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.
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
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