Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of Nov. 23

Nov 23, 2020

North Carolina head coach Mack Brown watches his team warm up for an NCAA college football game against Syracuse on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020 in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Credit Robert Willett / The News & Observer via AP, Pool

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. 16.

Nov. 27, 2020

8:05 a.m. - Three state prisons have closed because of an increase in COVID-19 cases among inmates. The Charlotte Observer reports these facilities were also closed because of the number of staff that have been out of work at some facilities.

Inmates at Randolph Correctional Center in Randolph County, Southern Correctional Institution in Montgomery County and Piedmont Correctional Institution in Rowan County are being transferred to other facilities across the state. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Nov. 25, 2020

2:40 p.m. - A recent report from Visit Raleigh estimates Wake County's businesses and tourism industry will lose a minimum of $145 million due to COVID-19. Nearly 300 conventions, sports events and meeting have been canceled this year because of the pandemic. The lost revenue makes up about 5% of total money spent by visitors. - Naomi Prioleau, WUNC

2:30 p.m. - The day before Thanksgiving, the state Department of Health and Human Services is reporting the highest number of COVID-19 related hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic. Just over 1,800 people across the state are hospitalized with COVID-19 complications. The state is also reporting 4,212 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, the third highest daily tally ever. Health officials are urging people to celebrate tomorrow's holiday only with people they live with. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

2:20 p.m. - The state Department of Transportation has more cash on hand than at any time since the pandemic hit North Carolina. The department's improved finances come after a year in which its reserves were depleted. There was a steep decline in revenue from the gas tax when Gov. Cooper issued a stay-at-home order this spring. And the transportation department spent hundreds of millions of dollars to repair roads from storm damage last year. But the agency's CFO Stephanie King now says drivers are traveling more and the state got a break from a relatively quiet hurricane season. 

"We feel like we've come out of the clouds and we see partly sunny skies, but the caveat for us right now is a second round of COVID and what that might mean to our numbers," said King.

The governor recently signed an executive order designed to strengthen the statewide mask mandate, but has avoided reinstating any travel restrictions. - Will Michaels, WUNC

2:15 p.m. - Fans will not be allowed to attend home basketball games at North Carolina A&T State University at least through December. Athletics Director Early Hilton announced Tuesday officials will reevaluate conditions before the New Year. The men's and women's basketball teams at NC A&T will have five total home games at the Corbett Sports Center in Greensboro throughout December. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:40 a.m. - The mayor of Winston Salem has issued an emergency order that authorizes its city's police and fire departments to enforce mask-wearing. Law enforcement in the city can issue citations to people who do not comply with mask requirements. Violators could face up to 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. This comes as Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order Monday that strengthens masks requirements, especially in gyms and restaurants. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Nov. 24, 2020

3:30 p.m. - The stricter mask mandate Gov. Cooper issued this week expands requirements for face coverings to educational settings beyond public schools. K-12 public schools operating with in-person instruction are already required to have everyone wear masks. The new order explicitly requires that for private schools too. The mandate applies to home schooling and informal settings like "learning pods" as well — anywhere students older than five are in contact with people from outside their own household. Another change for kids involved in organized sports: Face coverings are required for anyone playing indoors — and for spectators. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

3:20 p.m. - Researchers at North Carolina Central University found that 17% of residents have gone without food for at least one day this past week due to the impact of COVID-19. The online survey also found that nearly a quarter of respondents have needed food assistance since the beginning of the pandemic. Seventy-seven percent of households are still considering or planning to spend Thanksgiving outside of their homes despite health warnings. - Naomi Prioleau, WUNC

3:10 p.m. - Both Alamance and Guilford Counties are labeled "red" in the updated state COVID-19 alert map. The high rate of coronavirus transmission in those areas is putting a strain on local hospitals. Bruce Swords, the chief executive physician for Cone Health which has hospitals in both Alamance and Guilford, says they're watching the trends closely.

"We follow something called a 'reproduction rate': how many people get infected from somebody who's already infected. And if have COVID am I giving it to more or less than one person? It needs to be less than one. And currently [in] our regions, and our state [it] is well over one," said Swords.

Swords says the COVID-19 case numbers and transmission rates will tell him whether people are complying. - Naomi Prioleau, WUNC

3 p.m. - The Durham Rescue Mission is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. At least 17 people linked to the homeless shelter have tested positive. Over 350 people, including staff and those staying at the shelter, will undergo testing again today and tomorrow. As a consequence, Chief Operating Officer Rob Tart says his shelter is not accepting any new clients at this time. He says that's a difficult decision with the oncoming cold. Tart says the shelter will continue following safety protocols, including operating at reduced capacity and spacing people out within the shelter as much as possible. - Naomi Prioleau, WUNC

11:55 a.m. - Greensboro Coliseum will welcome back the Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball tournament in March. The 2021 tournament was originally scheduled to be played in Washington D.C. The conference decided to relocate the event because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It will be the 28th time the Greensboro Coliseum hosts the ACC men’s tournament, more than any other venue. The women’s ACC basketball tournament will also be held in Greensboro this season. – Naomi Prioleau, WUNC

11:10 a.m. - Only 25 fans will be allowed inside the Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh for the start of N.C. State's basketball season. The Raleigh News and Observer reports those fans will be the guests of N.C. State players. Visiting teams will not be allowed to invite fans. The men's and women's basketball teams both play their first games of the season Wednesday at Reynolds. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:25 a.m.  – UNC-Chapel Hill has announced more details about its plans to test students for COVID-19 next semester. The test will be a self-administered nasal swab test. Tests will be processed on campus and results will be available within 48 hours. Testing requirements will vary between student and employee populations.

All undergraduate students living on campus and in Chapel Hill or Carrboro will be required to take a test at home before arriving on campus. Those students must also re-entry and regular asymptomatic evaluation testing twice a week throughout the semester. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:10 a.m. – 167,000 passengers are expected to travel through the Raleigh-Durham International Airport over this Thanksgiving holiday week, despite the CDC recommending against travel amid a national surge of COVID-19.

For RDU, that's still a marked decrease compared to the record-breaking traffic the airport saw last year.  The Sunday following Thanksgiving the airport set a single-day high of almost 55,000 passengers. 2019 also set a record for annual traffic with 14.2 million passengers over the entire year. RDU spokesperson Stephanie Hawco says the airport does not expect anything near that when the 20-20 totals are in. 

“We'll be lucky to get about 5 million this year. That's what kind of drop off we've had. And of that 5 million, about half of those flew from January to March,” Hawco said. “So very different numbers than we're used to seeing here."

For those who are deciding to travel, Hawco says the airport has seen good compliance with mask requirements. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - A week after Gov. Roy Cooper first unveiled a COVID-19 threat map, the state has doubled the number of counties under red alert due to a high rate of transmission and the strain on local hospitals. Guilford County is now among 20 counties in the red zone.

At Monday’s state briefing, Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan explained her city is going to be tougher on businesses that don't follow state capacity limits. They could face fines. But she said first they'll get a warning.

“If we come back a second time, and the violations remain, they can be closed for 24 hours,” Vaughan said. “If the city comes back a third time and the violations still remain, they can be closed for 48 hours. If the city comes back a fourth time and the violations remain, they can be closed for 72 hours.”

Cooper signed a new executive order stressing mask wearing, particularly in gyms and restaurants. It makes clear police can cite businesses that don't enforce the mandate and individuals who don't comply. – Naomi Prioleau, WUNC

Nov. 23, 2020

4:50 p.m. - The state Health Department now considers the spread of COVID-19 to be at critical levels in 20 counties.

North Carolina's county alert system uses color codes, with orange and red indicating where concern is heightened. Only 10 counties were under red alert when the map was first unveiled last week. Governor Roy Cooper says as more counties are added to that list, the risk of hospitals being overwhelmed increases.

"This is deadly serious. We need communities and local governments all over the state, but especially in those red and orange hotspots, to work with us to enforce the strong safely rules we already have in place," said Cooper. - Will Michaels, WUNC

4:40 p.m. - Gov. Cooper has signed an executive order strengthening his statewide mask mandate as new cases of COVID-19 continue to mount. Previously, the mandate simply required face coverings when people could not consistently keep their distance from others. The updated order now explicitly requires people to wear face coverings indoors if anyone else inside that public space is not a member of the same household. It also allows law enforcement to cite a person or business that does not comply. The executive order does not, however, require restaurant patrons to wear masks while actively eating or drinking.

At a briefing this afternoon, Cooper said the action is intended to help reverse troubling upward trends in cases and hospitalizations.

"I have a stark warning for North Carolinians today: we are in danger. This is a pivotal moment in our fight against the coronavirus. Our actions now will determine the fate of many," said Cooper.

Statewide, more than 1,600 people are hospitalized with COVID-19. Hospitals still have capacity, but health officials are worried they will be overwhelmed if the current trends continue. - Will Michaels and Laura Pellicer, WUNC

4:30 p.m. - The Raleigh Durham International Airport expects 167,000 passengers to travel through the airport this week for the Thanksgiving holiday, despite concerns of a national surge in COVID-19 cases. The airport set a single-day record for passenger traffic on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019, with almost 55,000 passengers traveling through RDU that day. The CDC is advising against traveling for Thanksgiving. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

1:30 p.m. - North Carolina has set another record for hospitalized COVID-19 patients. There are currently 1,601 patients infected with the coronavirus in hospitals statewide according to the state's Department of Health and Human Services. North Carolina surpassed 5,039 deaths from the virus over the weekend and new infections are continuing to rise sharply. – Naomi Prioleau, WUNC

1:20 p.m. – Duke’s men’s basketball team's season-opener against Gardner-Webb – scheduled for this Wednesday – is being postponed due to COVID-19. A player for Gardner-Webb tested positive, but is asymptomatic. No make-up date for the game has been set.

Duke’s women’s basketball team will still play at home Wednesday, tipping off at noon vs. Longwood. It will be the head coaching debut for Kara Lawson.

The men’s team will now open its season against Coppin State on Saturday. The Eagles are coached by former Maryland guard Juan Dixon. – Naomi Prioleau and Mitchell Northam, WUNC

7:50 a.m. - A student from Livingstone College died on Friday from COVID-19. 23-year-old Jamesha Waddell had been isolating at home since mid-September, according to a statement from the HBCU in Salisbury. While in isolation, her condition worsened. She was hospitalized in the ICU before passing away. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:35 a.m. - The men's basketball team at NC Central University is resuming practice Monday after briefly pausing because of a positive COVID-19 test. The Raleigh News and Observer reports Athletics Director Kyle Serba would not specify who associated with the team tested positive, but said the university is following all safety protocols. The team expects to play a tournament in Iowa this week. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:20 a.m. – Gov. Roy Cooper is holding a press conference this afternoon to share an update on COVID-19. This comes as the state department of health and human services reported over 4,500 cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, the highest number of new daily cases reported since the beginning of the pandemic. More people are also getting tested. The State Health Department reports more than 5,000 people in North Carolina have died from COVID-19 related complications. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - The North Carolina Film Office says this year’s spending by film projects in North Carolina has hit $110 million dollars. That’s down from last year, but it’s higher than in 2018 and 2017. Film Commissioner Guy Gaster says North Carolina is actually seeing elevated interest from film and TV producers who want to move production away from major cities.

“We are still getting some additional looks from projects that might have normally looked at something like a New York City, Chicago, even Los Angeles,” Gaster said.

One of those productions is the Starz crime drama Hightown. It’s first season was filmed outside New York City, but Gaster says they’ve now relocated to the Wilmington area in part because there are fewer strict coronavirus measures and the population is less dense. He says next year also looks promising, with producers already committed to spending $60 million in the state. - Nick de la Canal, WFAE

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

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