Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of Dec. 14

Dec 14, 2020

Duke nurse Rita Oakes administers the first Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination to Glenda Faye Tate Williams at Duke University Hospital in Durham on Monday, December 14, 2020.
Credit Blyth Morrell / Duke University Hospital

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 Dec. 7.

Dec. 18, 2020

5:05 p.m. - UNC Charlotte's men's basketball coach is under quarantine after he was notified by COVID-19 contact tracers. Ron Sanchez will miss the team's next two games, including one tomorrow against North Carolina A&T. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

4:20 p.m. - A new rural broadband project will expand internet access at 20 community college campuses across the state. An important community resource with the ongoing need for remote learning. Funding for the project comes from the Federal Coronavirus Relief Act, and the broadband and other network improvements are already being installed. Edgecombe Community College is one of the recipients. Chief Information Officer and Director of Computer Services Neil Baker says about one in three households in the county does not have high speed internet.

"We're expanding out wifi presence on both campuses to include the entire outside, parking areas, things of that nature," said Baker.

Baker says he expects families and students in Edgecombe County to take advantage, by downloading and submitting assignments. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

4:10 p.m. - More than three dozen state highway patrol cadets who graduated today have tested positive for COVID-19. That's more then two-thirds of the graduating class of 50 cadets, as first reported by the Raleigh News and Observer. Two highway patrol staff have also tested positive. A spokesman with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol says all the graduating cadets and staff were tested after it was determined that a member of the group displayed symptoms of the illness. The spokesman said those who tested positive are quarantining. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

4 p.m. - A college football game scheduled to kick off in Winston-Salem tomorrow has been canceled. Wake Forest was set to play Florida State before the ACC was alerted of a positive COVID-19 test today. Too many Florida State players are in quarantine to field an offensive line. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

1:03 p.m. - A new analysis from Harvard University shows all but three North Carolina counties are at a high risk for spreading COVID-19. Researchers are taking the number of new cases in each county across the country, and calculating risk based on their populations. 97 of the 100 North Carolina counties are in the highest risk category. That's defined as more than 25 new cases a day per 100,000 people.

The only counties that have viral spread below that mark are Chatham, Tyrrell and Clay Counties. Wake and Durham Counties are at about 42. And some rural counties rates are around 100. The state health department has a different county alert system that also tracks the virus' impact on local hospitals. The latest numbers show 82 counties are in the two highest risk categories. – Will Michaels, WUNC

12:17 p.m. - The State Department of Health and Human Services is reporting another record high number of new daily COVID-19 cases. Over 8,400 cases were reported Friday, almost a thousand more cases than the previous high. COVID-19 hospitalizations also reached a record high. More than 2,800 people across North Carolina are in the hospital because of the coronavirus. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:31 a.m. - Even though state health officials are urging people to stay home for the holidays because of a surge in COVID-19 cases, the North Carolina Department of Transportation is suspending most construction activity along its major highways through Christmas starting today. The DOT says there are some exceptions where construction conditions make it unsafe to open all lanes. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

10:19 a.m. - 75 people associated with a holiday church event outside Asheville have tested positive for COVID-19. The Henderson County Health Department says the event at First Baptist Church in Hendersonville happened over the first weekend this month. It's unclear exactly how many people who tested positive attended the event. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:05 a.m. - The Forsyth County Detention Center is testing all inmates and staff for COVID-19 after an outbreak at the jail. The Winston-Salem Journal reports at least 31 inmates and six staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus. The Forsyth County Sheriff's Office says all 31 inmates are in quarantine in a designated area. The jail has 570 inmates and around 220 staff members. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:30 a.m. - Cumberland County Schools is postponing in-person classes for two weeks after the holidays to allow students to quarantine from possible exposure to COVID-19. Public health experts say COVID-19 cases could rise significantly after the holidays. District leaders say this two-week quarantine period will help prevent community spread. Students will still return to in-person learning in January on a staggered schedule. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - Wake County Public Schools is reporting nearly 130 new COVID-19 cases in students and staff over the past week. The school district has reported over 400 total cases since some students returned to in-person learning in late October. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:10 a.m. - Wake County expects to receive its first shipment of a COVID-19 vaccine sometime next week. The county plans to first vaccinate its most at-risk workers, like EMS employees and healthcare personnel in jails. Meanwhile, COVID cases are surging in Wake County, and the vaccine won't be available to the general public for months. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Dec. 17, 2020

6:20 p.m. - A project to bring broadband access to 20 rural community colleges across the state is expected to be completed by the end of the month. The North Carolina Community College System announced the $12 million project was paid for using federal coronavirus relief funds. Twenty colleges were identified for the new infrastructure based on need. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

6:10 p.m. - State health officials have selected the sites to pilot a COVID-19 rapid testing program in public schools. The selected sites all have some in-person instruction happening. An announcement from DHHS says the goal of the program is to slow the spread of COVID-19 by quickly identifying students and staff who may have the virus. Some of the schools selected are in Johnston, Harnett, Durham and Forsyth counties. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

12:15 p.m. - Wake Med Health and Hospitals is receiving its first shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Thursday, and just in time. The hospital will start administering doses to healthcare workers Friday, just as it sees a surge in COVID cases. WakeMed is on track to surpass its previous peak of COVID patients recorded in July. Dr. Donald Gintzig is WakeMed's president and CEO. He says the hospital is prepared for more COVID patients, but he doesn't want it to reach that point.

“We want that line that's going up to flatten out,” Gintzig said. “And so that's the stress that our healthcare delivery system is facing now.”

Wake County has seen a 63% increase in COVID-19 cases over the first two weeks in December.The county expects to receive its first shipment of the vaccine for its public health employees sometime next week. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:48 a.m. - A survey conducted by the North Carolina Nurses Association found most respondents were willing to take a COVID-19 vaccine. 57% of participants said they are willing to get vaccinated, while 17% said they are not willing to take the vaccine and 27% said they are unsure. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

9:34 a.m.  - 31 inmates at the Forsyth County Detention Center have tested positive for COVID-19. In a statement, the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office says all 31 inmates are in quarantine in a designated area. Six staff members at the jail have also tested positive for COVID-19, according to data released this week by the state department of health and human services. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:55 a.m. - Airbnb says it has suspended listings across North Carolina for violating its party guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company said in emails sent to The Associated Press that 21 listings in the Research Triangle area were suspended, as well as 17 listings in the Triad and 20 listings in Charlotte. Viviana Jordan, North Carolina public policy manager for Airbnb, said in a news release that North Carolina has banned large gatherings because of the pandemic for several months. The company said its actions target a small minority of hosts who have previously been warned about responsible hosting or have otherwise violated company policies. – The Associated Press

7:35 a.m. - The State Department of Transportation is temporarily reducing ferry services on the Pamlico Sound routes after six employees tested positive for COVID-19. The six employees are in isolation. They last worked this past Monday. 11 other workers who were in close contact with those who tested positive are in quarantine. Service on the Pamlico Sound routes between Cedar Island, Swan Quarter and Ocracoke Island will be reduced between Dec. 22 and 28. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:25 a.m. - Staff members of Republican State Senate leader Phil Berger are in quarantine following the Senator's Christmas party at a Raleigh restaurant. One attendee announced they tested positive for COVID-19 after the party. A spokesperson for Berger's office says the group of fewer than thirty people was within the capacity allowed at a restaurant, and attendees wore masks except when eating.  Governor Roy Cooper's Executive order limits all in-person gatherings to 10 people, although restaurants can operate with 50% capacity. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

7:15 a.m. - COVID-19 vaccinations have begun in North Carolina, but getting millions more doses to the right places won't be easy There was hope in the air this week as high-risk medical workers rolled up their sleeves for the first of two shots to inoculate against the deadly virus. But that was only the beginning.

UPS and FedEx deliver the precious vials on dry ice. They have to be kept at negative 95 degrees Fahrenheit. About a third of hospitals statewide have the cold storage capacity for now. But that number could grow, something Gov. Roy Cooper said was a good thing, but also presents logistics challenges.

The first round of 85,000 doses is in the state, and hospitals are getting them in the arms of workers quickly. The second round of shots for those workers will be on the way in about a week. – Jason deBruyn, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - Raleigh-Durham International Airport expects a slight increase in travelers over the next two weeks, but passenger numbers are still way down from last year.  RDU spokeswoman Stephanie Hawco says the airport's holiday projections show many people have decided to stay home.

“The holidays are usually a very significant bump in passenger traffic,” Hawco said. “Just for perspective, last year during Christmas we had almost 300,000 passengers travel through and this year, we're looking at about 100,000, so a dramatic reduction.”

New cases of COVID-19 are up significantly in North Carolina over the past two weeks. Hawco acknowledges state officials have encouraged people to stay home, but says she believes flying in and out of RDU is safe for people who decide to. She says the airport requires a face covering, and has measures in place to help people sanitize their hands and stay physically distanced. – Will Michaels, WUNC

Dec. 15, 2020

4:40 p.m. - State health officials say a COVID-19 vaccine will soon be distributed to dozens more hospitals in North Carolina. The first shipment of the vaccine from Pfizer has gone to 11 hospitals, with the first injections being administered yesterday. In a press briefing this afternoon Gov. Roy Cooper said he expects 42 more hospitals to get the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday, with more on the way.

"If the Moderna vaccine is authorized by an independent committee of the FDA on Thursday, we expect to get 175,000 doses of that vaccine next week. Just over half of those will go to long-term care facilities," said Cooper.

Cooper said there are still questions about how many doses of the Pfizer vaccine North Carolina will get beyond next week.  Cooper said he asked the Trump Administration for more notice to help the state plan on where those doses should go. – Will Michaels, WUNC

4:30 p.m. - The Orange County Health Department has announced it will cancel all its COVID-19 testing events tomorrow due to winter weather. Freezing rain is in the forecast from tonight through Wednesday at noon across the northern Piedmont. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

4:20 p.m. - The Durham Veterans Administration received its first shipment of nearly 3,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine today. Dr. Chris Hostler, the chief of the office of public health and epidemiology at the Durham VA, said under CDC guidelines, the first vaccines will go to long-term care residents at the VA-run nursing home in Durham.

"And then we'll be vaccinating our healthcare personnel in order to ensure that we can continue to provide safe and effective care to veterans. We look forward to expanding this to central workers, high risk veteran populations and ultimately to all veterans over the course of the coming weeks and months," said Hostler.

Doctors at the Durham VA Healthcare System say they expect to receive a second shipment in a matter of weeks. They're also looking forward to possible FDA approval of other vaccines so they can more easily distribute them to other healthcare sites.

The Durham VA was selected as one of the first 37 VA sites in the country to get the Pfizer vaccine because it had the ability to store the vaccine in freezers. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

12:51 p.m. - Health officials in Alamance County have identified COVID-19 outbreaks at two public elementary schools. A statement issued today says half a dozen cases of the illness have been confirmed among four staff and two children at E-M Yoder Elementary School, in Mebane. That's in addition to five cases among staff at Highland Elementary, in Burlington. The state health and human services department defines such outbreaks as clusters. The county's superintendent says the school buildings where the identified individuals were present have already undergone a systematic cleaning so that classes may continue. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

10:48 a.m. - The High Point Market Authority is postponing its Spring Market event until June 2021. It was originally scheduled for April. Market Authority leaders say the COVID-19 pandemic is still causing industry supply shortages and manufacturing disruptions. They decided delaying the event will give the situation more time to improve. Registration for the Spring Market will open in late February. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:05 a.m. - The Wake Forest men's basketball program plans to resume team activities this week. The Demon Deacons had paused all activities for two weeks because of COVID-19 issues. The team plans to resume practice on Sunday. The Deacons are scheduled to play against Syracuse on Dec. 30. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:51 a.m. - The Cape Fear Valley Health system in Fayetteville is re-implementing visitor restrictions. Hospitals and outpatient clinics will be closed completely to visitors until further notice. There are a few exceptions. Mothers in labor may have one person stay with them, and end of life patients may have one one-hour visit with up to four people. These restrictions come as COVID-19 cases across North Carolina continue to increase. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:36 a.m. – Gov. Roy Cooper is holding a press conference Tuesday afternoon to share an updated on COVID-19. This comes as cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise across North Carolina. Cooper and other state officials recently sent a letter to local governments urging them to consider additional enforcement of COVID-19 related restrictions. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:23 a.m. - The Wake County School Board is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to switch all students back to remote learning in January. As COVID-19 spreads throughout the state more quickly than ever, Wake County is seeing an increase in cases as well. Superintendent Cathy Moore says that community spread is infecting teachers, and so many are in quarantine that it's hard to find enough substitutes.

“Last week, subs picked up an average of only 64% of these requests, and if I remember correctly, we had at least one day where we went below 60%.” Moore says.

Currently, students through eighth grade, and students in special education programs have at least some in-person learning.  The board could switch all students to remote for the first half of January. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

7:05 a.m. – In Durham on Monday, 15 members of the Duke Health community received the area’s first COVID-19 vaccines. Duke received 2,925 does of the Pfizer vaccine. The first vaccines will be administered to frontline healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses and facilities staff who have worked.

"While we are grateful to start administering safe and effective vaccines, we know that there is still a long road ahead of us,” said Dr. Thomas Queen, the President of Duke University Hospital. “With record cases of COVID-19 currently in our community, we must all commit to reducing the spread of infection."

In total, North Carolina will receive 85,500 vaccines from this first shipment. – Mitchell Northam, WUNC

Duke University Hospital received 2,925 does of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.
Credit Blyth Morrell / Duke University Hospital
Dec. 14, 2020

3:40 p.m. - Governor Roy Cooper is urging local governments to consider additional enforcement of COVID-19 related restrictions. The governor sent a letter to local leaders Friday. It was co-signed by Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen and Secretary of Public Safety Eric Hooks. The letter advised that local governments can enforce local ordinances establishing fines for violations of the Governor’s COVID-19 Executive Orders. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

1:50 p.m. - The City of Burlington has released a statement reminding residents that the city council passed a resolution earlier this month encouraging vigilant precautions against the coronavirus. The resolution quote "implores" residents to maintain social distancing, wear face coverings at gatherings, adhere to gathering limits and wash their hands. The state health department labeled Alamance County red for critical community spread on the most recent county alert system map. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

12:05 p.m. - Hospitals around the state are getting their first shipments of COVID-19 vaccine this week for front-line health care workers. Monday morning, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and Duke each got more than 2,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Staff at UNC Hospitals will start getting inoculated Tuesday or Wednesday, according to a system spokesman. The vaccine must be stored in ultra-low temperature freezers. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

7:55 a.m. - In women's college basketball, North Carolina is playing at Miami this afternoon after a weekend of postponing games because of COVID-19 issues. On Sunday, the Tar Heels were scheduled to play Louisville, while Duke was supposed to play Miami. Louisville – which most recently played at Duke – had someone within its team test positive for COVID-19. Duke postponed its game against Miami because of contact tracing measures. The Blue Devils have not had a positive test. – Mitchell Northam and Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:40 a.m. - The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians in western North Carolina will not implement Gov. Roy Cooper's new executive order on COVID-19 restrictions. The order requires people to stay home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. The tribe’s Principal Chief Richard Sneed says he will work with public health officials to enact social distancing measures while balancing the financial position of his community. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has reported over 600 COVID-19 cases. Health officials say just two people are currently hospitalized. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:28 a.m. - On Sunday, the State Department of Health and Human Services reported the second highest daily number of new COVID-19 cases. Over 6,800 cases of the coronavirus were reported across the state. 11.1% of COVID-19 tests are now coming back positive - more than double of the state's goal of 5%. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:02 a.m. - State prisons begin bi-weekly COVID-19 testing of staff Monday. That's by order of the judge in a case filed by advocates for incarcerated people. North Carolina prisons have seen COVID cases surge. Operations at three facilities were suspended recently due to outbreaks and a need to shift staff.

Back in June, Judge Vince Rozier ordered the state to take steps to protect its prison population from the deadly pandemic. This month he appointed a special master to ensure compliance, and required the testing every two weeks of staff who come into contact with prisoners. ACLU Staff Attorney Leah Kang says that's critical with possibly infected--but asymptomatic--workers in and out of prisons every day. The special master in the case will also review the state's early release practices. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

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

Previous weekly updates: