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Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of April 12

Virus Outbreak Vaccines
Gerry Broome
A healthcare worker prepares to administer the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Wake County Health Department workers along with nurses and volunteers from area hospitals distributed vaccines to persons with appointments during the drive through event. Since North Carolina began administering the vaccine in December, more than 1 million people have gotten their first doses.

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 April 5.

April 16, 2021

6:10 p.m. - Some universities in the UNC System are offering students incentives to get COVID-19 vaccines. UNC Greensboro is offering a drawing to vaccinated students to win textbooks, a meal plan, or a dorm room. Administrator Julia Jackson Newsom says UNCG wanted to make the decision easier for students who have been hesitant to get the vaccine.

"Some of them are afraid of it because they just don't like getting shots. And this may be the first time they're going through something like this without being with their parents. So we pulled our team together and just said how else could we perhaps incentivize this process and maybe just make it more appealing and maybe something that they would just get it done now," said Jackson Newsom.

She says the university's on-campus vaccine clinics have had a steady stream of students, and they are working to get as many vaccinated before summer as possible. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

6 p.m. - North Carolina A&T State University is re-instating certain COVID-19 precautions in response to an uptick in positive cases on campus.
The university is suspending in-person dining and dorm visitation. A university spokesman says those measures were effective at curbing a spike in cases last fall. The university is encouraging students to take extra precautions so graduating students can have in-person commencement ceremonies in May. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

11:42 a.m. - Edgecombe County is the only county in the state showing critical community spread of COVID-19, according to the state department of health and human services. In the latest update to the state's county alert system, just Edgecombe county is listed as red. Almost 70 other counties are yellow or orange, showing significant or substantial community spread. State health officials have also updated the alert system to include counties with moderate or low community spread. Lenoir County is the only county in the state with low spread. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:30 a.m. - The state House gave initial approval yesterday to a measure that would give additional state tax breaks to businesses that took out federal loans to weather the pandemic. The bill allows businesses that spent federal loan proceeds to deduct the expenses from their income for state tax purposes. The state senate isn’t fully on board with the idea yet. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - A Duke University researcher might have unlocked the reason women's immune systems seem to fight off COVID-19 more effectively.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Daniel Saban's regular workload studying eye diseases was cut back. A specialized piece of equipment in his department was sitting idle. So, his team used it to start analyzing blood samples from COVID-19 patients.

"We didn't have a particular focus, we were just hoping that something in the data would just call to us. And that is indeed what happened,” Saban said.

Saban found that women have more of a particular kind of immune cell than men, and that in COVID-19 patients, that cell was going to the lungs. Importantly, Saban's team collected data from less severe COVID-19 cases as well. This led them to conclude that these special cells likely play a role in keeping people out of the hospital. - Jason deBruyn, WUNC

April 15, 2021

11:47 a.m. - New Duke University research could shed light on why women seem to fight COVID-19 better than men.

The key might be in a certain type of immune cell that fights infections in mucosal tissue, like those in the mouth or nose. It's called a MAIT (mucosal associated invariant T cells) cell, and women have more of them than men. A team led by Dr. Dan Saban at Duke made the discovery and published findings in an online journal.

"These MAIT cells are more superior in women, and in early infection, their recruitment to the lung enables them to fight COVID more readily,” Saban said.

Saban says this early finding may further the understanding of not just the pathogen that causes COVID-19 but other coronaviruses as well. It's possible it could even lead to treatment options. - Jason deBruyn, WUNC

11:26 a.m. - NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace is partnering with Novant Health to help address COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Wallace will help Novant spread awareness and education about the vaccines. Wallace is encouraging everyone, especially minority populations, to get vaccinated. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:25 a.m. – UNC-Chapel Hill will restart its student COVID-19 vaccination clinic tomorrow using the Moderna vaccine. The facility paused its administration of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine yesterday in accordance with state and federal guidance. The CDC issued a warning this week about rare blood clots in six people who have gotten the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. More than 7 million Americans have gotten the Johnson and Johnson shot. N.C. State will also start using the Moderna vaccine today. – Will Michaels, WUNC

7:15 a.m. - Farmers whose workers have to quarantine during the 2021 growing season will be eligible for reimbursements from the state Agriculture Department. The Department says employers who have farmworkers with valid H-2-A visas can get paid for expenses related to food and lodging during any quarantine periods. A total of $2 million will be available for the program. Applications are being accepted through Dec. 15. – Will Michaels, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - Wake County's health department says the number of people seeking COVID-19 tests dropped by nearly half since January. The county conducted 112,000 tests during two weeks in January, compared to 56,000 in the same period in April. Local health officials say the amount of testing has been generally related to viral activity, which has also been significantly lower than it was this winter. – Will Michaels, WUNC

April 14, 2021

3:40 p.m. - Wake County's health department says the number of people seeking out COVID-19 tests has dropped by nearly half since this winter.
The county conducted about 112,000 tests over a two-week period in January, compared to 56,000 over the same period in April.

Dr. Nicole Mushonga, the associate medical director at Wake County's health department, says, in general, the amount of testing that's happening has been closely aligned with actual viral activity, but her department is monitoring the trends.

"We're watching to see where does it go? ... to see how the testing is impacted. If someone is symptomatic, it's still recommended they get tested. And if they've come into close contact with someone and they're not fully vaccinated, they should get tested as well," said Mushonga.

The share of tests coming back positive in Wake County dipped to 4.4% in March but has since risen to 5.8% percent. - Will Michaels, WUNC

3:30 p.m. - UNC-Chapel Hill will restart its student COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Friday using the Moderna vaccine. The facility paused its administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine yesterday in accordance with state guidelines. The CDC issued a warning this week about rare blood clots in six people who have gotten the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. More than seven million Americans have gotten the Johnson & Johnson shot. NC State has also said it will start using the Modern vaccine tomorrow. - Will Michaels, WUNC

1:16 p.m. - A committee in the state House has approved a measure that would allow restaurants and bars to reopen at full capacity with limited restrictions. The bill would require establishments to perform daily temperature checks on their employees, clean their facilities frequently, and limit the number of guests at one table to 10 unless they're part of the same household. The proposal is part of a series of measures some lawmakers have filed to override Gov. Roy Cooper's executive orders during the pandemic. Restaurants currently have to limit their indoor seating to 75% capacity. Bars can admit no more than 50% their capacity. – Will Michaels, WUNC

11:19 a.m. - Winston Salem State University is canceling the rest of its spring football practice season because of COVID-19 protocols and contact tracing. The university, which is part of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, did not hold any fall sports because the pandemic. The athletics department says they will continue preparing for the fall pre-season. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - Some North Carolina colleges and universities have been vaccinating students with the Johnson and Johnson shot, but now have to pause. The goal of vaccinating students before they leave town for the summer may now be harder to achieve.

UNC-Chapel Hill has already given J&J's single-dose vaccine to more than 3,000 students, according to campus newspaper the Daily Tar Heel. That was before the warnings about rare blood clots and new federal and state guidance came out. The university doesn't yet have plans to give other COVID-19 vaccines on campus.

On the other side of the Triangle, N.C. State has also suspended vaccinations with the J&J. But it already had plans to start using the Moderna vaccine and will switch all scheduled appointments for students to Moderna or Pfizer starting Thursday. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

April 13, 2021

4:30 p.m. - The State Health Department is telling all providers administering the Johnson & Johnson one-shot COVID-19 vaccine in North Carolina to pause. In a briefing this afternoon, Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said it's a precaution and that the occurrences that have prompted concern are "literally one in a million." Federal officials are investigating the cases of six people — all women — who have had rare blood clots that may be linked to the J&J shot. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

12:43 p.m. - Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina plans to continue its current telehealth coverage policy through the end of this year. The extended policy covers doctor visits by video or phone the same as face-to-face visits. Providers are paid as they would be for in-person visits. After expanding the coverage last year, Blue Cross saw telehealth usage by its members increase by more than 7,000%. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:52 a.m. - The State Department of Health and Human Services is pausing its use of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at their clinics, following a recommendation this morning from the FDA. Other health providers, including UNC Health and the Durham County Public Health Department, are also pausing their use of the J&J vaccine. UNC-Chapel Hill has suspended its student vaccine clinic. Patients who had appointments to get the Johnson and Johnson vaccine today are instead being offered the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or an opportunity to reschedule. – Amy Jeffries, WUNC

9:45 a.m. - UNC Health is pausing the use of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at its clinics following a recommendation this morning from the FDA. Patients who had appointments to get the single-dose shot today are being offered the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or an opportunity to reschedule. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has also suspended its clinic for students because of the concerns about the J&J vaccine. – Amy Jeffries, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - More adults in North Carolina are willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine, according to several recent polls. The surveys also found that some North Carolinians are still having a difficult time finding a convenient time and place for an appointment. To address this barrier, Deputy Secretary Kody Kinsley says the state health department may encourage providers to allow more walk in appointments to accommodate people with busy schedules. He says partnerships with employers to bring vaccines to workplaces could also ease access.

“So it's an ongoing effort. As supply increases, we have more opportunities to spread the vaccine around, and we're moving just as fast as that supply allows us to."

Kinsley says state health officials are analyzing census data and vaccination rates to get doses to where they are needed. President Joe Biden announced that 90% of adults should have a vaccination site within 5 miles of their home by next Monday. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

April 12, 2021

1:13 p.m. - Recently-released polls show increasing support among North Carolinians for COVID-19 vaccines. People are also increasingly likely to tell their family and friends to get a shot, too. The state Department of Health and Human Services plans to leverage that trend to address lingering hesitancy. Deputy Secretary Kody Kinsley said they will be targeting ads at those who've been vaccinated to encourage their loved ones to do the same.

"What's good to know is that not only do people trust their friends and family members to help them find a vaccine, but they also know that if their friends and family members say, 'You should get vaccinated, here's why I did,' that that really matters to people," said Kinsley, adding that research shows that, after the health department, friends and family are a key source of information about COVID-19 vaccines. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

12:45 p.m. - The Carolina Classic Fair, formerly named the Dixie Classic Fair, is scheduled to take place this October. Last year the fair was canceled because of the pandemic. The name of the event was changed in 2019 because some critics said the former name evoked segregation. The Winston Salem Fairgrounds is currently being used as a mass vaccination site. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - Wake County plans to resume administering the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine as early as today after some people reported adverse symptoms from the shot last week. The county says health officials conducted a thorough internal review that indicates no reason for concern. An analysis by the CDC also did not find any safety issues. The county is considering lowering the the number of vaccinations to more closely monitor patients. Medical staff might also add health questions before vaccinations to better identify those who may have a reaction. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - Publix pharmacies in North Carolina are offering appointments for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine starting today. Vaccines are available at select stores across the state, including in Wake, Forsyth and Guilford Counties. Appointments must be scheduled online. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

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

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