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Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of Sept. 7

Coronavirus N.C. State prep mask
Gerry Broome

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 Aug. 31.

Sept. 11, 2020

5:20 p.m. - The University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill is anticipating even more financial losses due to COVID-19. Already, the university has lost an estimated $54 million in revenue from on-campus activities. Nate Knuffman, the university's interim finance chief, said during a meeting with faculty and staff today there could be more losses from hospital operations and athletics.

"When including these impacts, structural issues, and potential spring 2021 losses, we could see a financial impact of $300 million dollars this fiscal year," said Knuffman, adding it's important to note that this estimate doesn't include potential impacts in the event of a state budget shortfall as economic activity has fallen off during the ongoing pandemic. - Cole del Charco, WUNC
1:43 p.m. - North Carolina has topped 3,000 coronavirus deaths, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. In all, the state has had more than 182,000 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19. A total of 938 people are currently hospitalized across the state, with 93% of hospitals reporting. - Elizabeth Baier, WUNC
10:35 a.m. - The student housing department at UNC-Chapel Hill is terminating student staff positions, effective Oct. 30. In an email to students on Thursday, Carolina Housing said they needed to cut expenses because of a huge loss in revenue. Carolina Housing expects revenue to drop by over $20 million this fall semester because many students are no longer living on campus. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:20 a.m. - Six months after filing for bankruptcy and shutting down all its stores, Earth Fare plans to re-open up to five locations around Charlotte. In an interview this week with The Charlotte Ledger, a business news outlet, Earth Fare executive and investor Randy Talley said the company has already signed leases to re-open its old stores in Ballantyne, Fort Mill and Concord. In February, the Asheville-based grocery chain said they could not refinance the company's debts, citing sales challenges. Since then, investors like Talley have revitalized the company, which is now under new ownership. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

9:35 a.m. - College football resumes Saturday as UNC, Duke and Wake Forest all face other ACC opponents. The No. 18 Tar Heels will open the season by hosting Syracuse. The Tar Heels closed last season with three straight blowout wins. Meanwhile, Duke will visit No. 10 Notre Dame and Wake Forest will host No. 1 Clemson. The Demon Deacons are looking for a fifth straight bowl appearance under head coach Dave Clawson. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

9:20 a.m. - The Currituck-Knotts Island Ferry will resume service next week, pending an inspection from the U.S. Cost Guard. The ferry service has been suspended since April because of the coronavirus pandemic. Passengers must remain in their vehicles or stand at least six feet from other people while on board to prevent the spread of COVID-19. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:15 a.m. - Loggers in North Carolina are asking for immediate federal aid amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Executive Director of the Carolina Loggers Association, Ewell Smith, says loggers are not getting relief from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, even while other farmers — such as wool and maple syrup producers — are.

I'd like to invite the White House and the USDA - I'd like to invite those members to come see a job site in North Carolina. Come talk to our loggers first hand,” Smith said. “Understand their role in why this part of the wood chain is so critical."

Logging is a $34 billion industry in North Carolina that typically supports 150,000 full and part-time jobs. N.C. State University estimates the industry has lost over $120 million during the first two quarters of this year due to plummeting demand for everything from lumber to office paper. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Sept. 10, 2020

6:10 p.m. - Restaurants are still allowed to serve booze nightly until 11 p.m. and some bars have opened their doors despite Gov. Roy Cooper's pandemic order to close. News outlets report that agents with state Alcohol Law Enforcement visited several bar owners in Winston-Salem yesterday to inform them they had to close unless they had a permit to operate as a restaurant. News outlet report agents made similar visits in Charlotte last month. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

4:10 p.m. - The White House coronavirus response coordinator met with Governor Roy Cooper and state Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen yesterday to discuss COVID-19 mitigation strategies in North Carolina. At a briefing today, Cohen said Dr. Deborah Birx wore a mask and kept physically distant, and lamented that not everyone in the state was doing the same. Birx's boss, President Trump, campaigned in Winston-Salem earlier this week. He did not wear a face covering nor did many of the thousands of supporters who attended the rally. 

"We need leadership, and I think this is an important moment for our leaders to recognize the importance of their own personal actions," said Cohen. "No one's perfect; I'm not asking for perfection. What I'm asking for is for everyone to do their best, wear a face covering, to be social distant and wash their hands."

A spokesperson for the governor said Trump's rally was legal under a free speech exemption to state restrictions on mass gatherings. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

4 p.m. - North Carolina loggers are asking for federal support as the COVID-19 pandemic has crippled the industry. Loggers have lost over $120 million during the first two quarters of this year due to a massive drop in demand, according to an estimate from North Carolina State University. Legislation that would provide relief payments to logging businesses is awaiting congressional action. Ewell Smith, head of the Carolina Loggers Association, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided assistance for pandemic-related losses to some farmers and ranchers — such as wool and cotton producers — but loggers haven't been included. 

"We need immediate help right now. If the bill could go through that would be amazing, but we see Congress stalling" said Smith. "The USDA has a program right now in place that they could fall under; the loggers could sit under that program today."

Logging in North Carolina is an almost $34 billion industry that employs over 150,000 people. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:40 a.m. - Governor Roy Cooper will not issue an executive order with labor protections for agricultural workers. This comes weeks after a public commitment to do so. The Raleigh News and Observer reports disagreement with other state officials kept the governor from issuing the order. The order would have included provisions such as increasing access to COVID-19 testing for meat processing plant workers and more greatly enforcing social distancing workplace measures. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:55 a.m. - North Carolina will use nearly $40 million in federal COVID-19 relief dollars to purchase 100,000 hot spots and provide free high-speed Internet in public locations for students. Money will also go to help instruct teachers, parents and students about remote learning techniques. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:35 a.m. - On Wednesday, Governor Roy Cooper and State Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen met with Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. The officials discussed the state's approach in phased re-opening. Cooper requested additional federal support, including more COVID-19 testing, more funding for PPE and advice on timing for when detailed vaccine planning guidance would be issued. Cooper and Dr. Birx also participated together in a call with the White House Coronavirus Task Force. The governor spoke about the need for elected leaders to hold campaign events with face coverings and social distancing. This comes after President Donald Trump held an in-person rally earlier this week. Thousands of people attended and most did not wear a mask. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - The new state pandemic relief package extends the expiration dates for five Department of Motor Vehicle credentials. People now have until 30 days after the governor lifts his state of emergency order to renew expiring CDL licenses and permits, handicap placards, state IDs, and inspection mechanic licenses. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - Advocates for incarcerated people are pressuring Governor Roy Cooper and the Department of Public Safety to comply with a judge's orders and let more people complete their sentences outside prison walls during the pandemic.

To be considered for release into the community, DPS requires candidates to meet age or health criteria, or be close to the end of their sentence. People convicted of violent crimes are excluded. State prisons have recorded more than 2,200 coronavirus infections and 11 related deaths. Meanwhile, court documents suggest that perhaps only 453 have been released under the program meant to reduce the prison population to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Attorney Dawn Blagrove of Emancipate NC says many more vulnerable incarcerated people should be considered, but don't meet all criteria. So they remain in prisons with outbreaks. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

Sept. 9, 2020

6:30 p.m. - Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball coaches like the idea of having next year’s NCAA tournament include all 346 eligible Division One teams. Numerous ACC schools and coaches released statements today about the proposal, which was first reported by Stadium. Multiple coaches said creating an all-inclusive format would be an incentive for schools to create the safest conditions possible for returning to play in the wake of COVID-19 — the pandemic led to the cancellation of last year's tournament. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said the upcoming year would clearly be am "irregular season that will require something different." - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

5:55 p.m. - East Carolina University plans to use $15 million in pandemic relief funds for research into COVID-19 treatments, vaccine development and community testing initiatives. Over $1 million of the funds allocated by the General Assembly will be used to explore harvesting antibodies from convalescent plasma. Peter Schmidt, vice dean of ECU's Brody School of Medicine, says the research project builds on a previous study showing that the convalescent plasma from patients who've recovered from COVID-19 can be an effective treatment. 

"We've now progressed clinically from focusing on the plasma to focusing on antibodies which can be manufactured at a pharmaceutical company," said Schmidt.

According to Schmidt, there are several studies going on now at ECU looking at supplementary antibodies as a possible therapy. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

2:45 p.m. - Doctors are encouraging North Carolinians to get the flu vaccine as part of heightened precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospitals and clinics are preparing for this flu season by increasing the distribution of the vaccine and further promoting social distancing. In a media briefing today, Dr. Cheryl Jackson of UNC Health said widespread vaccination for the flu this year is key to limiting the spread of multiple infectious diseases at once. - Will Michaels, WUNC

10:25 a.m. – UNC-Chapel Hill will begin testing all remaining students in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro area over the next two weeks. The university is offering testing to on-campus residents with or without any COVID-19 symptoms. The school will also begin a testing program for off-campus students in the coming weeks. Testing is voluntary but the university is urging all students to participate. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:15 a.m. - East Durham Bakery in Durham will permanently close this Sunday. The shop did not offer a specific reason for closure in its announcement on social media. This comes weeks after a group of former employees told WRAL News the bakery's owners created a toxic work environment that involved racism and a lack of financial transparency. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:30 a.m. - Guilford County Schools is opening Internet hubs at 63 schools for two Saturdays this month for students needing internet access to complete schoolwork. The internet hubs will be open this Sept. 12 and 19 on a first come, first serve basis. Up to 30 visitors are allowed inside at a time, including students and parents. Students have to bring their own devices. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:15 a.m. - Over 1,000 students have tested positive for COVID-19 at both East Carolina University and UNC-Chapel Hill. At N.C. State University, almost 1,000 students have tested positive. The universities updated their COVID-19 dashboards Tuesday. All three schools have switched to online only undergraduate classes. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - Wake County is working to distribute thousands of devices for students who requested them. The county still needs to distribute around 16,000 Chromebooks and 9,000 hotspots to students who requested the devices over the summer. A spokesman says many of the current requests for devices come from students who already have technology access at home, but may need additional support. The school district says it has purchased enough devices to meet demand – it's just a matter of receiving them and distributing them to families. The county says it's having trouble storing the large number of devices, so it's trying to give out devices as fast as possible. In the spring, officials ordered thousands of devices, but those orders have been delayed. It's not clear when all the devices will come in. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Sept. 8, 2020

6 p.m. - North Carolina saw the lowest Labor Day gas prices in more than a decade, according to AAA Carolinas. An email from the auto group says demand for gasoline has dropped during the pandemic. The statewide average is $2.08 at the pump, that's four cents lower than last week. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

5 p.m. - School closures mean lots of kids need somewhere to spend the day while their parents work. Now, a new emergency spending law allows "community based organizations" such as the Boys and Girls Club to create "remote learning facilities" during states of emergency. Staffers won't need background checks or CPR and first aid certifications. These centers will not have to to report confirmed cases of COVID-19 to public health officials. Some lawmakers and childcare professionals say there was little discussion on this provision and it might create unsafe environments for children. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

1:02 p.m. - UNC Wilmington is making plans for students living on campus to move from double to single occupancy dorm rooms to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The University announced today that about 800 students currently living with a roommate will be asked to either move to a single dorm room or return home. Students who choose to move off campus for the remainder of the semester will receive a refund on their housing. In a press release, the university said it was acting on the advice of the New Hanover County Health Department.  - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

12:45 p.m. - Burlington-based LabCorp is launching a new testing method to detect the flu and COVID-19 in a single test. The method would also test for RSV, a virus that causes respiratory tract infections. The test is available to patients through doctors and hospitals. Labcorp has also submitted an application to the FDA to offer the test directly to people through an at-home test collection kit. That request is still pending approval. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:17 a.m. - The Sarah P. Duke Gardens will remain closed until at least the end of the year. Duke Gardens' administrators are working on the possibility of a phased reopening next year. Administrators are also working to make the Gardens available only for Duke faculty and students by appointment. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC 10:32 a.m. - Winston-Salem based K&W Cafeteria is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. News outlets report the pandemic had a disproportionately negative impact on the company. Six of the cafeteria-style restaurants have closed, including ones in Chapel Hill and Raleigh. K&W Cafeteria was founded in 1937 and serves traditional Southern food. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC
9:22 a.m. - Democratic Governor Roy Cooper says he will sign a Republican-authored plan to spend more than $1 billion of remaining federal pandemic relief funds. The package includes direct cash payments to nearly 2 million families, a $50 increase in weekly unemployment benefits and more funds for COVID-19 testing, tracing and personal protective equipment. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC
8:49 a.m. - Duke University reports six more students tested positive for COVID-19 last week. All students are now in isolation. The school administrated nearly 7,000 tests to students, faculty and staff last week. During that time no new faculty or staff members tested positive. Since August 2, Duke has administrated almost 24,000 tests. 52 people in total have tested positive and 44 of those have since been cleared to return to campus. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC
8:30 a.m. - People are more likely to wear masks and practice social distancing to guard against COVID-19 if they hear the message from a trusted health organization and not a politician. That's the conclusion of a new study led by researchers at UNC Chapel Hill and East Carolina University.

The study found people trust organizations such as the CDC and local health departments the most for information related to COVID-19, znd that people do not trust messaging from President Donald Trump.

A postcard from the Trump administration in March encouraging personal hygiene and social distancing helped inspire the study.

"This postcard highlighted President Trump as a source very prominently, which is unusual," said Marcella Boynton, an assistant professor at the UNC School of Medicine. "Normally these types of messages - the source is a pubic health organization."

The study found having no source indicated for a message is preferable to attributing Trump.

- Celeste Gracia, WUNC


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

Previous weekly updates:

Stories, features and more by WUNC News Staff. Also, features and commentary not by any one reporter.
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