Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of Nov. 30

Nov 30, 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 Nov. 23.

Dec. 4, 2020

5:40 p.m. - A superior court judge has appointed a special master to review a state program aimed at protecting North Carolina prison inmates at higher risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of an ongoing lawsuit filed by the ACLU and other civil rights groups, a Wake County judge appointed Thomas Maher to monitor state compliance with its Extended Limits of Confinement program, which allows some incarcerated people to serve their sentences on home confinement. Maher is the executive director of Duke University's Center for Science and Justice and the former head of the state's Office of Indigent Defense Services. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

4:50 p.m. - Newly reported cases of COVID-19 topped 5,000 for the second consecutive day in North Carolina. According to the state Health Department's website, 5,303 new cases have been reported, just under yesterday's record mark of more than 5,600. Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are at 2,157.


Gov. Cooper spoke to CNN yesterday and said the numbers are alarming. The governor says that's why he issued a mask mandate and lowered the capacity of indoor gatherings. His latest executive order is scheduled to expire next week.

"All of our options are on the table to tighten things down, we know we may need to do that. Our hospitals have capacity right now, we've been staying in close contact with them," said Cooper.

State officials are expecting a limited supply of vaccine for health care workers soon, once inoculations are greenlit by federal authorities. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

4:40 p.m. - Franklin County health officials are taking town leaders in Youngsville to task over plans for a Christmas Parade tomorrow. In a statement, county health director Scott LaVigne says even with mask wearing and social distancing, the event poses a grave health risk. In the past two weeks, Franklin County's positivity rate for COVID testing has been 8.5%, more than 3% higher than the state's target threshold for controlling community spread. Youngsville's Town Administrator told WUNC the board believes the parade can be held safely and that canceling the church-organized event would be an infringement of people's constitutional rights. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC


11:45 a.m. - A Franklin County town will hold its annual Christmas Parade on Saturday in defiance of state officials concerned about the spread of COVID-19. Town Administrator Phillip Cordeiro says the parade in Youngsville could draw up to 300 spectators along the two-mile route that passes through downtown.

Cordeiro says town officials spoke on Monday with county and state public health representatives, who wanted the event canceled, especially as newly reported cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations for the illness are surging. But he suggests there are constitutional issues at stake with an event organized by area churches.

“So we don't feel that it's right for us as a town to silence them and to tell them that they can't, you know, freely assemble in public to celebrate, again, the reason for the holiday season,” Cordeiro said.
Cordeiro says spectators are being urged to wear masks and observe safe physical distancing protocols. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

11:25 a.m. - North Carolina is anticipating initial doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in an as little as two weeks. Governor Roy Cooper announced earlier this week it would be Pfizer's vaccine, which must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius. He said it will be challenging to get it to rural communities. Duke University experts agree rural areas could have difficulty getting that kind of refrigeration. Thomas Denny is a professor of medicine at Duke.

“We're gonna have to be prepared to supplement those areas, provide portable types of cooling devices to get vaccines distributed,” said Thomas Denny, a professor of medicine at Duke. “I think we have to work with what we have and begin to plan to have distribution that includes adequate cold chain provisions.”

Rural areas in North Carolina are experiencing a dramatic spike of COVID-19 cases. Healthcare workers are expected to be offered the vaccine first. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:35 a.m. - Wake County Public Schools is reporting 68 new cases of COVID-19 in students and staff over the past week. The school system has reported almost 220 cases overall since classes began in late October. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - A Lee County Commissioner has died from COVID-19. News outlets report Kevin Dodson had been hospitalized with COVID-19 before his death. Dodson was elected commissioner in November 2016 and served as vice chairman of the board from December 2018 to November 2019. He was set to finish his term on the board this month. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - The very first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine expected to arrive in North Carolina later this month will go to long term care facilities and hospitals. Included in the next major phase of the rollout after that would be frontline workers who have multiple chronic conditions and are at the highest risk for exposure. That group includes police and firefighters and people who work in food processing, transportation, grocery stores and teachers.

State health Director Betsy Tilson presented the updated vaccination priority plans to the State Board of Education on Thursday.

“We do not anticipate that we will have enough supplies for the majority of people, really until the spring,” Tilson said.

All other education staff could be vaccinated in phase two along with frontline workers without chronic conditions. And K-12 students would be vaccinated in the third phase just before the general population – if data from clinical trials shows good results in children. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

Dec. 3, 2020

6:50 p.m. - Thousands of North Carolina students may have to take in-person end-of-grade or end-of-class tests this year, despite the pandemic. Federal and state laws require schools in North Carolina to test most students in person at the end of a class or grade. The tests are a substantial part of a student's score, and can make the difference in moving to the next grade. Those requirements are still in place, even with widespread remote learning.

This week, the State Board of Education decided to move forward with requesting a waiver, and will take a final vote in January. The Trump Administration has told states that no waiver will be granted for in-person instruction. It's not yet known if the Biden Administration will change that policy. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

6:40 p.m. - COVID-19 precautions have brought court proceedings in North Carolina to a crawl. County prosecutors are dropping charges for some low-level offenses such as traffic violations. 

Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather says his office is also refering people charged with simple drug posession to recovery agencies and other service providers. He says otherwise it could take two years to fully prosecute such cases because of how long trials are being delayed during the pandemic.

"Are we willing to spend that amount of time if we know that means that someone who has lost a kid is going to have to wait that much longer to get their cases resolved? To me that choice is clear," said Merriweather. 

Statewide, the number of pending felony cases has increased 15% compared with last year. - Jason deBruyn, WUNC and North Carolina Watchdog Reporting Network 

6:30 p.m. - State Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen says the 11.4% percent positivity rate for newly returned COVID-19 tests is "alarming." Addressing reporters today, Cohen said she is worried.

"I know this is a particularly hard time of year to stay home and away from family and friends, yet it is the best way we can take personal responsibility and show our care for them as we fight this global pandemicm" said Cohen. 

Cohen says wearing masks and keeping a safe distance from people you don't live with continue to be among the most important public health measures. Cohen says she expects North Carolina to get a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine for health-care workers soon, once it's authorized by the FDA. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

12:35 p.m. - North Carolina has recorded its highest number of COVID-19 cases Thursday. The State Department of Health and Human Services web site shows more than 5,600 positive cases reported. Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 continue to rise too, with the latest data on the state DHHS web site showing more than 2,100 COVID-related hospitalizations across North Carolina. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

11:45 a.m. - A recent poll shows notable uncertainty among North Carolinians when asked if they intend to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 42% of those surveyed last month by High Point University said they would get a vaccine to prevent contracting the novel-coronavirus-related illness. 31% said they would not and 27% said they weren't sure. State health officials say they're hopeful the first shipment of a COVID-19 vaccine will arrive in North Carolina later this month, with the first doses going to front-line health care workers. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

9:55 a.m. – Police say a North Carolina store owner was given a citation for encouraging customers NOT to wear a mask while inside her store, violating orders to preserve public health during the coronavirus pandemic. Wendell General Store owner Regina Harmon was cited Wednesday with one count of aiding and abetting the violation of an executive order. Harmon's store posted signs stating: “Masks not required, exceptions to every rule” and “We request that you not wear a face covering.”

Gov. Roy Cooper’s mask requirement has been in place since June. Wendell police say officers cited Harmon after consulting with the Wake County District Attorney’s Office. – The Associated Press

9:20 a.m. - A town in North Carolina is planning to hold a Christmas parade despite concerns from county health officials that the event could facilitate the spread of the coronavirus. The Raleigh News & Observer reported Wednesday that Youngsville plans a mile-long parade with up to 300 people watching. The town has faced repeated warnings from the Franklin County Health Department that COVID cases are rising.

The county also said that the parade would violate Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order limiting crowds. Town Manager Phil Cordeiro told county officials that Youngsville’s parade falls under the same First Amendment exemption. He also said the parade is a permitted religious service because it starts in the parking lot of a church. – The Associated Press

7:25 a.m. - The Greensboro City Council has passed an ordinance that strengthens the mayor's recent COVID-19 enforcement order. Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaugn recently announced penalties for businesses that violate reduced occupancy orders. The Greensboro News and Record reports the city council's ordinance says places where people can't maintain enough social distance will be deemed illegal public nuisances. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:10 a.m. - The man credited with creating the formula for Slim Jim beef jerky sticks has died from complications due related to COVID-19. The Raleigh News and Observer reports that Alonzo "Lon" Adams has died at the age of 95. A funeral service for the World War II veteran was held in Raleigh, on Wednesday. Adams worked on the Slim Jim recipe at GoodMark Foods in Garner. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

Dec. 2, 2020

2:30 p.m. - North Carolina's overall death rate is projected to rise by 5% this year, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state Department of Health and Human Services says the death rate has been rising for the last several years, but officials expected it to increase by 2-3%.  At her latest press briefing, state Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said COVID-19 has been blamed for more than 5,000 deaths this year.

"To give some perspective, just under 1,500 people died from the flu in the past 10 years. In just 11 months, COVID has killed more than three times that number," said Cohen. 

The state Health Department says it's not yet clear how many more fatalities could be indirectly related to the pandemic, like deaths from suicide. – Will Michaels, WUNC

12:30 p.m. - The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise across North Carolina. The State Department of Health and Human Services reports more than 2,000 people are in the hospital with the coronavirus for the second day in a row. The rolling seven-day average of COVID-19 tests coming back positive is almost at 9%. The state's goal is 5%. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

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11:35 a.m. - Wake County's school board voted Tuesday to help employees and sports programs hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The board voted unanimously to award school employees a $500 bonus this month - at a cost of more than $10.6 million. The board also voted to give $835,000 dollars to scholastic athletic programs to help make up for lost ticket revenue. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

11:05 a.m. - A state audit of North Carolina's Department of Public Instruction found that DPI failed to adequately measure the benefits of how it used millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds allocated by the legislature. The auditor's report said DPI used $31 million for a summer learning program without procedures to determine if it improved students' ability. The same goes for money used to distribute meals to students in need, according to the report.

In a letter to the auditor's office, Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson agreed DPI didn't measure the results of the summer learning program but blamed that on the state education board's cancellation of a contract with a vendor that provided such services. Johnson disputed the finding that DPI didn't measure the results of its nutritional services. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

7:40 a.m. - A recent poll from High Point University shows that consumer sentiment in North Carolina remains low during the pandemic. 28% of those polled say they are better off financially than they were a year ago, compared to 42% of respondents in the spring of this year. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:25 a.m. - North Carolina Christmas tree growers are preparing for a busy season during the COVID-19 pandemic as families turn to tradition in a year of uncertainty. Shoppers may have to make an appointment to get their tree this year as sellers try to prevent crowds. Director of the Christmas tree genetics program at N.C. State, Justin Whitehill expects customers will decide that extra effort is worth it for something that's more than just a decoration.

"But it’s really the whole process of going and collecting the tree, getting it set up and getting out and being able to participate in this," Whitehill said. "Especially now with COVID it’s something that really gives families a focal point and something to look forward to."

Demand this year has also been high for the centerpieces of other seasonal celebrations -- like Halloween pumpkins and Thanksgiving sweet potatoes. North Carolina is the nation's top sweet potato producer, and the second leading producer of Christmas trees. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:10 a.m. - The pandemic is posing the biggest challenge to public schools since the Great Depression. That's according to the chair of the state board of education, which convenes its monthly meeting on Wednesday. For students in underprivileged households, the pandemic has only made things harder. One example: nearly half of students who normally qualify for free and reduced-price lunch aren't getting meals from schools.

Eric Davis, who chairs the state board of education says, among the many challenges, there is also opportunity. A chance to re-make education so it works for everyone. While Davis expressed hope speaking to a legislative committee yesterday, there was an elephant in the room. The committee's report to the incoming General Assembly won't include controversial recommendations for adding billions to public school funding to resolve the long-running Leandro case. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

Dec. 1, 2020

3:50 p.m. - State health officials say they're hopeful the first shipment of a COVID-19 vaccine will arrive in North Carolina later this month. The state Health Department says preliminary data from vaccine trials indicate one could be ready before the end of the year. Gov. Roy Cooper says the state expects to get an initial 85,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine once it gets FDA approval. At a press briefing this afternoon, state Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen explained how her department intends to distribute the first doses.

"Initially, this very limited supply of vaccines will go to a limited number of hospital settings to vaccinate health care workers at high risk of exposure to COVID-19, those who are caring for or cleaning areas used by patients with COVID-19," said Cohen. 

North Carolina has a distribution plan that will roll out the vaccine in four stages. The first stage also includes staff and residents at long-term care facilities like adult care and nursing homes. - Will Michaels, WUNC

3:40 p.m. - A teacher at a middle school in Fayetteville has died from COVID-19 complications. The teacher, who was not identified, worked at Luther Nick Jeralds Middle School. Cumberland County Superintendent Dr. Marvin Connelly told WRAL News the teacher had not been at school recently. Cumberland County students have been learning remotely full-time during the pandemic. The district plans to resume in-person classes on a staggered basis in January. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

3:30 p.m. - State officials briefed lawmakers today on remote learning issues. One of the biggest problems has been attendance. Currently, about 36% of North Carolina students in K-12 public schools are going to school entirely online. Of those, about 1 in 5 are missing at least two days of school per week. State Department of Education officials say there are a number of reasons students aren't turning up for remote learning, one of the biggest factors is students home alone during the day who are choosing not to log on. Even more troubling: Just more than half of students who typically qualify for free and reduced lunch are regularly receiving meals. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

12:35 p.m. - The state department of health and human services is reporting a record number of COVID-19 related hospitalizations for the fourth day in a row. Over 2,000 people across North Carolina are in the hospital with the coronavirus. The rolling seven-day average of COVID-19 tests coming back positive is at 8.3%. The state's goal is less than 5%. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:45 a.m. - The Charlotte Hornets will not allow fans at their home games when the NBA season begins. The team says they will work with state and local officials to develop a plan to bring back fans safely. Several college basketball teams are also not allowing fans at their games during the COVID-19 pandemic, including Duke. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:55 a.m. - Cumberland County is postponing its end of course high school testing. School officials say the testing is being postponed because of a large increase in positive COVID-19 cases. On Sunday almost 9% of COVID-19 tests in Cumberland County came back positive. High school students will take their tests after winter break. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:55 a.m. - Wake Forest men's basketball team is pausing activities for the rest of this week because of COVID-19 issues. A statement from the university's athletics department says the team recently underwent COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, but does not specify if any players tested positive. Wake Forest was scheduled to play Troy on Wednesday. The Demon Deacons are 2-0 on the season under first-year head coach Steve Forbes. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:40 a.m. – Gov. Roy Cooper is scheduled to hold a press conference Tuesday afternoon to share an update on COVID-19. The governor's current executive order keeping North Carolina in Phase 3 expires this week. Most recently, Cooper lowered the limit on indoor gatherings from 25 people to 10 and expanded the statewide mask mandate. Tuesday's briefing comes as the state continues to set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new daily reported cases. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:25 a.m. - The health director of Pitt County has tested positive for COVID-19. News outlets report Dr. John Silvernail is in isolation experiencing mild symptoms. Silvernail tested positive over the weekend. The county says he may have been exposed to the virus from a family member. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:15 a.m. - COVID-19 cases have put a strain on the state prison system. The state recently had to suspend operations at one prison and two minimum security camps because of the need to shift resources. In one case, staff were diverted to a local hospital because of a spike in the number of inmates admitted due to the coronavirus-related illness. And state Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee told a state senate committee Monday there has been a delay in transferring inmates from county jails to state prisons.

“For those on jail backlog, DPS reimburses the county at $40 per day,” Ishee said. “I know that it's a major issue, our backlog right now is about 1,000 offenders across the whole state."

Ishee also told senators the state has had to pay more overtime to cover for the more than 300 prison employees who are out of work due to contracting COVID. – Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

Nov. 30, 2020

5:45 p.m. - Amid the pandemic, enrollment in Wake County public schools declined this fall. The News & Observer reports that bucks a nearly four-decade-long growth trend for the state's largest district. The state released figures showing enrollment in Wake County Schools down by more than 4,200 students, about 2.6% from last year. The district says the true drop is closer to 3,000 once changes to how attendance is being calculated this year are taken into account. A spokeswoman told the newspaper the district attributes the enrollment drop to parents choosing alternatives like homeschooling and delaying kindergarten. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

4:40 p.m. - North Carolina prison officials are ramping up testing of inmates and staff as COVID-19 has put a strain on operations. The prison system has had to suspend some operations at three facilities and divert staff to set up a medical surge unit. State Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee told members of the state Senate Committee on Prison Safety today that the costs are mounting.

"We are testing about 12,000 offenders during the course of a month, each test costs about $100," said Ishee.

There are roughly 600 active cases of COVID among inmates at North Carolina's 55 prisons. More than 300 prison staff are currently off the job due to the illness, which Ishee said is pushing up overtime hours. He said next month they will be installing ionizer technology to improve ventilation systems within state prisons. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

3:30 p.m. - Durham County has had to cancel already curtailed court operations this week because of a COVID-19-related quarantine among an unspecified number of staff at the District Attorney's office. In an email response to WUNC, a spokeswoman from the DA's office could not provide more detail about how many staff members, if any, tested positive, citing employee privacy. Judges have canceled District and Superior Criminal Court sessions for the week. Since June, Durham courts have been operating with reduced seating capacities and smaller dockets due to the pandemic. Jury trials have been on hold since May. - Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

3:20 p.m. - The state Department of Health and Human Services is reporting a record number of COVID-19 related hospitalizations for the third day in a row. There are 1,966 people across North Carolina currently in hospital with the coronavirus. The state also reported 2,734 newly confirmed cases. The state wants to see no more than 5% of COVID-19 tests coming back positive, but the rolling seven day average is at 7.8%. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:55 a.m. - COVID-19 continues to disrupt North Carolina's college sports schedule. In football, members of the Wake Forest team have tested positive for the coronavirus. The Demon Deacons' game against Miami that was set for this coming Saturday will be rescheduled.

In men's basketball, N.C. State was supposed to face William and Mary on Monday, but that game will also be rescheduled after COVID-19 concerns within William and Mary's program. UNC-Greensboro's game against Winthrop that was scheduled for last night will also be postponed. It's unclear which team is experiencing COVID-19 issues. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:40 a.m. - The Rockingham County Sheriff is expected to return to work today after testing positive for COVID-19. The Greensboro News and Record reports that Sheriff Sam Page has been quarantining since last week. A spokesperson for the sheriff's office says Page is doing well. It's unclear if there are any other COVID-19 cases within the sheriff's office. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:20 a.m. - On Sunday, the State Department of Health and Human Services reported a record number of COVID-19 related hospitalizations. Almost 1,900 people across North Carolina are in the hospital with COVID-19. That beat the previous record reported Saturday of just over 1,800 hospitalizations. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:55 a.m. - All court sessions at the Vance County courthouse are canceled for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday because of an exposure of COVID-19 at the building. The courthouse has been canceling court sessions since Nov. 19. Court officials previously reported an undisclosed number of people associated with the court tested positive for COVID-19. Cases will be rescheduled. The courthouse and the clerk's office will stay open for essential personnel. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

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

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