Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of Aug. 31

Aug 31, 2020

'Major the Bull' wears a protective facemark in the downtown plaza in Durham on Friday, March 27, 2020.
Credit Chuck Liddy / For WUNC

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. 24.

Sept. 4, 2020

7:20 p.m. - North Carolina’s Democratic governor says he will sign a Republican-authored plan to spend more than a billion dollars 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. It also invests in broadband and ensures school districts won't be penalized financially if enrollments drop. But the measure left out many of Governor Roy Cooper's other spending proposals. It comfortably passed both chambers of the GOP-controlled General Assembly, clearing its final legislative hurdle yesterday. - Associated Press

7:10 p.m. - Today is a big day for gym rats: the state's reopening "Phase 2.5" came into effect this evening and fitness centers can open again at 30% capacity. Also allowed to open again — with restrictions — are museums, bowling alleys and skating rinks. After 5 months, playgrounds can reopen, too. Governor Roy Cooper is also raising the cap on mass gatherings to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors. But not every community is in a rush to loosen the reigns. Amid a COVID-19 outbreak in Chapel Hill, that town will keep mass gathering smaller and keep parks closed for another week. - Jay Price and Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

7:00 p.m. - It's been six months since North Carolina reported its first case of COVID-19. More than 174,000 have now been confirmed by labs and 2,839 people have died from complications with the disease. Health officials says community spread appears to be on the decline, with 6.4% of all tests in the last day yielding positive results. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

3:10 p.m. - North Carolina’s tourism industry is still being hit hard by the pandemic. Wit Tuttell, executive director of Visit NC, says more families are taking vacation close to home and renting houses to socially distance for work and that’s a bright spot.

"It’s been a pretty terrible summer, really disastrous numbers in a lot of ways for the industry. Tourism is a $25 billion industry in North Carolina and we’ve lost about $7 billion in visitor spending so far due to COVID.”

Despite the loss, Tuttell says he is glad the state is moving slowly and cautiously in reopening, unlike some other southern states. He says visitors have said they don’t want to visit places where there have been COVID outbreaks. - Brent Wolfe, WUNC

3 p.m. - Local health officials are urging people to stay safe over the Labor Day weekend. The Orange County Health Department says people must remember the 3 W's if they make plans with friends and family this weekend: wash your hands, wear your mask, and wait six feet apart from others. In May, the Memorial Day weekend caused a large spike of COVID-19 cases in North Carolina. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

2:45 p.m. - The state Health Department is developing an app that will notify users when they might have been exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19. An email from DHHS says the app is called Slow COVID NC. It uses Bluetooth to exchange anonymous data to develop exposure networks and enhance contact tracing. The app is free and voluntary. Slow COVID NC will be available for Google and Apple Phones later this month. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

11:20 a.m. - At least a quarter of North Carolina's counties are struggling to recruit poll workers for the 2020 election. The State Board of Elections surveyed county officials last week. Across the state, an estimated 25,000 poll workers are needed. A shortage of workers could result in longer wait times or shutdowns of voting locations, according to reporting from a watchdog network that includes WUNC. State election officials expect millions of voters to cast ballots in person despite the pandemic. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:10 a.m. - North Carolina moves into Phase 2.5 of a gradual reopening Friday at 5 p.m. It means gyms, bowling alleys, and museums can all open at partial capacity. Governor Roy Cooper's latest executive order increases the number of people allowed to gather indoors from 10 to 25, and outdoors from 25 to 50. Bars and movie theaters remain closed. A statewide face covering mandate is still in place. And now everyone ages 5 and up will have to wear a mask in public. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:20 a.m. - The state division of employment security has started issuing increased unemployment benefits. A federal program will temporarily boost benefits by $300 per week. Additional funding for the program will be determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency on a weekly basis. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:35 a.m. - The North Carolina legislature has finalized a plan to spend $1.1 billion of the state’s remaining COVID-19 relief funds from Washington. The House voted overwhelmingly on Thursday for the package, which includes direct cash payments of $335 to families with school-age children. The Senate already approved on Wednesday the measure, which now heads to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's desk. The package also provides a $50 uptick in weekly unemployment benefits and more funds for testing, tracing and personal protective equipment. The bill was finalized as lawmakers wrapped up two days of work and likely ended their two-year session. – The Associated Press

7:20 a.m. - The town of Elon has declared a state of emergency and will keep some Phase Two restrictions while the state moves to Phase 2.5 Friday at 5 p.m. Elon will continue to limit mass gatherings to 10 people inside and 25 people outside. Phase 2.5 extends mass gatherings to 25 people inside and 50 people outside. The town has also postponed all town events until further notice and will keep all recreational facilities closed. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Sept. 3, 2020

8 p.m. - The state health department has unveiled an ad campaign urging North Carolinian's to wear masks in public to stem the spread of coronavirus. Health Secretary Doctor Mandy Cohen said the campaign is available in English and Spanish, and features people from diverse backgrounds with a range of motivations for mask wearing. Black, Hispanic and Latino people are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

3:20 p.m. - Stokes County Schools is switching gears and starting in-person learning on Monday, September 14. The school district had originally planned to teach remotely until mid-October because of a lack of supplies. The district says they now have enough cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment to keep students and staff safe. Families have the option of continuing online learning until mid-October. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

3:10 p.m. - The UNC Chapel Hill athletics department is announcing pay cuts and furloughs to cope with pandemic-related revenue losses. Starting in October, Carolina Athletics employees making more than $200,000 will see a 20% pay cut. Those making between $100.000-$200,000 will receive a 10% pay cut and employees with lower salaries will be furloughed for 15 days. Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham said in a press release those cuts will not make up for all of the nearly $50 million the university may lose from sporting events this fall. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

3 p.m. - State lawmakers have adjourned for the year after appropriating $900 million in coronavirus relief. The expedited two-day session wrapped up without controversy this afternoon. Legislators had to allocate the remaining funds from the federal CARES ACT by the end of the year. Thirty million is earmarked for bolstering broadband in rural areas, a provision that lawmakers hope will alleviate some of the challenges of remote learning. Nearly $100 million is going toward increased unemployment benefits. And about $440 million of the funds will be used to provide parents or guardians of children with a $335 dollar stimulus check. Legislators adjourned until January, meaning only a special session could bring them back this year. - Jeff Tiberii, WUNC

8:40 a.m. - The state department of health and human services is launching a new program to help increase access to COVID-19 testing. The program allows uninsured North Carolinians to get tested at Medicaid providers for free. The state will fully reimburse the providers using federal aid. The reimbursement program will continue during the COVID-19 federal declaration of emergency. State health officials recommend testing for anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or was exposed to known positive cases. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:20 a.m. - The North Carolina Museum of Art is opening up its galleries again next Wednesday. Visitors must reserve timed tickets online or in-person. The museum says it will frequently deep clean high-tough areas and have hand sanitizing stations available throughout the galleries. Visitors must wear masks and are strongly encouraged to follow social distancing guidelines. A new executive order from Governor Roy Cooper allows museums and aquariums to open Friday at 5 p.m. at 50% capacity. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:05 a.m. - State senators have voted overwhelmingly, 44-5, to appropriate nearly $1 billion of remaining federal aid for coronavirus relief. Republican lawmakers are directing the money to purchase PPE, provide additional unemployment benefits and improve broadband in rural areas. The bill does not include any money to expand health coverage under Medicaid — despite a push from Democrats like Senator Jeff Jackson.

“States like Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky and Oklahoma have done this,” Jackson said. “It’s inevitable. It is inevitable here. And when it happens everyone will ask ‘what took so long?’ And the answer will be the intransigence of this majority."

Medicaid expansion remains a central objective for the governor and Democrats, as well as an issue in the 2020 campaign. Jackson’s effort to have a debate on the topic was halted by a parliamentary maneuver Wednesday afternoon.  Meanwhile, the relief bill is headed to the House. – Jeff Tiberii, WUNC

Sept. 2, 2020

3:50 p.m. - The State Board of Education has received an overview of how remote learning is going for North Carolina's public and charter schools. In a report to be sent to the General Assembly, the state education department listed strengths and weaknesses. Among the biggest concerns are: access to wifi, and the educational experience for English language learners and students with individualized learning plans.

Some districts are still waiting for devices for students to connect to remote instruction, two weeks into the school year. The dedication of teachers was a highlight, but State Board Member Amy White said having kids at home still puts a strain on families. White said the costs to families to find child care is significant, and the alternative — leaving students at home to learn on their own — will directly affect student performance. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

3:40 p.m. - State lawmakers are in Raleigh for what is expected to be a brief two-day session.  Their plan is to appropriate nearly $1 billion of federal coronavirus relief funding. Among the provisions are $72 million for personal protective equipment and COVID-testing, $87 million toward additional unemployment benefits, and a payment of several hundred dollars to families with children. 

Republican Senate Leader Phil Berger touted the plan at an afternoon press conference:

"Parents across the state of North Carolina are at their wits end. I know $335 isn’t going to pay of a mortgage, but it will put a dent in the cost of electronic devices, or help pay for a tutor if a child can’t seem to tackle a new concept," said Berger. These federal dollars from the CARES Act must be allocated by the end of the year or North Carolina would lose them. Berger says lawmakers plan to adjourn for the year tomorrow. - Jeff Tiberii, WUNC

3:30 p.m. - The City of Durham is resuming water cutoffs for non-payment on September 16th. An executive order from the governor suspended water cutoffs from March through July. That order also gave customers up to six months to pay their outstanding bills. Durham customers who fell behind will not face penalties and can avoid losing service by making a payment or contacting the city to arrange a payment plan before the disconnection date. Durham is offering up to $240 in assistance for customers experiencing documented hardship. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

3:20 p.m. - Researchers at UNC Chapel Hill say clinical trials for potential COVID-19 treatments and vaccines could take several more months. UNC Health is trying to develop therapies, drugs and ultimately a vaccine for the coronavirus. But in a media briefing today, Dr. David Wohl said the testing process is complicated and time-consuming.

"I think we should be careful about external timetables," said Wohl. "I think we should let the science do what it needs to do. Do it as rapidly as possible. We don't have the luxury of time, but this is a process that usually takes months, not weeks."

Wohl said there's no guarantee researchers will develop an effective vaccine in the coming months, but hopes that worldwide efforts will produce more than one. The Trump Administration said today the U.S. would not be a part of a global vaccine development effort led by the World Health Organization. - Will Michaels, WUNC

2:55 p.m. - The General Assembly is briefly returning to Raleigh today to distribute federal COVID-19 relief funds. State lawmakers have already earmarked over $2 billion in funding but the state must use the $3.5 billion in federal relief by the end of the year or lose the money. Republican leaders want to approve a package that spends just over $1 billion. The package includes a provision to give $325 to families with school-age children to help with child care. The proposal would also raise unemployment benefits by $50 a week. Govvernor Roy Cooper must approve the final package. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:55 a.m. - Appalachian State University has identified a cluster of COVID-19 in its wrestling team. There are 10 members of the team who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 11 days. The team is not currently practicing.

Meanwhile, UNC-Charlotte announced its first cluster of COVID-19 at an off-campus private residence. Eight students living together tested positive. The school says these students have since recovered. The university is not currently holding classes and in-person learning has been delayed until at least Oct. 1. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:05 a.m. - More businesses can partially re-open this Friday under Governor Roy Cooper's so-called Phase 2.5. Indoor recreational facilities, including gyms and bowling alleys, can open at 30% capacity. Museums and aquariums can open at 50% capacity. The executive order increases the number of people allowed to gather indoors from 10 to 25 and the number of people who can gather outdoors from 25 to 50. Bars and movie theaters remain closed. A statewide face covering mandate is still in place. Everyone ages 5 and up must wear a mask in public. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:50 a.m. - The Mayberry Days Festival in Surry County is still scheduled to take place later this month despite the pandemic. The Surry Arts Council says they will follow federal and state health guidelines during the event. The week-long festival in Mount Airy celebrates the Andy Griffith show. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:30 a.m. - Voters can now request absentee ballots online. The State Board of Elections launched a new online portal to help improve this year's voting process. The portal also allows military and overseas voters to request and return their absentee ballot online. Local election boards will start sending requested absentee ballots this Friday. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is October 27th. Election officials strongly encourage voters to requests ballots early. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:15 a.m. - The North Carolina General Assembly convenes Wednesday for what's expected to be a quick session focused on COVID relief. Democrats and Republicans are likely to see eye-to-eye on expanding broadband access, especially as coronavirus-related school closures mean more online learning. Representative Jason Saine is a member of the legislature's Republican majority. He spoke to reporters Tuesday about a GOP bill that would also provide counties with elections assistance; another bi-partisan priority.

"Under this proposal, $3 million would go towards boosting every Election Day official's pay by $100 to increase the attractiveness of serving in these positions,” Saine said.

But the Republican spending plan would expand a private school voucher program, something Democratic Governor Roy Cooper opposes. And unlike Republicans, Cooper wants the state to pay for teacher bonuses. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

Sept. 1, 2020

6:10 p.m. - Governor Roy Cooper announced on Tuesday that North Carolina will enter the next phase of reopening, dubbed “Phase 2.5,” starting Friday at 5 p.m. The plan increases the limit on indoor gatherings from 10 to 25 people and shifts the number of attendees for outdoor gatherings from 25 to 50 people.

Under “Phase 2.5,” playgrounds may reopen, and so can museums and aquariums, albeit with a 50% capacity. Bars, night clubs, movie theaters, indoor entertainment, and amusement parks are not yet permitted to reopen under this new plan. “Phase 2.5” does not include any new changes for restaurants, and hair or nail salon capacity. Gyms, which have also been closed since March, can now open their doors but must limit clients to 30% capacity. - Laura Pellicer and Natalie Dudus-Thomas, WUNC

6 p.m. - Wake Forest will kick off football season without spectators in the stands to limit the spread of coronavirus. After those first two games, the Demon Deacons still hope to welcome fans to cheer them on against the Fighting Irish. Wake Forest is set to host Notre Dame on September 26th. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

5:50 p.m. - The North Carolina Health Department says a total of 25 children have been diagnosed with a severe inflammatory disease associated with COVID-19. Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children is a rare condition that sometimes follows a COVID-19 infection. It can lead to heart and other organ problems. Eleven of the state's 25 cases were reported in August. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

12:35 p.m. - House and Senate Republicans have agreed on a package they want to send to Democratic Governor Roy Cooper this week to spend leftover federal COVID-19 relief funds. The proposed package would include sending $325 payments to households of almost two million children. The payments are designed to help cover additional expenses families are facing during the pandemic. The proposal would also raise state unemployment benefits by $50 a week. The maximum benefit would reach $400 weekly. The General Assembly reconvenes Wednesday. Cooper could approve or veto the legislature's package. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

12:25 p.m. - The first few matches of the National Women’s Soccer League fall series have been announced. The North Carolina Courage will face the Houston Dash on Sept. 11 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. After that, the Courage will play the Orlando Pride on Sept. 19. Games will be aired on CBS. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:10 a.m. - The Carolina Panthers will not allow fans into Bank of America Stadium for their season-opening game. The Panthers face the Las Vegas Raiders on Sept. 13 in Charlotte. The team says they will continue reaching out to state officials regarding options for future games. The Panthers say they are prepared to implement several safety measures for if or when fans return, including requiring face coverings and temperature checks. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:55 a.m. - The Orange County Health Department is offering free COVID-19 testing later Tuesday. The testing event will be from 4 to 8 p.m. in Chapel Hill. People who have COVID-like symptoms or have been in close contact of known positive cases are encouraged to get tested. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:30 a.m. – N.C. State Athletics will begin its fall sports without fans through at least the month of September. This includes football, men's soccer, volleyball and cross country. Tailgating will not allowed for the football season opener on Sept. 19. N.C. State will re-evaluate restrictions for October. This follows suit with UNC and Duke previously announcing similar measures. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - Governor Roy Cooper has extended an executive order that bars alcohol sales at restaurants after 11 p.m. The governor extended the order until Oct. 2. The order originally went into effect in July. State law usually allows alcohol sales until 2 a.m. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:10 a.m. - Officials have announced an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Alamance County Detention Center. 99 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at the facility. Six confirmed cases are in staff members and 93 in inmates. Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson says staff is implementing more stringent health monitoring, distributing masks and hygiene kits and providing ongoing COVID-19 testing. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - Positive coronavirus cases continue to rise across the UNC System overall, even as some of the hardest hit schools showed fewer new cases after moving to online classes. East Carolina University had the most new cases last week, with 570 positive tests. The university moved all its undergraduate students to online classes last Wednesday. N.C, State and UNC-Chapel Hill had more than 600 new cases combined last week, though both are seeing a downward trend since most students have moved off their campuses. UNC-Pembroke and UNC-Wilmington both saw recent upticks in new cases. UNC-Pembroke is now reporting 100 active cases. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

Aug. 31, 2020

6:50 p.m. - Governor Roy Cooper has scheduled a press conference tomorrow to share information about the next phase of easing pandemic-related restrictions. A spokeswoman for the governor said any changes will take effect later this week. Bars, gyms, and entertainment venues have been closed under the governor's orders since March. The state remains in Phase 2 of his reopening plan. An executive order barring alcohol sales at restaurants after 11 p.m. was set to expire tonight, but the governor is extending it through the end of Oct. 2. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

3:20 p.m. - State Republican lawmakers say they're committed to raising unemployment benefits by $50 a week. GOP leaders suggested they would use CARES Act funding for the increases. The General Assembly is reconvening this week primarily to allocate what remains from the pandemic relief that Congress approved in the spring. State unemployment benefits are currently capped at $350 per week. Democratic Governor Roy Cooper is urging lawmakers to raise the maximum to $500, and double the allowed duration to 24 weeks. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

3:10 p.m. - The so-called "Grand-daddy of all North Carolina Barbecues" has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church in Charlotte has been hosting the annual barbecue as a fundraiser since 1929. The event's website says they usually sell 10,000 sandwiches, and up to 1,500 pounds of barbecued meat. Church elders announced they will be canceling this year's event out of concern for the health of their volunteers and customers. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

3 p.m. -  The school boards for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Wake County districts are both asking the General Assembly to keep schools from losing funding or staff if they have lower enrollment than predicted this fall. There are many reasons public schools might see lower enrollment during the pandemic. Some parents have chosen to home school their children, hold back their kindergartners, or move to a school operating under a different plan. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board is asking for the legislature to ensure that any school employees who may be furloughed will be able to maintain their retirement and health benefits while on leave. They're also asking for more flexibility for school budgets. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

2:50 p.m. - Several members of the Davidson College baseball team have tested positive for COVID-19. The college reported a cluster of five cases on Friday. The students in the cluster are all members of the baseball team, but the college said in a press release that their transmission of the virus likely stemmed from social settings. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

11:35 a.m. - Alamance County Courthouse buildings are closed Monday and Tuesday due to COVID-19 cases. The Historic Courthouse, the Alamance County Civil Courts building, and the J.B. Allen Courthouse are all closed to the public. Scheduled hearings have been postponed. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:20 a.m. – N.C. State's women's soccer team will not compete this fall. The team says several factors led to this decision, including not all members returning to Raleigh this semester because classes have moved online. N.C. State is the first women's soccer program in the ACC to postpone its season. The Wolfpack have made the NCAA tournament in each of the past two seasons.

Meanwhile, two high-profile athletes on the UNC women's soccer team have announced they will not return to play this season. Rising seniors Alessia Russo and Lotte Wubben-Moy both cited the uncertainty of this season as their reason for leaving. Russo – who has appeared with England’s national team – was a three-time All-ACC selection for the Tar Heels and was named MVP of the ACC tournament last year. – Celeste Gracia and Mitchell Northam, WUNC

10:10 a.m. - Wake County is opening a COVID-19 drive-thru testing site Monday at North Carolina State University. The site is meant to be easily accessible for students in light of the several clusters of COVID-19 on and around campus. The free testing will run all this week. Appointments must be made online in advance. Tests are reserved for those who have COVID-like symptoms or may have been in close contact with someone who tested positive. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - Fayetteville State University is using CARES Act Funding to offer a free class for area business owners struggling through the pandemic. The HBCU received a $280,000 recovery grant for regional economic development efforts, and this is one of the initiatives the grant is supporting. Malika Mercer Bennett is administering the class, and she says it's aimed at answering the questions of both current and aspiring small business owners.

“How can you rebrand your business? If you're a brick and mortar store, how can you make your business kind of transition to offer these products and services online? Just trying to try ways to address issues they have and be able to put that in a class to kind of help them,” she says.

The online course will start in mid-September and is open to entrepreneurs in a six-county area near Fayetteville. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - State Republicans at the General Assembly say they're committed to raising state unemployment benefits by $50 a week when they reconvene. State legislatures return to Raleigh Wednesday to distribute yet-used COVID-19 federal relief funds. North Carolina's state unemployment benefits are currently capped at $350 per week. Any benefit legislation would still be subject to Cooper's signature or veto. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

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

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