Health leaders watching closely as hospitalizations reach highest level since start of NC outbreak

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Here are the latest updates about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in North Carolina.

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10 p.m.
Dan O'Neill, the Senior Director of Business Operations for the Houston Astros said even with revenue loss, the Fayetteville Woodpeckers should be able to weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're going to have Woodpecker baseball, as soon as it's allowed by the governor and Minor League Baseball," O'Neill said.

7:45 p.m.
The school calendar for Wake County Public School System affects approximately 162,000 students in the district. On Tuesday, parents received messages about possible calendar changes in light of COVID-19 for traditional and year-round schools.

7:30 p.m.
The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association provided an early release of guidelines for restaurants, dated May 22, the earliest date that North Carolina may move into Phase 2.

Restaurants receive guidelines to protect customers, employees from COVID-19 during Phase 2 of reopening

7:25 p.m.
Durham County officials said there are 1,105 COVID-19 cases, up 65 from Monday. The county also confirmed two more COVID-19 deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 41 county-wide.

7:08 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department is aware of 743 confirmed tests performed on Halifax County residents. Of those, there are 128 positive cases, which includes one death and 87 patients who have recovered.

5:20 p.m.
Cumberland County reports an additional 24 positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the county's total to 511.

The Health Department will begin offering drive-thru COVID-19 test collection on Tuesdays and Wednesdays starting May 20 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the parking lot of Manna Church at 5117 Cliffdale Road. Test collection will be conducted by appointment only. Walk-ins will not be accepted. An online self-assessment and appointment portal is posted on the Department's COVID-19 Testing and Collection webpage. Call the Health Department with questions at 910-433-3700.

3:30 p.m.

The Wake County Board of Commissioners voted today to allocate $5 million in federal funds to create a relief program called Wake Forward.

Wake Forward will provide loans of up to $50,000 to small businesses in Wake County that have up to 100 employees.

"As our community has banded together to slow the spread of COVID-19, some of the biggest sacrifices have come from our local businesses," Board Chairman Greg Ford said. "We're all looking forward to getting back to business as usual, and Wake Forward will help companies keep the lights on until that day comes."

3:15 p.m.
The City of Raleigh announced it would cancel its annual July 4 fireworks display.

2:45 p.m.
In a news conference, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said COVID-19 trends in North Carolina seem largely stable--an indication that the state could be ready to move into Phase 2 on Friday.

"They are largely stable, not perfect, but largely stable," Cohen said.

Though COVID-19 hospitalizations reached an all time high of 585 patients, Cohen explained in the larger context of available hospital beds, this number is still considered level with previous days. According to the NCDHHS dashboard, the state ciurrently has 719 available ICU beds out of 3,223 total beds and 5,913 available inpatient beds out of 19,305 total beds. Currently, 747 patients are on ventilators in hospitals, out of 3,464 available ventilators.

If the state moves into phase 2 of reopening, businesses designated as more "high-risk" for spreading the virus--including hair salons and restaurants--would be allowed to open. Cohen addressed several questions about both industries, urging business owners not to break Gov. Roy Cooper's stay-at-home order to reopen and potentially put customers at risk.

To the point of restaurants, Cohen added that restaurant patrons must remove their face coverings to eat or drink, putting them at increased risk of spreading the virus.

"We want folks to be making good decisions to protect not just themselves but their community," Cohen said. "They fact that you can transmit this virus and not even know about it is a really hard and challenging part of COVID-19."

Cohen also said the state is still working to hire more contact tracers, but commended those currently working to track down those who may have been exposed to COVID-19. She said local health departments are still working out what strategies work best to connect with people on the first try, allowing contact tracers to move more quickly.

"We want people to know these are trusted local health officials," Cohen said, encouraging North Carolinians to follow up with contact tracers.

While she could not specify how many more contact tracers the state would need, Cohen said local health departments are learning lessons from other states and their own processes as they move forward.

2:40 p.m.
The Sampson County Health Department reported 10 new cases, which brings the county total to 267 positive cases of COVID-19.

2 p.m.
Dr. Mandy Cohen on Tuesday clarified the new COVID-19 numbers for the state of North Carolina. The dashboard was not appropriately updated Tuesday morning and the website was not working properly at 11 a.m., when the numbers are normally released.

The total number of cases in the state is now 19,700. That's up 677 cases from Monday. The state is now reporting 691 deaths. That's up 30 from Monday.

12:30 p.m.
The Bureau of Prisons has confirmed an eighth inmate death from COVID-19 at Butner correctional institution. There have been 56 cases among the medium-security prison's inmates.

11 a.m.
At least 62 percent of the deaths in the state are associated with congregate care facilities.

Currently, 585 people are hospitalized with severe complications due to COVID-19, an increase of 74 people. This marks the highest number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 on any given day since March.

There are now 1,765 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 26 outbreaks at meat-processing plants in the following North Carolina counties: Bertie, Bladen, Burke, Chatham, Duplin, Hoke, Lee, Lenoir, Randolph, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson, Surry, Union, Wayne, Wilkes and Wilson.

Mecklenburg, Forsyth and Guilford counties have seen the most cases in the last two weeks. Orange(18), Henderson(17) and Durham(15) counties have seen the most new deaths in the last two weeks.

RELATED: Why you might see different numbers of COVID-19 cases depending where you look

HOW ARE WE DOING?
As the state looks to go through the phases of reopening, officials are looking to meet certain benchmarks.
Here's how we're doing on some of those:
Decrease in percent of positive tests? Of the tests and cases reported Tuesday, only 5% were positive, a decrease from 7% on Monday. The percent of positive tests has remained roughly level over the past 7-days, though there have been spikes.
Hospitalizations decreasing? Hospitalizations hit their highest level since the outbreak began in March Tuesday with 21 more than the day before. However, the number of occupied beds out of total available beds remains roughly level. State health leaders will need to watch these numbers for a spike.
Testing capacity? The state met its testing goal, with 9,253 more tests reported Tuesday. The state goal is between 5,000 and 7,000 tests daily. The weekly average has been increasing over the last two weeks.
Contract tracers? The state still only has 250 and is working to double this workforce to 500.
PPE Supplies? The state is still trying to source surgical gowns.

10:10 a.m.
More than 900,000 people in North Carolina have now filed for unemployment benefits in the 65 days since the COVID-19 outbreak started causing businesses to close.

Another 18,136 claims were filed Monday, bringing the total number of claims to 1,221,374. However, some of those claims are duplicates. The state said 907,257 people have filed for benefits.

The state has paid out $2,265,585,877 to 549,445 people. That's 60 percent of the people who have filed.

Department of Employment Security said it has seen a 5,000 percent surge in claims since the pandemic started. That has overwhelmed the department's resources, but here is how it is working to catch up.

10 a.m.
Lenoir County reports two more COVID-19 deaths.

The counties health department announced Monday morning that two people over the age of 65 with underlying medical conditions had died from the virus.

The deaths mark the sixth and seventh fatalities in Lenoir County from COVID-19.

"My thoughts and prayers are with the families dealing with these tragedies," LCHD Director Pamela Brown said.

7:45 a.m.
More details shed light on how NCDOT will move forward with furloughs.

The department said it has lost an estimated $300 million in revenue due to the coronavirus outbreak. To offset that revenue loss it will require all of its employees to temporarily reduce their hours.

The first phase of the furloughs began May 16. In that phase, executive leadership must reduce their schedule by 30 hours before June 26.

The second phase of the furloughs begins May 23. In that phase, senior leadership must reduce their schedule by 25 hours before June 26.

The third and final phase of the furloughs begins on May 30. In that phase, all employees must reduce their schedule by 20 hours before June 26.

Employees are not allowed to take more than 8 furlough hours in any one week. Managers are responsible for staggering the furloughs in a way that will allow NCDOT to continue to operate with as little interruptions as possible.

TUESDAY MORNING HEADLINES

All eyes are on Friday, May 22. That is the first day North Carolina is eligible to enter Phase 2 of its plan to reopen the state amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday he was "hopeful" the state would continue to meet public health goals so he could roll back some of the restrictions currently in place. However, he warned that public health would remain his top priority.

The state announced Monday that 2,522 more people recovered from COVID-19 last week. That brings the total number of recovered to 11,637. Meanwhile, the state has had 19,023 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases resulting in 661 deaths.

Two area hospitals are offering free COVID-19 antibody testing to volunteers who donate blood Thursday. More details here.

NC Department of Transportation will furlough nearly all of its employees in phases over the next several weeks. The department said the pandemic has cost the department $300 million in revenues. Because of that, the employees will be furloughed at different times from now through June.

President Donald Trump announced Monday he was taking the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine.

The drug has been used in an experimental fashion in hospitals on some patients with COVID-19. However, the FDA has warned that the drug has serious side effects and has not been proven to prevent COVID-19.

The president also took to Twitter on Monday to threaten the World Health Organization--an ongoing threat the president has turned to as part of his criticism of the international organization's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

WHO said later Monday that it would accept an independent investigation into it's handling of the pandemic.

MONDAY
10 p.m.

COOPER PREPPING PHASE 2 GUIDELINES
Governor Cooper used the word "hope" multiple times Monday when asked if Phase 2 of the state's reopening would indeed begin on Friday -- allowing non-essential businesses like barber shops or hair and nail salons to see customers again.

'A little desperate:' Cary barber cautiously prepares for reopening

"One of the reasons that these kinds of businesses have been closed is because of the close personal contact and the inability to social distance," Cooper said. But the governor said he's working with business leaders and health experts to issue best practices for more businesses.

The NC Board of Barber Examiners told ABC11 that there is no new guidance from the governor's office yet, so it has been directing hair stylists to its COVID-19 page with steps from the Centers for Disease Control on stopping the spread inside local shops.

Meanwhile, the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, state largest trade group for restaurants and hotels is rolling out Count on Me NC. The program developed in partnership with government and health officials is a statewide campaign to train restaurants, hotels, museums and other attraction how to reopen safely after the stay-at-home order expires.

Businesses that complete the training receive certificates - visual cues for staff and guests to see COVID safety is a priority. But a big part of the campaign is also for customers. There's a pledge for guests including promises to wear a mask, social distance and wash your hands.

"To both the customers and the people performing these services, you both have real responsibilities here to protect each other because you're also protecting each other's families and friends," Cooper said.

9:55 p.m.
Halifax County is reporting 125 positive cases including one COVID-19 related death, and 81 patients recovered. This is an increase of 10 cases since Friday.

8:40 p.m.
Durham County is now reporting 1,040 COVID-19 cases, up 44 since Sunday.

7:30 p.m.
North Carolina reported 2,522 more patients are presumed to have recovered from COVID-19 in the last week, according to new data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

In total, 11,637 patients are presumed to have recovered.

NCDHHS estimates a median recovery time of 14 days from the day a patient went in for their first COVID-19 diagnostic test for non-fatal cases who were not hospitalized. If a patient was hospitalized, that median recovery time jumps to 28 days.

Officials note actual patients' recovery times could be longer or shorter depending on the severity of their illness. The guidelines for reporting recoveries was chosen based on guidance from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

5 p.m.
Lee County says it has 18 new COVID-19 cases since Friday, with 12 reported on Saturday and six more identified Monday. The county has 323 total cases.

The Lee County Health Department continues to monitor 165 active cases. There have been three deaths attributed to COVID-19.

4 p.m.
All 100 North Carolina counties have reported cases of COVID-19 after Avery County reported its first case Monday.

Avery County officials said 438 tests have been given including 405 negatives, 32 pending and one positive.
2:30 p.m.
In a news conference, Gov. Roy Cooper said officials are not yet ready to make a decision whether North Carolina will be able to move into phase 2 of reopening when his current executive order expires Friday.

"We're hoping that this can happen," Cooper said. "We're going to continue to look at the indicators"

Cooper said that health leaders have been working closely with the North Carolina business community to discuss what a safe step forward would look like and the kinds of restrictions that may be placed on businesses that could open in phase 2, including salons, bars and restaurants and gyms.

"We believe that economic prosperity and the health of the people can go hand in hand," Cooper said.

However, he said ultimately, public health and safety is the top priority for leaders, and health officials will continue to look at the data before making a decision later this week.

"We have flattened the curve, but the threat of COVID-19 is still with us," Cooper said.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen pointed out that North Carolina saw its largest single-day increase of COVID-19 cases to date over the weekend--an increase of 853 cases between Friday and Saturday.

"Any increase like this is concerning and a reminder about how quickly this virus can spread," Cohen said.

While she said health officials are looking into the data to determine what may have caused this sharp spike in cases, she recognized that the state is continuing to test more people, and the percentage of positive tests as compared to total tests has remained mostly level at around seven percent.

"We also know that we are easing restrictions and folks are moving around more," Cohen said. "With more movement, there's more chance for this virus to spread."

Cohen said as more North Carolinians venture outside to shop and go to parks, they should make the three W's part of their daily routine: wearing a face covering, waiting six feet away from others and washing hands frequently.

When asked about possible COVID-19 parties, where residents gather in an attempt to spread the virus and create herd immunity, Cooper sharply responded, "That is completely irresponsible and absolutely unacceptable."

Cohen followed up on the question, adding, "There is no circumstance under which we want folks to actively pursue getting COVID-19." She explained the danger with these situations is that those who contract the disease from one of these events will still run errands in the community, such as going to the grocery store, presenting a greater danger for people with chronic conditions.

"We are nowhere near herd immunity," Cohen said. "A party will not help us. Please do not do that."

"If you do that, you can easily kill someone you love," Cooper added.

11 a.m.
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 511 new COVID-19 cases and 2 new deaths, for a total of 19,023 cases and 661 deaths.

North Carolina also reported 6,811 completed diagnostic tests for a total of 255,755 tests. Of the tests reported Monday, 7.5% were positive.

RELATED: Why you might see different numbers of COVID-19 cases depending where you look

Of the more than 19,000 total cases, 4,218 are in congregate-living facilities, including nursing homes, homeless shelters and correctional facilities. More than 60 percent of the total deaths have been attributed to people living in congregate living settings, including at least 352 deaths in nursing homes.

CORONAVIRUS MAP: Tracking COVID-19 across North Carolina

HOW ARE WE DOING?
As the state looks to go through the phases of reopening, officials are looking to meet certain benchmarks.
Here's how we're doing on some of those:
Decrease in percent of positive tests? In the last 24 hours we've seen 7 percent positive tests. This has been roughly level for the past week.
Hospitalizations decreasing? Even though 18 more people were reported to be hospitalized with symptoms related to COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, the number of total hospitalizations has remained roughly level, around 500 people.
Testing capacity? The state did meet it's goal in the last 24 hours with 6,811 tests.
Contract tracers? The state still only has 250 and is working to double this workforce to 500.
PPE Supplies? While the state reports enough procedure masks, face shields, N95 masks and gloves to cover at least 30 days, the state still has a 0-day supply of surgical gowns. Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry has repeatedly said gowns are the hardest piece of protective equipment to acquire nationwide, and the state is working hard to get more.

10:45 a.m.
An experimental vaccine saw positive early results in a human trial.

The vaccine by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna Inc., generated antibodies similar to those seen in people who have recovered from COVID-19 in study volunteers who were given either a low or medium dose.

The early testing was only done on a limited number of volunteers. The next step is to expand the test group and determine an optimum dosage amount.

10 a.m.
Triangle-area Ruth Chris Steak Houses will treat first responders a free meal on Thursday.

The restaurant welcomes police, fire and medical employees to their choice of a steak or chicken sandwich with an apple and chips. The chain is recognizing May 21 as Ruth's Chris Annual First Responders Day to thank them for their noble service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

9:45 a.m.
More than $2 billion has been paid out in unemployment benefits in North Carolina as of Monday.

$2,110,614,826 is the total amount paid since March 15. The state reports that 896,113 individuals have filed claims, but just 537,641 have been paid.

Because some people are forced to file multiple claims, the state said it has received a total of 1,203,234 claims since March 15. The state's stay-at-home order began March 30.

The daily amount of filed claims has been leveling off, with 6,991 filed on Sunday. To compare with figures earlier in the pandemic, there were 16,984 claims filed on May 11 and 28,019 claims filed on April 29. The single-day high was 54,495 in late April.
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