Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of Sept. 14

Sep 14, 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 Sept. 7.

Sept. 18, 2020

4:20 p.m. - North Carolina's unemployment rate declined in August. The seasonally adjusted rate was 6.5%, which was down two percentage points from July's revised rate. North Carolina's unemployment rate in August was 2.7% higher than the same month last year. Unemployment in North Carolina has remained lower than the national average since the pandemic struck in March. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

2 p.m. - Educators and Republican politicians are responding to Governor Roy Cooper's announcement that elementary schools will soon be allowed to open to full-time in-person classes. Cooper's rival in his bid for reelection, Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, responded in a press release, saying it's time to reopen all schools. Forest called for that at an event the day before Cooper announced more of the state's youngest students could return. GOP Senate Leader Phil Berger called Cooper's move a "step in the right direction" but questioned why older students can't return at full capacity too. The North Carolina Association of Educators meanwhile, issued a statement saying that "loosening guidelines further is flirting with danger." Last night, members of that group met online and discussed ways to push local school boards to stick to their current precautions. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

1:50 p.m. - The state Department of Revenue is now accepting applications for families with children to receive $335 to help with child-care and virtual learning costs. The payments are part of the state's COVID-19 relief package passed earlier this month. Families can apply online. The state says it will send out the payments as soon as possible, but no later than December 15.  – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:55 a.m. - North Carolina's unemployment rate in August fell from July. The state commerce department says last month's jobless rate was 6.5%, down from July's 8.5%. It's also down from a high of nearly 13% in April, when employers first started cutting jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:40 a.m. - The Downtown Durham Streetery opens Friday night. Multiple streets in downtown Durham will be closed to traffic so restaurants and retailers can expand outdoor dining and shopping. Several businesses will be participating, including Ninth Street Bakery, Pie Pushers and Bulldega. The Streetery will be open every Friday and Saturday evening through mid-December. People must wear a face mask and follow social distancing guidelines. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

9:50 a.m. - Parents of football players at N.C. State and UNC will be allowed to attend home games. Players will receive at least two tickets for their families. This announcement comes a day after parents of football players at N.C. State delivered a petition to Governor Roy Cooper asking him to allow them to attend the game. N.C. State hosts Wake Forest tomorrow, while UNC’s game vs. Charlotte has been canceled. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:40 a.m. - With $14 million in COVID-19 relief funds, two North Carolina community colleges will become a hub for development of new materials and designs for masks and other personal protective equipment. The NC Insider reports that the research centers at Catawba Valley Community College and Gaston College have been in high demand already this year from manufacturers seeking assistance for fulfilling orders for PPE during the pandemic.

The new initiatives being funded by the state's latest relief package include a start-up business incubator at Gaston College's Textile Technology Center and lab facilities at Catawba Valley's Manufacturing Solutions Center. One problem they're working on is making masks less irritating to the skin. – Amy Jeffries, WUNC

7:25 a.m. - Guilford County Schools will soon resume activity for some sports. Volleyball and cross country student athletes can return for voluntary workouts on Sept. 28. Students can only participate in workouts two days a week and will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms. Other sports may resume next month, including basketball and cheerleading. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:10 a.m. - More elementary school students will soon be allowed to return to in-person classes in North Carolina. On Thursday, Governor Roy Cooper announced school districts will be allowed to welcome back kindergarten through fifth grade students at full capacity, if they choose.

“We are giving them one more option here, that they can look at,” Cooper said. “They would obviously need to look at their local metrics, and look at the situation that they are in, but it is an option for them and something to consider.”

Up to now, school districts could choose between all remote classes, or opening schools at partial capacity with social distancing. Cooper said statewide COVID-19 trends have been improving, allowing for this step. Positive test rates are nearing 5% and hospitalizations are down. The governor also said school districts will need time to prepare if they want to rollout this new "Plan A," but they can choose to do so effective Oct. 5. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

Sept. 17, 2020

4:50 p.m. - Governor Roy Cooper announced big news today for elementary school students. School districts across the state will be allowed to welcome back all kindergarten through 5th grade students for in-person classes full-time starting October 5th. State Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen explained why the administration is focusing on that youngest age group.

"One is the risk, the other is the benefit. When we look at the benefits of in-person instruction, we know that for our younger kids, that is even more important. But as we look at the risk also, there seems to be just a different way that the virus is interacting with our younger kids," said Cohen.

According to Cohen, studies are showing younger children are less likely to get COVID-19 and less likely to transmit the virus to others. Elementary schools that open for in-person classes will have to practice social distancing. And all students and staff will have to wear masks. School districts can also choose to remain all online or continue with a hybrid model. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

3:42 p.m. - The Cumberland County School Board has voted to continue with online instruction at its schools through the end of the fall semester. In a special meeting today, the board decided it will consider resuming in-person classes in January, depending on local COVID-19 trends at that time. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

12:20 p.m. - The Carolina Classic Fair in Winston-Salem will host drive-thru events next month. People will be able to drive through the fair grounds to pick up food from up to 12 vendors. The fair will also post musical performances online and host two nights of drive-in movies. The event will take place Oct. 1 through Oct. 4. The annual fair usually attracts over 300,000 guests. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:30 a.m. - The football team at UNC-Charlotte has canceled its Saturday game against UNC-Chapel Hill because of an outbreak of COVID-19 on the team. Over the past two weeks, three football players at Charlotte have tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, several members of the offensive line were placed into quarantine following contact tracing. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:10 a.m. - East Carolina University's fall commencement ceremony will be virtual. The university said their decision was made based on current federal and UNC COVID-19 guidelines. The ceremony will be on Dec. 4.  The university is working on a plan to recognize all 2020 graduates, possibly in May. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

8:10 a.m. - Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Forest says he would immediately reopen all K-12 public schools without requiring students or teachers to wear masks if he were elected governor. Health officials have encouraged mask wearing as an effective way to contain the spread of COVID-19. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:50 a.m. - The NCAA’s men’s and women’s basketball seasons will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving. The Division I Council voted to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10. The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to have students stay at home after the Thanksgiving break. Closed campuses could serve as a bubble for players and provide a window for nonconference games. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:35 a.m. - More than 1,000 students at N.C. State University have tested positive for COVID-19 since classes began last month. ECU reported last week it had also passed the 1,000 student mark for COVID-19 cases. At UNC-Chapel Hill, over 1,100 students have tested positive. These three universities have the largest outbreaks of COVID-19 in students in the UNC-System. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:15 a.m. - Wake County is suspending drive-thru COVID-19 testing at the Sunnybrook Building parking deck Thursday at noon because of expected heavy rains from the remnants of Hurricane Sally. People whose testing times were canceled can get tested Friday or reschedule online. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - The UNC System is beginning to plan for major budget cuts. The pandemic struck a $1.1 billion blow to the university system. That hit to the general fund is just from this past spring. The UNC System expects future losses from falling tax revenue that fuels their state funding, as well as on-going losses from having fewer people on campuses. This was all in the air as the UNC Board of Governors budget committee met yesterday.

Committee member Leo Daughtry said budgeting is going to look a lot like it did during the Great Recession, and will require deep cuts.

"It's going to be very difficult and the reason is, it's mostly all people,” Daughtry said. “You've gotta get rid of people, and that's awfully hard to do."

Another committee of the Board of Governors discussed draft legislation in the General Assembly that would allow for salary reductions, layoffs and early retirement incentives. – Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

Sept. 16, 2020

3 p.m. - Wake County will soon resume some high school sports. On October 1st, cross country and volleyball student athletes can return for voluntary practice. Coaches are not required to hold workouts. Coaches and student-athletes will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms before every practice. Student athletes can only attend one workout per day, and only two workouts per week. Workouts can not last more than 90 minutes. Weight rooms and locker rooms remain closed. Basketball, cheer, swimming and diving may also return to practice next month. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

2:40 p.m. - The UNC System is planning for major budget cuts over the next year or longer, due to revenue losses from the pandemic. At the same time, UNC System President Peter Hans says he wants to avoid passing those expenses on to in-state students. Hans spoke to the Board of Governors budget committee today. The Board of Governors is planning to instruct universities not to raise tuition or most fees for in-state students for the 2021-2022 school year. Universities would be allowed to raise tuition for out-of-state students and to raise fees for student health services. The Board has held tuition flat for in-state students the past 4 years. Due to revenue losses caused by COVID, campuses across the state are beginning to plan for possible furloughs and salary cuts. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

2:30 p.m. - The Cape Hatteras National Seashore is extending the Ocracoke Campground season through this winter. The campground usually closes after Thanksgiving weekend. All 136 sites will be open for use. The Oregon Inlet Campground on Bodie Island will also remain open through the winter. Reservations and payments for camp sites can be online. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:20 a.m. - More than 100 students at Elon University are facing conduct charges for hosting or attending mass gatherings. 27 students have faced or are facing conduct charges for hosting mass gatherings, while 74 students have faced or are facing similar consequences for attending the gatherings. Last month the university removed seven students from its campus for allegedly hosting mass gatherings. In the town of Elon, mass gatherings remain limited to no more than 10 people indoors. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

9:40 a.m. - Harnett County Schools are returning to in-person learning on Sept. 28. Students will begin school on an A-B schedule. Students assigned to an “A” schedule will attend school Mondays and Tuesdays. Students assigned to a “B” schedule will attend school Thursdays and Fridays. All students will learn remotely on Wednesdays so school buildings can be cleaned. But at the end of October, five days of in-person instruction will begin. Students can also choose to continue learning remotely. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - Chief Justice Cheri Beasley has extended several COVID-19 court emergency directives. Some of those directives include continuing hearings and court proceedings remotely, restricting courthouse access and encouraging court filing by mail. Jury trials have also been postponed for another 30 days. Senior resident superior court judges are required to submit plans for resuming jury trials by the end of this month. Jury trials have been postponed since the pandemic began. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - The pandemic has caused a shortage of poll workers, both for Election Day and early voting sites. So state employees are being allowed to take three days of paid leave to train and volunteer. Ronnie Condrey is with the Office of State Human Resources.

“We’re basically just responding to a need because we know North Carolina and other states are short of people for the election season, and we’re trying to help out,” Condrey said.

Condrey says the need is mainly in rural counties.  Poll workers must be registered to vote in the county where they serve. The State Board of Elections has recruited more than 21,000 potential poll workers so far. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Sept. 15, 2020

3:50 p.m. - Republican Senator Thom Tillis and Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham traded accusations over the government's COVID-19 response and an upcoming vaccine in their first televised debate. Tillis was largely the aggressor in Monday night's debate. He criticized Cunningham for failing to accept the Senate's latest COVID-19 relief bill and for questioning the efficacy of a coronavirus vaccine should it arrive soon. Cunningham says he's worried about the influence of politics and money in Washington when it comes to public health. The outcome of their campaign in the closely divided state could determine which party controls the Senate in 2021. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

3:30 p.m. - The spread of coronavirus appears to be slowing in North Carolina. At a briefing today, Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests has been on the decline in recent weeks. It now stands at 5 percent. But Cohen shared a stark reminder of the lethality of the pandemic.

"We added 51 new deaths today — a high for us — for a total of 3,111 deaths," said Cohen.

Cohen said the state is still adding testing vendors in hopes of reaching more people at higher risk for the disease. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

1:05 p.m. - Researchers at North Carolina State University are studying the supply chain for COVID-19 test kits to identify the best way to distribute them. Researchers are gathering data on COVID-19 case trends and supply management to determine how to efficiently send tests to places that need them. Associate professor of operations and supply chain management Don Warsing says the goal of the study is to help ensure better access to testing.

“I'm hoping that the public generally is helped by this so that we're able to ensure that test kits are available in the places where people need them,” Warsing said. “As people need to get a test for COVID-19, those test kits are available and the results are getting to them as quick as possible.”

The research team is aiming to develop a model showing the best plans for distributing test kits in North Carolina by later this year, and a working national model by June 20-21. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

12:35 p.m. - The filming industry will soon resume production in North Carolina. The North Carolina Film and Entertainment Grant has approved five new movies and TV shows to start production by the end of October. These five productions are expected to generate $107 million in in-state spending and over 8,000 jobs. Each production is eligible for millions of dollars in grant rebates and has a COVID-19 safety plan for workers. In 2019, film production companies spent more than $167 million on in-state expenses, the most money spent on TV and film projects in North Carolina in the last five years. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:15 a.m. – N.C. State senior linebacker Louis Acceus won’t play this season due to medical reasons. Coach Dave Doeren said the decision was not related to COVID-19. Acceus will continue to work with the team as a student coach. Acceus has played in 32 games with nine starts, including in all eight of his games last season. He was one of the team’s tackling leaders last year before missing the last four games due to injury. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:50 a.m. - A county in North Carolina incorrectly told nearly 7,000 residents they had tested positive for the coronavirus. The Charlotte Observer reports the messages were sent by text messages to more than 6,700 residents in Mecklenburg County on Friday. More than 500 people also received a county email with the notice. The county said Friday on Twitter the messages went out due to a technical glitch. The county's manager told county commissioners on Monday they were sent through HealthSpace Data System, a company based in Canada. The county has been using the company’s software to help with contact tracing efforts in the pandemic. – The Associated Press

7:35 a.m. - Guilford County Schools is opening 10 new student learning centers on Thursday. The school district already has 13 centers open. Parents must register students in advance. Social distancing protocols are being followed. Face coverings must be worn by all students and staff. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - The North Carolina Symphony will open its season virtually on Sept. 26. The symphony plans to live stream or live record performances at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. The symphony plans to return to in-person concerts in March 2021 if public health guidelines allow. Meanwhile, the symphony is introducing a new Adopt-A-School program. Individual symphony musicians will be paired with a school and teacher for this academic year to serve as a resource. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:05 a.m. - There's a huge COVID-19 outbreak in the Alamance County Detention Center. 116 incarcerated people have tested positive. The activist group Down Home North Carolina is trying to reduce the risk of exposure by posting bond for low-income people who face low-level charges. Lisa Rowden says getting bailed out means a person doesn't have to wait in jail until their court date, and that's especially important during the pandemic.

“If you care about the health and the health safety of your fellow human beings in the community, then yes, it's a tremendous emergency in the community right now,” Rowden said. "If they don't have the money, they can't buy their freedom. And then they spend time in jail. They accumulate fines and fees, because it's not free to stay in jail; you're paying for that sooner or later. It just becomes a vicious, vicious circle that folks cannot get out of."

Rowden says their group recoups the funds when a beneficiary shows up for court, and that money is then used to help bail out others. They say the fund has posted bond for at least 11 people since early August. They're headed back to bail out more Tuesday. – Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

Sept. 14, 2020

11:35 a.m. - The State Department of Health and Human Services has been awarded a $35 million federal grant to provide treatment for opioid use disorders. The grant will also go toward providing prevention and recovery services. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for some individuals to access treatment for substance use disorder. There has been a 21% increase this year in hospital visits related to opioid overdoses from last year. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:20 a.m. - Wake County is launching a new hotline to help residents experiencing a housing crisis. The new access hub aims to quickly connect people to resources and services for their particular needs. The switchboard is being managed by staff who have undergone homeless management and diversion training. Those needing assistance can call 919-443-0096. Wake County is separately developing a program to prevent evictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:05 a.m. - The Town of Hillsborough has distributed a second round of COVID-19 relief funds. Almost $29,000 went to assist town water and sewer customers who are behind in their payments. The town also distributed about $57,000 toward housing and food assistance. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:50 a.m. - The University of North Carolina at Wilmington plans to implement a requirement to wear masks in all public campus areas this week. The Port City Daily reports students will be required to wear masks at all times when on campus. UNCW already requires masks inside or where social distancing is not possible. The university has identified about 350 COVID-19 cases in students, faculty and staff. Last week the school began making plans for students living on campus to move from double to single occupancy dorm rooms. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:55 a.m. - The Carolina Panthers lost to the Las Vegas Raiders 34-to-30 in their first game of the season Sunday in an empty Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Panthers owner David Tepper says he wishes the team could have filled at least some seats.

“You know, I’m of the opinion that some of these venues - that we should be able to have parents of players. We should have families - at least - of players,” Tepper said. “You know, that fact that we can’t even have that is crazy to me, in a stadium of this size."

Tepper previously said a little more than half of season ticket owners have asked for refunds this season. According to an estimate by Forbes, the Panthers could lose $143 million in revenue if there are no fans in the stadium this season. – Amy Jeffries, WUNC

7:35 a.m. - Leaders at UNC-Chapel Hill are working to determine what to do for the spring semester, including possibly bringing students back to campus. In a meeting with faculty on Friday, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said multiple working groups will be considering a lot of factors in making decisions about the spring.

"The safety and financial implications,” Guskiewicz said. “We've talked about this on multiple occasions today, and we have to balance this."

UNC moved classes online and sent most students home when outbreaks of COVID-19 spread throughout the dorms. Guskiewicz said the University needs to focus on what it can control — like optimizing enrollment. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - UNC-Chapel Hill could lose as much as $300 million in pandemic related losses this year. That amounts to 8% of the university's annual budgets. The university could have to lay off more employees to cut expenses. In a meeting with faculty on Friday, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said multiple working groups are considering many factors in making decisions about the upcoming spring semester. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

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

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