rent and utility relief. The state says much of it is, as intended, benefiting the neediest families.

About two-thirds of the available money has been paid out to landlords and utility operators, and state government leaders expect the remainder to go out soon. More than 90% of renters who applied have household incomes that fall below 50% of the median in their area. That's important, says Laura Hogshead, who heads the state agency that distributes the aid.

"We found that we were serving the neediest of the needy,” Hogshead said. “And so that has informed our decisions going forward."

A second, and much larger, aid package will open up for applications in the coming weeks. The governor's office is hashing out final details with the legislature for how that money will be awarded. - Jason deBruyn, WUNC

March 22, 2021

6 p.m. - North Carolina has paid out $94 million in emergency relief to landlords and utility providers. That's about two-thirds of the available help for renters in the first round of relief. State leaders say the help has largely gone to the neediest families – those with household incomes in the lower half for their areas. A much larger aid package will open for applications in the coming weeks. - Jason de Bruyn, WUNC

5:50 p.m. - Winston-Salem-based Krispy Kreme is offering a sweet incentive for getting your COVID-19 vaccine shot. Starting today, they're offering a free original glazed doughnut to anyone who shows a valid vaccination card. Krispy Kreme has also announced it's providing employees up to four hours of paid time off to get vaccinated. Companies across the country are making similar moves to encourage workers to be inoculated against COVID. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

7:44 a.m. - Moore County has changed when it reports a death attributable to COVID-19. The move allows for more timely reporting. Now, Moore's vital records office flags any newly filed death certificates with COVID as cause of death, and reflects those in the daily case report.

County Health Department spokesman Matt Garner says that's often the same day the certificate is filed.

"In some cases in the process we used before, it may take a week or even more to get those deaths manually entered into the state's dashboard,” Garner said. “And then after we entered that we would report those deaths locally"

Moore County has reported 172 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began. Across the state, death reporting has lagged, a relic of the health department not moving to electronic filing. A pilot program currently underway is aiming to speed the reporting of deaths in the state. - Jason deBruyn, WUNC

7:32 a.m. - Duke University has lifted a stay-in-place order it issued last week for all undergraduate students following a spike in COVID-19 cases. Any in-person or hybrid classes are now resuming. Students living in dorms can now move about campus, but are being asked to leave campus only for essential activities through this Sunday. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:19 a.m. - The Johnston County Health Department is holding a mass COVID-19 vaccine clinic this Wednesday at North Johnston High School. Vaccines will be given on a first-come first-serve basis to people in Groups 1 through 4. The department will have 2,000 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine available. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - A North Carolina healthcare policy organization is working to recruit at least 4,000 nurse aides to nursing homes across the state with a $2.5 million federal grant. Future Care NC says the number of people in the profession in North Carolina has declined by nearly 20,000 since 2015. Concerns about COVID-19 have only made the staffing shortage worse during the pandemic.

Care NC Executive Director Eric Kivisto says concerns about COVID-19 have only made the staffing shortage worse during the pandemic.

“There's a staffing crisis in North Carolina nursing homes and there has been for quite some time,” he said. “It's really increased in the last year."

The money will go toward a statewide education and marketing campaign encouraging people to become nurse aides. The campaign is also partnering with community colleges to provide training. To keep aides at facilities, some money will also go toward sharing resources to help nursing homes better engage with employees. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

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


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