Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of Oct. 19

Oct 19, 2020

Credit Gerry Broome / AP

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 Oct. 12.

Oct. 23, 2020

4:45 p.m. - NC State University will not have a spring break next semester after all. In a message Thursday, Chancellor Randy Woodson said the university reversed its original decision announced last month after talking to students, faculty and health experts. The university will instead have four wellness days spread throughout the spring semester. The university also decided to push back the start of the semester by a week. Classes will start on January 19. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:55 a.m.  - Wake Forest University is implementing more COVID-19 restrictions on its campus as a result of rising case trends. The university is suspending in-person plans for Fall Fest and student attendance at the school's football game this weekend. All Homecoming activities for the university will be virtual. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:50 a.m.  - Elon University is again implementing strict COVID-19 restrictions on its campus. Starting today, visitors are not allowed inside residence halls. dining halls are only open for take-out and High risk club sports and intramural activities are suspended until further notice. The university implemented similar restrictions in September but loosened the rules earlier this month. The university reports at least 69 active cases and over 200 students in quarantine or isolation. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:30 a.m. - The Durham Public Schools Board of Education has voted to resume high school athletics in a phased approach starting next week. On Monday, cross country and volleyball will be allowed to start practicing two days a week with several COVID-19 safety measures in place. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:15 a.m. - A third person has died as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak linked to a weeklong church event in Mecklenburg County. The Charlotte Observer reports there are now 82 cases of COVID-19 tied to the event. At least five people connected to the outbreak have been hospitalized. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:10 a.m. - The pandemic is adding a strain on psychiatric facilities. Kody Kinsley of the State Department of Health and Human Services says before COVID, patients waited an average of 145 hours in a hospital emergency department before being transferred to a state psychiatric facility.  But now that wait has increased to 185 hours.

Kinsley says the pandemic has cost many North Carolinians their jobs and increased symptoms of depression and anxiety. Meanwhile, many private psychiatric facilities are limiting admission and screening out patients at risk from COVID-19. So people have fewer places to go for help.

Kinsley says the ER is still the place to go in an emergency. However, he said he hopes people will seek out preventive support by calling or texting the state's Hope-4-N-C Helpline: 855-587-3463. – Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

Oct. 22, 2020

4:50 p.m. - This year's High Point Furniture Market has come to a close. On-site attendance numbers are not available yet, but officials say exhibitor registrations for the trade show were around 55% of what they were last fall.  The bi-annual market was extended from the usual five days to nine to spread out the foot traffic. Health screenings were required for entry and there were no live seminars or entertainment. The spring market was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. - Naomi Prioleau, WUNC

4:40 p.m. - Durham County has spent more than $3 million on "hazard pay" for essential workers under the assumption that state and federal aid would reimburse the county. At a recent meeting, Durham County commissioners worried County Manager Wendell Davis interpreted the "essential worker" classification too broadly when he approved hazard pay in March. Davis said he plans to apply for funds from FEMA every three months. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

12:40 p.m. - Duke University medical experts say Halloween will not look the same this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They are advising against traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating and Halloween parties since the coronavirus can spread easily where there are crowds or many people touching common surfaces, like a candy bowl. Instead, experts suggest families celebrate at home. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

12:30 p.m.  - The Carolina Panthers have placed kicker Joey Slye and offensive lineman Trent Scott on the COVID-19 reserve list. Players are placed on this list for either testing positive for COVID-19 or being in close contact with someone who has. The team says it can't specify why the players were added to the list. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

12:10 p.m. - Shaw University will continue remote learning through tomorrow after switching to all online classes last week. Last week the HBCU announced six students and a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. Classes are scheduled to resume in-person on Monday. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:20 a.m. - A firefighter from the town of Clayton has returned home after being hospitalized since August because of complications from COVID-19. Firefighter Steve Benson spent several weeks in intensive care before moving to rehabilitation at Wake Med. In August, 17 out of 41 full time firefighters in Clayton tested positive for COVID-19. Two deaths have been tied to the outbreak. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:55 a.m. – Gov. Roy Cooper is keeping reopening guidelines in place for three more weeks despite concerning COVID-19 outbreak trends. Since Cooper increased mass indoor and outdoor gathering limits and allowed bars, movie theaters, amusement parks and other businesses to partially reopen earlier this month, the spread of the virus has increased. On consecutive days last week, North Carolina recorded the highest daily number of new cases since the start of the pandemic. And this week, the percentage of COVID-19 tests that came back positive was above 7% on consecutive days. The target rate is 5%. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:40 a.m. - A deputy in the Guilford County Sheriff's office died from COVID-19 yesterday after reporting to work as a bailiff at the Guilford County Courthouse on Tuesday. As a result, the courthouse will be closed for the rest of this week. The courthouse was also closed last week after a separate exposure to COVID-19. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:25 a.m. - Two people have died from a COVID-19 outbreak linked to a church event in Mecklenburg County. The Charlotte Observer reports there are now 68 cases tied to the outbreak that was first reported last Saturday. At least four people tied to the outbreak have been hospitalized. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:10 a.m. - Five workers on one North Carolina ferry route have tested positive for COVID-19.  State transportation officials said the employees work on the Cherry Branch-Minnesott Beach run and are isolating at home for at least 14 days. They last worked on the route on October 20th.  Seven other employees who were in contact with the crew are also under quarantine. – Amy Jeffries, WUNC  

Oct. 21, 2020

6 p.m. - Because of the COVID-19 outbreak trends, other states are imposing rules on North Carolina travelers. People going to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. North Carolina doesn't have statewide travel restrictions for visitors coming to the state. - Naomi Prioleau, WUNC

5:50 p.m. - More than a quarter of a million COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed in North Carolina since March. The trajectory of cases is currently trending up and a record number of people are in the hospital. State health secretary Doctor Mandy Cohen said today some smaller hospitals are feeling the strain. Cohen said some people may have put their guard down as state restrictions were loosened. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

5:40 p.m. - Five workers on one North Carolina ferry route have tested positive for COVID-19.  State transportation officials said the employees work on the Cherry Branch-Minnesott Beach run and are isolating at home for at least 14 days. They last worked on the route on October 20.  Seven other employees who were in contact with the crew are also under quarantine. - Associated Press, WUNC

5:30 p.m. - Senator Kamala Harris stopped in Asheville today to urge residents to vote. She had previously canceled a visit to the city after her communications director and flight crew member tested positive for COVID-19. In an outdoor speech, she spoke about the importance of voting, the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, and pandemic relief pending in Congress.  President Donald Trump is in Gastonia tonight for a campaign rally. This is his sixth visit to the state in recent months. - Naomi Prioleau, WUNC

5:20 p.m. - Gov. Roy Cooper won't make changes to limits on businesses or gatherings until after Election Day. The governor announced today North Carolina is staying in Phase 3 of reopening for the next three weeks. Daily COVID-19 case reports and hospitalizations in the state have recently marked new highs, but Cooper wouldn't say what would prompt him to re-impose tighter restrictions. Instead, the governor put the onus on local authorities and businesses to enforce existing precautions that could curb the spread of coronavirus. This week, Cooper's health and public safety secretaries sent a letter to leaders in more than 30 counties with high infection rates calling on them to consider, for example, issuing fines for businesses that don't insist on mask wearing. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

5:15 p.m. - The federal inmate who fled in April fearing he would die from COVID-19 has had 18 months added to his prison sentence. The News & Observer reports that's more than what prosecutors sought. Richard Cephas' escape from the Butner prison complex prompted a manhunt across three states. Butner had one of the largest outbreaks of any facility managed by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Seventeen inmates and one staff member there have died of COVID-19. - Amy Jeffries, WUNC

5:10 p.m. - Officials at Fort Bragg say that about 200 soldiers have been moved from their barracks after an anonymous complaint revealed mold in some housing units. The soldiers with the 1st Special Forces Command were temporarily moved into alternate housing on October 10 following an air quality test. Public works employees are addressing problems with heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and mold in two barracks. - Associated Press, WUNC

12:40 p.m. - The State Health and Public Safety departments are pressing leaders in several dozen counties to take action to improve compliance with COVID-19 precautions. They sent a letter this week asking county and municipal leaders to consider lowering local gathering limits, closing high risk venues like bars, or imposing fines for businesses that do not enforce mask requirements. The letter targeted the state's most populous counties and areas with high COVID-19 infection rates. It went to 36 counties, including Wake, Alamance, Johnston and Cumberland. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:05 a.m. - Wake County is urging residents to get their flu shot amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials say getting vaccinated is necessary to help prevent local hospitals from being overwhelmed with both COVID-19 and flu patients. County health officials say getting a flu shot in October is the best time to maximize protection against the virus during the flu season. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:35 a.m. - As of Tuesday evening, health officials in Mecklenburg County had linked at least 50 cases of COVID-19 to a two-day church event this month. According to Mecklenburg's Deputy Health Director, the United House of Prayer for All People had made an effort to ensure attendees at convocation events on Oct. 10 and 11 wore masks and practiced social distancing -- but not everyone complied. – Amy Jeffries, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - The men's basketball teams at UNC-Greensboro and North Carolina A&T are in quarantine after players tested positive for COVID-19. UNCG says fewer than five members of the men's basketball team tested positive. The women's basketball team at UNCG is also in quarantine after a cluster of fewer than 10 students was identified in the program. At least five players in A&T's men's basketball team have tested positive since last Wednesday. Practices for all teams are currently suspended. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - Elementary schools in Wake County are preparing for some students to return next week by practicing COVID-19 screenings. Classrooms are reopening to students in pre-K through third grade. During a school board work session Tuesday, district superintendent Cathy Moore said each school must do a run through of the process for screening kids when they arrive at school by Friday.

All students and staff members will have to answer a brief health questionnaire and have their temperature checked before entering the building. And they'll make sure every student has a mask to wear, or has been exempted from the mandate. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

Oct. 20, 2020

6:20 p.m. - Health officials in Mecklenburg County say 23 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have now been connected to a two-day event at a church. County officials urged anyone who attended convocation events at the United House of Prayer for All People on October 10 and 11 to get tested. The Deputy County Health Director issued a statement saying the church made an effort to ensure masks were worn and that those attending practiced social distancing, but that people didn't always comply. - Associated Press, WUNC

4:40 p.m. - Wake County Schools are allowing high school music activities to resume on campuses this week, but with pandemic safety protocols and exceptions. Bands and orchestras will not be allowed to play brass or woodwinds instruments, and choral groups will not be allowed to sing. Administrators say the decision is based on advice from scientists consulting with the district, and comes after recent studies show that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 may spread through the air. High schoolers are still attending classes remotely. The district said the same limits will be in place for music classes at k-12 schools as they reopen to in-person instruction starting next week. Leaders of other districts say limits on the playing of wind and brass instruments vary across the state. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

4:30 p.m. - Today, the state Health Department recorded 53 deaths related to COVID-19. That's the highest single-day count since the pandemic began. More than 1,200 people are being treated for the disease in hospitals, which is the second highest count. – Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

11:40 a.m. - North Carolina's unemployment rate increased last month from August. September's jobless rate was 7.3%, almost 1% higher than in August. The state's unemployment rate last month was 3.6 percentage points higher compared to September of last year. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:10 a.m. - East Carolina University is implementing temporary furloughs and salary reductions for the school's entire athletics staff. Furloughs and salary cuts will be effective starting Nov. 1 until the end of next June. Football, baseball and men's and women's basketball head coaches will have their salaries cut by 20% to 15%. Coaches and staff members making over $50,000 dollars will have their salaries reduced by 10% to 12%. Coaches and staff members making below $50,000 will be furloughed for 12 days. A group of employees will be on an extended furlough ranging from six to 35 weeks. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Oct. 19, 2020

5:15 p.m. - The City of Greensboro is issuing parking tickets again. The city had suspended most parking citations amid the pandemic and distributed warnings instead. But the News and Record reports the reprieve is over as of today. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

4:30 p.m. - In just one week, elementary school students will be returning to classrooms in Wake County. The first group of preschool through third grade students in Wake County Schools will be back in buildings next Monday. That's when a three-week rotation begins. After that, the district plans to bring its youngest students back to classrooms five days a week. Before entering the building, students and staff will have to pass a health screening and temperature check and everyone will have to wear masks.

Elsewhere in the state elementary schools and special education programs have already reopened at full capacity, following an update to guidance from Gov. Roy Cooper that took effect earlier this month. Students are returning as some metrics suggest the COVID-19 outbreak in North Carolina is at its worst point yet. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

4:20 p.m. - A hospital in Pinehurst is the first in the country to enroll a patient in a clinical trial for a new COVID-19 treatment. The Pilot reports that White House disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci congratulated FirstHealth of the Carolinas on the milestone this month. The National Institutes of Health says findings from the study will be used to evaluate a coronavirus treatment similar to what President Donald Trump received. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

3:55 p.m. - The Carolina Panthers football team has shifted to remote work through Tuesday. A team statement says players, coaches and staff have been sent home after "an unconfirmed positive COVID-19 test." The Panthers played Chicago Sunday. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

10:45 a.m. - The North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival in Cary has been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers say they can't hold the event safely because of overwhelming crowds that attend the event each year. Last year the festival had over 121,000 visitors. Organizers plan for the festival to return next year. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:40 a.m. - Duke University reports that 20 new cases of COVID-19 were identified last week. 17 students and three faculty and staff tested positive out of over 15,000 tests administered. Last week the university reported its first cluster of COVID-19. Nine students in an off campus apartment complex tested positive for the coronavirus. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. -  Public health officials in North Carolina say at least nine cases of COVID-19 could be connected to a Charlotte church’s convocation events last weekend. Mecklenburg County said its health department urges anyone who attended the events at the United House of Prayer for All People to get tested for the coronavirus, the Charlotte Observer reported. Free COVID-19 testing was being offered in the area on Sunday. Church officials could not immediately be reached for comment by the newspaper. – The Associated Press

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

Previous weekly updates:

Correction: An previous version of this post listed the incorrect phone number for the state's mental health helpline.