Percent of positive COVID-19 tests in NC is among highest in US, NCDHHS says

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

WATCH: How North Carolina is doing on key metrics to reopen the state
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State health leaders did not mince words during a news conference Monday afternoon: "I'm concerned," NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said.



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10 p.m.
Chairman of Wake County School Board Keith Sutton believes the state's guidelines for reopening are feasible. The board has been preparing for a number of different scenarios in terms of timing.

"We're thinking about things such as PPE, whether students should be required to wear masks, we're thinking about social distancing guidelines both in classrooms and on school buses," said Sutton. "All the things that are really mentioned in today's health guidelines that were released were helpful to us, confirming to us that we're headed in the right direction."

The board has received $24.4 million from the federal government for COVID-19 relief and expects more from the county.

"There's nothing in there that surprised us at this point and things that we've already been preparing for that our staff has been working on to create scenarios, beginning a process now where these things will be brought to and shared with the board," said Sutton. "We want to do is make sure that our students and our employees are healthy and safe and if forced to go the remote learning route, then that is where we'll go."

9 p.m.
Officials with Gov. Cooper's office says he will be getting a COVID-19 test Tuesday. The governor interacted with some protesters recently and encourages anyone who has been in a crowd to get tested.

7 p.m.
A North Carolina Superior Court judge announced a ruling in favor of plaintiffs, finding that plaintiffs were likely to win their claim that people incarcerated in state prisons during COVID-19 are being held under unconstitutional conditions of confinement.

The judge ordered the parties to return to court later this month with a plan for ensuring that people across its state prisons will be kept safe.

"This ruling affirms that state officials have a constitutional obligation to protect the health and safety of the people in their custody and combat the spread of this deadly disease," said Leah Kang, Staff Attorney at the ACLU of North Carolina. "The deadly outbreaks in our state prisons have already claimed six lives and continue to threaten all North Carolinians, especially communities of color which have been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic. We're hopeful this ruling will help prevent further loss of life by forcing state officials to implement safety measures and release people from these dangerous conditions."

To date, five inmates and one member of prison staff have died from COVID-19 complications.
5:10 p.m.
Cumberland County is reporting 37 new COVID-19 cases since Friday. The county's case count is now 802 with 26 deaths.

4:50 p.m.
Lee County is reporting 39 more COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 534. 350 of those have resumed normal activity. There have been four deaths county-wide.

4 p.m.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, 23,653 people are presumed to have recovered from COVID-19 in North Carolina, an increase of 4,793 patients from last week and 64% of the total number of cases.

In order to calculate the number of recovered patients, NCDHHS uses the median recovery time of 14 days for non-hospitalized patients and 28 days for hospitalized patients. Because patient-specific data is not available for every case, these numbers are estimates and not exact totals.

3 p.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper is holding a media briefing and discussing the latest developments in the state's COVID-19 response.

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The governor called on sports figures, civil rights figures and other leaders to set a good example by wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Cooper also pushed to get public schools back open in the fall and State Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson said the state will release guidelines for safely reopening schools--both from a health and operational standpoint.

"We want to reopen school buildings, but we won't open them and make a reckless decision when it's so important," Cooper said.

Some of the guidance, Cooper said, includes measures such as screening students and staff for COVID-19 symptoms, keeping students physically distanced, and instructing students not to share pencils and textbooks.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen clarified that, like with phase 2 opening, schools will be given a list of both required actions and recommended actions for students and faculty. Johnson said if North Caolina's metrics are trending in the right direction when schools open, then school districts will be able to make individual choices for how they implement recommended guidelines. However, if trends move in the wrong direction, Johnson said, then schools will have to follow much stricter guidelines.

And Cohen said current trends aren't looking good. "COVID-19 hospitalizations are increasing and stand at 739 statewide. And the percent of tests that are positive is now among the highest in the nation," Cohen said. "I am concerned."

Cohen cited more movement--specifically, the loosening of restrictions across the state before Memorial Day Weekend--as a driver of these increasing trends, adding that it takes two weeks to see the impact of policy changes on COVID-19 trends.

Both Cohen and Cooper asked anyone who has attended a mass gathering in the last few weeks--including protests, religious services, parties, sporting events, or even a crowded tourist destination--to get tested, even if you are not displaying symptoms.

Cooper reinforced the concerning upward trends when answering questions about the RNC in Charlotte and the bill in the state General Assembly allowing gyms and bars to reopen.

"I'd rather open schools than bars," Cooper said. "We need to keep our focus on doing things to get our numbers in such a position that we can open schools."

Cooper echoed a proposal he introduced last week of a Phase 2.5 that would allow bars and gyms to reopen in some capacity ahead of Phase 3.

"It's most important to protect the health and safety of North Carolinians while we work to boost the economy," Cooper said. "These decisions can be difficult but we know that health and safety have to come first."

Cooper also again chastised the owners of the Alamance County Ace Speedway for holding a large event over the weekend.

"People shouldn't run a money-making operation that puts in danger not only their customers but anyone that would come into contact with their customers," Cooper said.

If local officials do not take action to limit the speedway's crowds, Cooper said, then the state will put restrictions on the business this week.

2:20 p.m.
Halifax County is reporting 212 COVID-19 cases, up nine from Friday. There has been one death and 161 patients are recovered.

1:30 p.m.
NC Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, announced changes to his legislation that would let gyms reopen and said he expects the bill to pass the NC Senate and be signed into law.

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"I'm updating my bill to reopen gyms to provide the governor with a failsafe and adding back in a provision that treats bars and restaurants equally," Gunn said. "By eliminating the final obstacle that Democrats and the governor have raised, I expect this bill to pass through the Senate unanimously and to be signed into law."

He said the Senate will eliminate the only obstacle that it is aware of to reopening gyms and treating bars and restaurants equally.

"On Friday afternoon, the governor vetoed my bill that would treat bars and restaurants equally by allowing them both to operate outdoors," Gunn said. "The only excuse I have heard from the Dems for opposing the bill is that the governor would not have the flexibility to reclose those businesses if there's another COVID strike. I'm going to presume that the same logic would apply to the gyms.

"The updated bill will make it explicit that the governor has the flexibility to reclose those businesses if he deems it necessary provided that he obtains concurrence from the council of states," Gunn added.

Gunn said he was "simply tired of wasting time and watching these businesses flounder."



He noted that the number of people in North Carolina on unemployment has surpassed 1 million.

"These people are struggling and the businesses that are so good to hire them are in a catastrophic situation," Gunn said.

Every single state that borders North Carolina has reopened restaurants, bars and gyms, Gunn noted.

"The Cooper administration has not explained at all how the science and the facts and data with every state that borders us is different than North Carolina," Gunn said. "In fact, the Cooper administration has not explained how the science and the facts and the data make it OK for thousands of people, including the governor himself, to gather in the streets without social distancing or masks, but one person can't sit outside and sip a drink. The governor's only excuse for not signing the bill we sent him is he needs more flexibility."

Gunn said the full Senate will vote on the bill Tuesday.

11:45 a.m.
North Carolina hit a record high of hospitalizations with 739 people currently in the hospital with severe COVID-19 symptoms. To date, 25% of hospital inpatient beds and 14% of intensive care unit beds are available, with 77% percent of hospitals in the state reporting.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 938 new cases and 8,887 completed tests Monday, with 10% of tests currently positive.

Ten more people have died, bringing the total number of deaths to 1,006.



11 a.m.
More than 1,014,500 people have filed for unemployment in North Carolina, according to a daily report from the North Carolina Division of Unemployment Security. Of those people, 682,172 have received benefits through State Unemployment Insurance, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation.

In total, the state has paid more than $3,573,003,173 in unemployment benefits.

MONDAY MORNING STORYLINES

The state senate is set to take up a bill on Monday that would allow gyms and fitness centers to reopen. House Bill 594 would allow gyms to reopen with limited capacity, despite the executive order.

Gov. Roy Cooper previously said gyms and bars could be allowed to reopen under a "Phase 2.5." On Friday, Gov. Cooper vetoed a bill that would have allowed bars to open outdoor seating across North Carolina.

Local health officials are answering questions about contact tracing resources on Monday morning. Last week, the state launched new initiatives to expand COVID-19 testing and contact tracing across the state and help people protect their families and neighbors.

696 people in North Carolina are in hospitals from COVID-19 according to the state. There have been more than 35,000 cases in the state as of Sunday. The latest numbers will come out later today. Cooper and the state's coronavirus task force will give an update at 3 p.m. today. ABC11 will carry the update on-air and online at ABC11.com.

For those at risk of COVID-19, there will be free tests in Wendell at Hephzibah Baptist Church on Wendell Blvd. starting on Thursday this week. In Durham County, DPS' summer meals program will start on Monday.

At least 18 states are seeing COVID-19 cases on the rise, including in North Carolina. New York City is entering Phase 1 of its recovery plan on Monday.

SUNDAY
12 p.m.
There are 35,546 confirmed COVID-19 cases throughout North Carolina, up 921 from Saturday. Four more people have died, bringing the total to 996.

There are 13,876 more coronavirus tests being reported. At this time, more than 500,000 total tests have been completed statewide.

Ten percent of total tests on Friday and Saturday were positive.

Of the total cases, 696 are being hospitalized.

As of Sunday morning, there are 1,920,061 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States.

There are 2,067 cases in Durham County, up 48 from Friday. Of those, 1,432 have been released from isolation. There have been 49 deaths county-wide.
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