Coronavirus Live Updates: Week of Sept. 21

Sep 21, 2020

Greenville PD's Police Athletic League (PAL) Program, Boy Scouts East Carolina Council, Safe Kids Pitt County, and Vidant Health hosted a bicycle rodeo on Saturday, September 12.
Credit City of Greenville, via Flickr / https://bit.ly/2RONEMk

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. 14.

Sept. 25, 2020

3:40 p.m. - The state is adding data on antigen testing to its COVID-19 dashboard. The new information will include cases and deaths diagnosed with an antigen test, and the number of antigen tests completed daily. Formerly the health department only reported tests confirmed with a molecular test that detects the virus's genetic material. Antigen tests, which account for roughly 2% of COVID-19 tests in North Carolina, look for specific proteins on the surface of the virus. The department says it can add the antigen testing data due to improved reporting processes, and is joining 31 other states in doing so. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

1:30 p.m. - Campbell University has announced it will stop all in-person, on-campus classes for two weeks beginning Friday. The move comes as Campbell has reported a surge in COVID-19 cases over the last week, a University dashboard shows fifty students and staff have tested positive and are in isolation. Half of the new cases are within on-campus housing, with affected students currently in isolation, the University said in a statement. Students are told they will not be required to move out of their on-campus residence halls or leave campus, and should avoid extra travel. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

1:15 p.m. - Governor Roy Cooper got a flu shot this morning and is encouraging other North Carolinians to do the same.  In a statement he said that during the COVID-19 pandemic flu shots are especially important. The governor's office cited recent data indicating it's possible to be co-infected with the flu and the coronavirus. With few exceptions, the CDC recommends that everyone age six and up get a flu shot. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

11:55 a.m. - Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker says all future events at Gooch Sports Arena must be canceled. Media outlets report this comes after a large event last weekend with several hundred people who were not wearing masks and not social distancing. The Wake County Sheriff's Office investigated the event after neighbors complained about the noise and size of the crowd. Baker told the owner of the venue he has to cancel all future events. The event was celebrating Mexican Independence Day, which was on Sept. 16. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:55 a.m. - A team of researchers at Duke University have developed a blood-test that can identify respiratory infections before symptoms appear. The test can detect nine pathogens, including the flu and coronaviruses that cause common colds. It looks for the genetic signatures of the viruses in the blood. Funding for this project originally came from the U.S. Department of Defense to identify and contain outbreaks in the military. But Christopher Woods, the principle investigator for the project, says the test also has the potential to help respond to the current pandemic.

“The goal is to continue to take these tests that we have already developed for use and push them out as far as we can,” he said.

Woods says studies are going on right now to determine how this type of test could be used to identify SARS-Co-V-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The development of this test took over a decade. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:30 a.m. - The Downtown Durham Streetery is canceled Friday and Saturday in anticipation of protests against police brutality over the weekend. These protests come after a grand jury in Kentucky did not charge police offers with the killing of Breonna Taylor. The Streetery says they will also take the time to repair damage done to businesses. The Durham Police Department is investigating the vandalism of 13 downtown businesses overnight Wednesday. The Streetery closes streets in downtown Durham to expand outdoor dining and shopping. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:25 a.m. - North Carolina's initial unemployment claims showed a slight downward trend last week. The state received over 12,000 claims last week. That's slightly down from over 13,000 claims the previous week. Since the pandemic began, the highest weekly total for unemployment claims was almost 173,000 in the week that ended March 28. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:50 a.m. - Elementary and middle school students in Guilford County will be returning to the classroom next month. Pre-K through 5th grade students will return to school five days a week by Oct. 26. Middle school students will return for two days of in-person learning per week also by Oct. 26. Half of the middle school students will attend Mondays and Tuesdays, and the other half on Thursdays and Fridays. Students will receive remote learning on Wednesdays so buildings can be deep cleaned. High school students will continue remote learning until next semester. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:35 a.m. - Downtown Smithfield is closing part of its downtown to expand outdoor dining. The 100 block of South Third Street will be closed for traffic Friday from 5-10 p.m. Customers can order to-go from downtown restaurants and then eat outside, where there will also be live music. Several other cities, including Greensboro and Durham also close parts of downtown on the weekends to expand outdoor dining. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:20 a.m. - Durham schools will continue learning virtually for the rest of the semester. The Durham Public Schools Board of Education voted 6-1 during their meeting last night to continue remote learning until January. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:10 a.m. - N.C. State University, East Carolina University and UNC-Chapel Hill all intend to bring undergraduate students back to campus this spring. The three universities saw a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases when students returned in August, and within weeks sent undergraduates home. Next semester, they'll try again.

N.C. State freshman Eric Spaugh says he's more hopeful about his university's chances this time around.

“Obviously the clusters were a problem,” Spaugh said. “But really, I feel like there could've been a possibility if they handled it better and like more seen it coming, to be able to minimize the spread.”

This spring, N.C. State and East Carolina say they'll keep students in single-occupancy dorms -- among other ramped up precautions. The loss of on-campus revenue is one reason to reopen. N.C. State lost tens of millions from housing and dining this fall. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

Sept. 24, 2020

4:30 p.m. - North Carolina State University has announced steep losses in revenue. Chancellor Randy Woodson announced in an email to employees today that the university has had a $75 million shortfall this semester for auxiliary services. Those include housing, dining and transportation services, which are run as self-sustaining businesses. Woodson said the university is not allowed to use its state funding or tuition to fill those gaps, so budget cuts will be necessary. He said the university will prioritize cutting operational expenses before staff, and will lean toward temporary actions such as furloughs over long-term cuts. NC State sent undergraduate students home for online classes this fall after an in-person reopening led to more than 25 COVID-19 clusters at the school. Woodson announced yesterday that the university intends to reopen for in-person classes this spring, with ramped up precautions. - Liz Schlemmer, WUNC

2 p.m. - Paid parking in downtown Fayetteville is delayed until January. Timed parking limits on regularly signed spaces are still in effect. City leaders say this change is because of impacts of the pandemic. Officials say they will re-evaluate this decision before the new year. - Celeste Gracia, WUNC

12:40 p.m. - The athletics department at N.C. State University is implementing temporary salary reductions and furloughs. Effective Oct. 24 until next June, staff making $200,000 or more will have their salaries cut by 20%. Staff making between $100,000 to $199,000 will have their salaries reduced by 15%. Staff who make less than $100,000 will be furloughed for 19 days. The athletics department expects to lose between $25 to $35 million in revenue. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:40 a.m. - Elementary school and some special needs students in Wake County could be back in school buildings in late October.  In a meeting Wednesday, the Wake County School Board discussed plans to bring those students back on a rotating basis and then returning to daily in person instruction by late November. But such a plan would put significant pressure on teachers. Currently, half of the teachers in the district say they are working an additional ten hours per week. Board member James Martin says the plan under consideration would add to that workload.

“And I believe that many will hear this as, 'You're just going to have to find a way to make it happen.' But I guess what I'm asking from a system perspective is when and how will we recognize that we've got to say -- okay, enough,” Martin said.

The plan would also bring sixth through twelfth graders back on a three-week rotation in November.  The board is expected to vote on the plan next week. – Cole del Charco, WUNC

7:25 a.m. - Advocates are calling on state officials to enforce health and safety standards for agriculture workers during the pandemic. The state has advised farms and processing plants to provide masks and allow for social distancing. But Anna Jensen with the NC Farmworkers' Project says officials need to hold employers accountable.

The guidelines that employers have been given are not mandatory so there's no real pressure to change anything,” Jensen said. “My understanding is that not much has changed and a lot of workers are still getting sick and workers are dying."

Jensen's group was in talks with the governor's office about the possibility of an executive order that would help protect ag workers.  Disagreement between the governor and leaders in the state Labor and Agriculture Departments reportedly halted that. Now Jensen says her group has asked the governor to make more data available on COVID-19 outbreaks in migrant labor camps. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Sept. 23, 2020

7:56 p.m. - N.C. State University students can take in-person classes for the spring semester and live in campus housing, the school's chancellor announced Wednesday. Chancellor Randy Woodson said on the school's website that classes will start Jan. 11 and finish April 29. There will be a mix of in-person, hybrid and online classes for undergraduate and graduate students. However, N.C. State will work to ensure students will have a chance to take courses remotely if they choose, according to the chancellor. Woodson also said the university will hold spring break March 15-19 and will conduct final exams May 3-7. - Associated Press

3:56 p.m. - Some students in Wake County could be heading back to in-person school as early as late October.The Wake County School Board discussed the plan today to bring Pre-K through 5th grade students - and some with special needs - back to classrooms on a rotating basis.  
 
"This proposal is not without challenges, and a continued focus on addressing the acknowledged concerns shared by staff and families for any in person return must continue," said Cathy Moore, superintendent in Wake County. The plan would bring 6th through 12th graders back into classrooms on a three-week rotation starting in early November.  The Wake County School Board is expected to vote on the plan next week.  - Cole del Charco, WUNC

12:05 p.m. - A Tyson Foods poultry processing plant in Wilkesboro is opening a health clinic for workers. In May, 570 workers at this plant tested positive for COVID-19. Tyson Foods says the clinic will provide primary and preventive care, including health screenings, lifestyle coaching and health education. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

11:40 a.m. - The Notre Dame at Wake Forest football game that was originally scheduled to be played this Saturday has been rescheduled for Dec. 12. This Saturday's game was canceled after an outbreak of COVID-19 in Notre Dame’s team. Because of this change, the Campbell at Wake Forest game that was originally scheduled for Oct. 9 has been moved up and will now be played Oct. 2.

Additionally, because the Notre Dame vs. Wake Forest game was postponed, ABC had to change its broadcast schedule for this weekend. East Carolina’s home game vs. UCF will now be in the noon EST slot on the network this Saturday. – Celeste Gracia and Mitchell Northam, WUNC

11:35 a.m. - Advocates are calling on state health officials to issue more workplace protections for farmworkers during the pandemic. They say government leaders need to enforce health and safety standards for people who work in the fields and at meat and poultry processing plants. Right now, guidance on distributing PPE and social distancing is voluntary.

Anna Jensen is the Executive Director of the NC Farmworkers' Project. Her group was talking to the governor's office about issuing an executive order that would help protect farmworkers, but she says that didn't happen because of infighting between departments. She says inaction from government leaders is inexcusable and dangerous.

"We don't feel like we're asking for anything special or anything out of the ordinary,” Jensen said. “I think we're calling on state leaders to do their jobs in protecting workers in a global pandemic."

Jensen says her group is waiting to hear back from the governor's office on suggestions they made in the absence of an executive order, including issuing stronger guidance about entering workplaces to complete COVID-19 testing. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:40 a.m. - Governor Roy Cooper has announced $40 million in COVID-19 relief for some small businesses. Business owners can soon apply to receive up to $20,000 dollars to help cover rent, mortgage payments and utilities. Bars, gyms, museums, and bowling alleys are eligible. Restrictions ordered by the governor because of the pandemic kept those businesses from opening their doors to patrons for months. Bars remain shuttered. Applications are expected to open next week. The funds will be distributed on a first-come, first serve basis. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

9:40 a.m. - A firefighter in the town of Clayton has died from complications of COVID-19. 42-year-old Jason Dean had worked as a firefighter for 20 years. One other firefighter from the town's fire department remains hospitalized with COVID-19. Last month, 17 out of 41 full time firefighters in Clayton had tested positive for the coronavirus. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:45 a.m. - College and professional sports teams in North Carolina may soon be allowed to host a few thousand fans in outdoor stadiums. At a press briefing Tuesday, Governor Roy Cooper said he plans to allow venues that can seat more than 10,000 people outside to open at 7% capacity starting Oct. 2 if the state's coronavirus numbers continue to improve. The state reported a COVID-19 test positivity rate on Tuesday of 5.4%, approaching the state's goal of 5%. Cooper said he hopes to announce the easing of other restrictions next week as well. Phase 2.5 of the state's reopening plan expires next week. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

Sept. 22, 2020

6:40 p.m. - A town board of commissioners in Halifax County has ousted the local police commissioner for flouting COVID-19 gathering restrictions. The Roanoke Rapids Daily Herald reports the Littleton board voted to remove Commissioner Gerleen Pitchford this month. Pitchford hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a private dinner to celebrate the completed renovations of the local police department but other commissioners complained that the gathering exceeded public health guidelines. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

6:30 p.m. - Notre Dame's game at Wake Forest on Saturday has been postponed. Positive COVID-19 tests landed 13 Fighting Irish players in isolation and another 10 in quarantine. Notre Dame says it's making plans to reschedule the game. Both teams are off October 3. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

3:20 p.m. - Phase 2.5 of Governor Roy Cooper's reopening plan expires October 2. Because the percentage of COVID-19 tests that are positive has declined in recent weeks, Cooper says he's preparing to take a step toward Phase 3. If pandemic indicators stay steady, large outdoor event venues will be allowed to open at 7% capacity on Friday of next week.

"We share this news today so though outdoor venues with seating capacity of more than 10,000 can begin preparations that are key to safely reopening their doors to have a limited amount of socially distanced fans," said Cooper.

Cooper hopes to announce the easing of other restrictions next week as well. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

12:55 p.m. - Elon University is implementing several new safety measures after a recent surge of COVID-19 cases on campus. All athletics workouts are suspended until further notice. Residence halls are closed to visitors. Some classes with a large number of positive cases will be moved to online only instruction. The university plans to test several hundred people who had indirect contact with positive cases this week. The university says extensive contract tracing has resulted in a large increase in the number of students currently in quarantine. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

12:45 p.m. - Wake County is setting aside $1 million of COVID-19 relief funds for the arts community. Local arts and culture non-profit organizations can apply to receive up to $50,000 in aid. The funds will be administered through the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

10:35 a.m. - The State Department of Health and Human Services now has an app available to download that will notify you if you've been exposed to COVID-19. Phones with the Slow COVID N-C app use Bluetooth to record how long users are near each other and how close they are. Users that test positive for COVID-19 can notify the app, which then notifies others that they may have been in close contact with someone who's tested positive. It's available to download for free on the App Store or the Google Play store. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:10 a.m. - Virginia Tech is preparing to finally open its football season, and against the same team it was scheduled to play two weeks ago. North Carolina State had to reschedule that game because of coronavirus tests, and then the Hokies had positive tests of their own and couldn't play Virginia last weekend. Hokies coach Justin Fuente says his team is taking it a day at a time and just trying to get ready. He also says the Hokies will not have a full roster, but he hopes they will be able to take the field Saturday at Lane Stadium. The Wolfpack have already played once, beating Wake Forest on Saturday. – The Associated Press

Sept. 21, 2020

4:10 p.m. - North Carolina's coronavirus cases and related deaths are below recent rolling averages. The state health department reported 800 more COVID-19 cases and four deaths today. - Rebecca Martinez, WUNC

3:55 p.m. - The state's two leading gubernatorial candidates virtually addressed an educator organization this afternoon. Democrat Roy Cooper and Republican Dan Forest disagreed on a variety of policies and issues, including how long it will take to re-open schools. Cooper criticized Forest for statements on how he would handle the pandemic.

"It was stunning to here my opponent, the Lieutenant Governor, say last week that as Governor he would fill up every classroom immediately with no safety guidelines, and no mask requirement," said Cooper.

Forest said Cooper was misrepresenting what he said in a press conference. Forest said he would rescind the statewide mask mandate, and reopen schools, but allow each district to take safety precautions as they see fit. - Cole del Charco, WUNC

11:55 a.m. - UNC football was not able to find a new opponent for this coming Saturday to make up for this past Saturday's canceled game against Charlotte. That game was canceled after an outbreak of COVID-19 on Charlotte's team. The Tar Heels will now have two weeks off until their next game against Boston College on Oct. 3. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:35 a.m. - The State Department of Agriculture is offering $2 million in COVID-19 relief funds for dairy farmers. The pandemic has severely impacted the industry. In April, farmers had to dump excess milk because of a dramatic plunge in demand as schools and restaurants closed. That only lasted for one to two weeks and since then demand has slightly rebounded with people buying more at grocery stores. But sales are still nowhere near where they were before the pandemic.

And, Reid Smith, the president of the North Carolina Dairy Producers Association, says prices have fallen from a peak in January.

“But then after COVID-19 came, we went from the highest prices we've had in five years to the lowest prices we've had in 10 in a matter of couple months,” Smith said.

The state relief funds will help farmers offset some of the losses. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

7:15 a.m. - North Carolina's unemployment rate dropped in August to nearly half the record rate in April, at the height of business restrictions issued during the pandemic. The 6.5% jobless rate in August is two percentage points lower than the seasonally adjusted rate in July. The state rate for April was almost 13%. – Celeste Gracia, WUNC

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

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