Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of Nov. 16

Nov 16, 2020

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 Nov. 9.

Nov. 20, 2020

4:41 p.m. - Some restaurants in North Carolina are going the extra mile to limit the spread of COVID-19 as they serve patrons. Chef Cheetie Kumar of Garland in downtown Raleigh joined the state health department's briefing this afternoon. Kumar says her restaurant is only serving outside. And instead of reusable dishes, they're plating entrees on banana leaves.

"And after somebody's eaten off of a plate we can just dump that compostable leaf into the trash and whoever's handling the dirty dishes doesn't have to handle utensils or plates," said Kumar, who is also advising people to do the same thing at home if they're having guests over during the holidays. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

2:27 p.m. - A medical device company is getting a federal loan of nearly $600 million to build a syringe manufacturing facility in North Carolina. The company ApiJect plans to hire up to 650 employees by 2022 to produce pre-filled, single-dose injectors in Research Triangle Park. The device is not yet approved by the FDA, but it's among the products the federal government is fast-tracking to distribute a potential COVID-19 vaccine. ApiJect CEO Franco Negron says the company will build a campus with one million square feet of space.

"At the core of the philosophy of the size of the site is to make sure that never again does the United States not have in the territory enough capacity and supply chain to support the needs of the country," said Negron, adding that his company has started retro-fitting other facilities in South Carolina to start producing single-dose injectors by the end of this year.  That's when Pfizer and Moderna hope to start distributing a COVID-19 vaccine to those who need it most. - Will Michaels, WUNC

1:30 p.m. - All sessions of court in Vance County next Monday through Wednesday have been canceled because people associated with the court have tested positive for COVID-19. It's unclear how many people tested positive, or what their affiliation with the court is. Cases will be rescheduled. The courthouse will stay open for essential personnel, but the clerk's office is closed. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:45 a.m. -  Three more people linked to a large Charlotte church outbreak have died from complications related to COVID-19, raising the death toll to 12. The Charlotte Observer reports over 200 cases of COVID-19 have been traced to the week-long event in October at the United House of Prayer for All People. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:32 a.m. - The toll of remote instruction on learning for Wake County students mirrors emerging state and national trends. The school board heard this week that nearly a quarter of students in sixth through twelfth grades are failing at least one class. 

Wake District administrators reported that about 9% of students recorded four or more absences in the first quarter -- that's when students were all learning from home. But, Kristin Beller, the Wake County representative for the state teachers' association, says in a year with so many challenges, you can't put it all on remote instruction.

"Right now, we have parents that might be facing job loss," Beller said. "In a non-pandemic year, we know that a job loss in the family can affect students' grades."

Administrators are now planning to make changes to attendance and grading criteria. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

8:15 a.m. - The UNC System is planning to implement broader surveillance testing at all its universities to avoid another surge of COVID-19 cases at the start of the spring semester. The UNC System Board of Governors was briefed on the plan at their full board meeting yesterday. UNC System Chief of Staff Norma Houston said the state has shipped 43,000 tests to UNC campuses. 

"All of our campuses are planning to use not only re-entry testing, but surveillance testing, broad based surveillance testing, especially in the first couple of weeks of the semester," Houston said. "We all saw numbers when we started calling it the opening surge."

The UNC System's five historically Black universities have also received testing supplies from the federal government they have already been using. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

Nov. 19, 2020

4:40 p.m. - The first overseas flight to fly out of Raleigh-Durham International airport since March departed for Cancun this morning. Overall more passengers flew out of the airport in October than September but travel through RDU is still significantly down from last year — with a 70% decrease in passenger traffic compared to October of 2019. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

4:30 p.m. - Wake County officials are encouraging residents to adjust their Thanksgiving plans to protect themselves and loved ones from COVID-19. The county's "Healthier Holidays" campaign calls for downsizing the dinner party and limiting the guest list to people you live with. Epidemiologist Nicole Mushonga, Wake County's associate medical director says if you are having people over it's better to hold celebrations outdoors. And if you must gather inside, a little planning can make a big difference.

"If you're hosting a Thanksgiving meal, think in advance about seating arrangements. We strongly recommend having people who live together, sit together. And rather than using one long table, use several small tables, spaced six feet apart," said Mushonga.

Along with spreading people out, she says, open a window — or a few windows — to reduce the possible transmission of the coronavirus. Wake county has recorded nearly 26,000 COVID-19 cases, with a significant increase in new cases since October. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

4:20 p.m. - The group representing all 130 hospitals in North Carolina has declared racism a public health crisis. The North Carolina Healthcare Association announced an intensified focus on creating equitable care for all patients. In a statement released on Wednesday, officials said persistent racism is among several social injustices driving widening disparities in care that disproportionately harm people of color. The association says marginalized groups are being especially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The statement pledges a commitment to addressing issues related to racial justice, patient experience and harm reduction when it comes to bias in patient care. 

One ingredient in a multi-pronged approach is anti-bias professional development training for employees at all staff levels. The group will also track data needed to accurately identify gaps in care delivery and patient outcomes. And they plan to identify and implement best practices in reducing disparities. - Neal Charnoff, WFDD

4:10 p.m. - The state Department of Health and Human Services is reporting the state’s highest one-day number of COVID-19 cases with 4,296 new cases reported. Today's record follows several days of increasing trends in new cases, the percent of tests that are positive and hospitalizations. A weekly report released today also shows an increase in the number of people visiting the ER with COVID-like illnesses. State health officials advise people to avoid traveling over Thanksgiving and only gather with people in your household. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:43 a.m. - A North Carolina agency is joining a historically black college to help communities hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic address food insecurity needs. Gov. Roy Cooper's office said in a news release that the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities in the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is partnering with Livingstone College in Salisbury to execute a community-based program to provide critical resources to vulnerable populations impacted by the pandemic. The news release said communities will have access to $5 million in grants as the state and the school execute a community-based program to provide critical resources to vulnerable populations.  - Associated Press

10:45 a.m. - Guilford County Schools will move to all remote learning the week after Thanksgiving to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Most employees will also work from home during that time. Currently pre-K through 2nd grade students are learning in person. All other students are learning online. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:56 a.m. - The state is providing more options for people to get a free COVID-19 test before Thanksgiving. This weekend the Department of Health and Human Services is organizing more than 120 no-cost community testing events across the state. They're partnering with grocery stores for walk-up and drive-thru testing in seven counties, including Durham and Johnston. A full list of testing event times and locations is available at ncdhhs.org. Health officials say if you travel for the holiday, you should consider getting tested three or four days in advance. And they recommend quarantining for two full weeks before gathering with anyone outside your household. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

8:05 a.m. - All court sessions in Vance County are canceled today and tomorrow to help limit the spread of COVID-19. In a statement, court officials says this decision was made out of an abundance of caution to help protect the public and staff. It's unclear if someone associated with Vance County courts tested positive for COVID-19. Cases will be rescheduled. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Nov. 18, 2020

6:10 p.m. - This weekend the Health and Human Services Department is organizing more than 120 no-cost community testing events across the state. They're partnering with grocery stores for walk-up and drive-thru testing in seven counties, including Durham and Johnston.

A full list of testing event times and locations is available on the NCDHHS web site. Health officials say if you travel for the holiday you should consider getting tested three or four days in advance. And they recommend quarantining for two full weeks before gathering with anyone outside your household. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

6 p.m. - Hispanics account for roughly 30% of all the COVID-19 cases diagnosed in North Carolina. Dr. Viviana Martinez-Bianchi, an advisor to the state Health Department, says many are getting exposed on the job. She says, since one in six Latinos can't work from home, it's crucial they get tested. But testing sites targeting Latinos are under-utilized, even when it's free and ID isn't required. Fewer, though, are being hospitalized with severe cases. Martinez-Bianchi said that could be because Latinos in North Carolina tend to be younger. - Cole del Charco, WUNC


3:40 p.m. - Home sales on the Outer Banks are booming in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic and low interest rates. Home and lot sales from Corolla to Ocracoke reached nearly $1.2 billion through October.  The Virginian-Pilot reports that's the most since the all-time record of $1.5 billion set in 2005. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

3:30 p.m. - Leaders of North Carolina's tourism industry group are trying to promote their campaign to keep consumers safe during the pandemic as they expect a drop in travel this holiday season. The Count on Me NC program provides basic training for businesses and visitors about proper mask wearing, physical distancing and hand-washing among other sanitation measures. Marlise Taylor of Visit North Carolina says a recent survey showed a majority of travelers believe the pandemic will get worse in the next month.

"About 60 percent say they wouldn't be able to fully enjoy travel right now. This sentiment is certainly going to affect holiday travel as well. When asked this week about upcoming travel, only 30 percent say they have plans for holiday travel this season," said Taylor.

The average number of new daily COVID-19 cases in North Carolina has risen sharply since September.  Governor Roy Cooper's administration has encouraged people to reconsider holiday travel plans. - Will Michaels, WUNC

3:20 p.m. - The Atlantic Coast Conference has announced the Wake Forest at Duke football game originally scheduled for this Saturday will not be played.  The game was canceled due to positive tests and quarantining within the Wake Forest football team. A makeup game is possible, but has not yet been announced. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

3:10 p.m. - An employee of Union County Schools has died of COVID-19, according to an update to a GoFundMe page for her family. Melissa Bowman was the data manager at Poplin Elementary. She had been hospitalized since August and passed away on Friday. Bowman's daughter said in a Facebook post that her body was tired and her journey was rough. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

3:00 p.m. - More than 50 counties are under red or orange alerts because of high levels of transmission. Public officials in those counties are being asked to enforce state mask mandates and gathering limits and to consider penalizing non-compliant businesses and curbing alcohol sales. Churches there are advised against indoor services.

Governor Roy Cooper is warning counties they may face extra coronavirus restrictions if metrics don't improve. - Cole del Charco and Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

8:20 a.m. - The Wake County School Board last night approved a plan for high school students to return to in-person instruction. Beginning in January, middle and high school students attend in-person on a three week rotation and elementary students will continue in full-time in-person instruction. 

Meanwhile, the Winston Salem Forsyth County School Board voted last night to pause its re-entry plans for students not already attending in-person classes. Students in grades 2 through 12 are now planned to return in January, instead of after Thanksgiving as previously planned. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

7:55 a.m. - The CDC publishes reports weekly about COVID-19 case studies around the country that might give insight into managing the coronavirus. One of those reports published yesterday focuses on success at Duke University. Duke has had very limited COVID-19 spread around its campus compared to other North Carolina colleges. What sets Duke apart is that it required entry testing before students moved to campus, followed by surveillance testing of asymptomatic students.

The university randomly tested residential undergraduate students twice a week all semester and followed up on positive cases, while most colleges focused on testing symptomatic individuals. The CDC report credits Duke's testing approach for its overall low rate of spread. Now, other large universities are also announcing entry and surveillance testing for spring. A Duke spokesperson said the cost of testing was a significant investment. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

Nov. 17, 2020

5:10 p.m. - According to reporting from WRAL, the City of Raleigh is canceling public events through the end of March next year as the pandemic rolls on. Today the governor introduced a color coded alert system for COVID-19 hot spots. The initial map puts every county under some level of alert. Wake County is at the lowest level, "yellow," with significant community spread of the coronavirus. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC


4 p.m. - The Carolina Panthers football team was given special permission to have more people in the stadium Sunday than the state's current pandemic restrictions allow. North Carolina's only NFL team seated an additional 575 fans in the stadium's upper deck for the Panther's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to the Charlotte Observer. - Cole del Charco, WUNC


3:50 p.m. - From July through September, almost 25,000 eviction cases have been filed statewide according to data from the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts. - NC Watchdog Reporting Network


3:40 p.m. - Governor Roy Cooper is unveiling a new county level alert system to highlight COVID-19 hotspots. Counties will be marked yellow, orange or red to indicate the severity of concern. In a briefing this afternoon, Cooper said he hoped it would prompt more cooperation and action from local leaders and others to prevent a surge of cases. 


"If officials, business, community and faith leaders, and people who live in these orange and red counties can work with us to take effective action to bring down their numbers, we can protect our state's hospital system and save lives. And it can prevent us from having to take significant steps backward," said Cooper.

The state has labeled 10 counties red in the initial map, meaning infections, test positivity rates, and impacts on local hospitals are at critical levels. Forty-three counties are orange, indicating there's substantial community spread of the coronavirus. The rest of the state is yellow. Cooper noted that statewide newly reported cases and hospitalizations for COVID-19 are at their highest levels since the pandemic began. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

8:38 a.m. - UNC Chapel Hill received more than 450 reports of students violating COVID-19 precautionary measures through the end of October, according to a report released by the university. These measures include wearing a mask and following social distancing guidelines. Of those reports, over 300 resulted in disciplinary actions including written warnings, activity restrictions and probation. Almost 60 reports led to the removal of students from on-campus housing. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:35 a.m. - The NCAA plans to host March Madness in a single location next year, rather than at different sites spread throughout the country because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a statement issued yesterday, the Division 1 men's basketball committee says they plan to host the tournament in Indianapolis. NC State and the PNC Arena had been scheduled to host games during the first and second rounds of the tournament. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Nov. 16, 2020

6:10 p.m. - A state-funded small business loan program projects it will distribute $75 million by the end of the year. The Rapid Recovery Loan program anticipates it will use all the money in federal Coronavirus relief the state legislature gave it. The NC Insider reports that the NC Rural Center and Golden LEAF foundation administering the program attracted more applicants with revised loan terms before an October 15 deadline. - Cole del Charco, WUNC


6 p.m. - More students returned to school buildings in Wake County today. Students in kindergarten through third grade who didn't choose virtual learning are back in the classroom five days a week with all their classmates and fourth and fifth graders are starting a three-week rotation. - Cole del Charco, WUNC


5:50 p.m. - Precautionary measures for COVID-19 in state courts will continue for the next 30 days. Chief Justice Cheri Beasley is encouraging the public to conduct as much business online as possible. Beasley also moved to require that  superior courts come up with plans for safely resuming jury trials. Those plans have to provide for social distancing, masks for jurors and witnesses, and mitigation should someone involved in a trial test positive or show symptoms of COVID-19. - Cole del Charco, WUNC


12:21 p.m. - Parents of students in Wake County Public Schools are hoping to get a chance to watch their children participate in athletics and performing arts. After the district moved to allow some high school extracurriculars to resume, they barred parents from attending those events due to concerns over COVID-19.  But, at the school board meeting last week and online in the days since, parents have spoken out against the ban. The Raleigh News & Observer reports that at the school board meeting tomorrow district administrators may recommend a plan that would allow spectators. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

11:27 a.m. - Seventeen firefighters in the Asheville Fire Department have tested positive for COVID-19. The Asheville Citizen-Times reports all 17 are in isolation, while 8 others are in quarantine after coming in close contact with those who tested positive. Fire Chief Scott Burnette says the city still has enough working firefighters to meet emergency calls. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

9:40 a.m. - On Sunday, the state Department of Health and Human Services reported over 3,100 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus. State health officials also report almost 1,400 hospitalizations caused by COVID-19. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:40 a.m. - In Wake County, today is the deadline for small business owners to apply for loans to help recover losses caused by the pandemic. Businesses with up to 150 employees can receive up to$ 250,000. Businesses who receive loans do not have to make payments for 18 months. Wake County allocated $5 million of COVID-19 federal relief money to this fund. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:32 a.m. - Students in Dare County are returning to remote learning this week. This comes after several cases of COVID-19 in schools caused over 400 students and teachers to quarantine or isolate after resuming in-person classes in late October. On Friday, the Dare County Board of Education voted to begin remote learning again this Wednesday until mid-January. Special education students will continue learning in-person. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:10 a.m. - Students, faculty and staff at North Carolina State University will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before returning to campus in the spring. The decision comes after more than 1,000 cases forced the school to move to mostly remote classes during the fall semester. Those returning to campus will be required to get tested three to five days before the semester starts. The university says anyone who refuses to comply can face disciplinary action. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

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

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