North Carolina health officials to surge testing, tracing in 8 counties as cases and hospitalizations remain high

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

What can we help you with? View our COVID-19 information and resources page here



WATCH: The latest COVID-19 trends and numbers in North Carolina
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Case numbers and hospitalizations continue to rise across North Carolina.



4:30 p.m.
The North Carolina House passed a bill that would allow bars and gyms to reopen across the state, with restrictions.

Gov. Cooper has previously been critical of similar legislation, and last week vetoed a bill that would allow bars to open for outdoor service only.

Authors of the bill included what they described as a "fail-safe" that would allow Cooper the authority to increase restrictions by executive order with approval from the council of state--for example, if COVID-19 should spike across the state--but the governor previously said he is wary of signing legislation to this effect.

The bill now heads to Cooper's desk. He has 10 days to sign it into law or veto it.

4:25 p.m.
The Lee County Health Department reports 10 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, raising the total number of cases in the county to 557.

Of those 557 cases, 368 people have returned to 'normal activities' and 167 people are still being monitored at this time.

3:55 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department says it has 231 positive cases of COVID-19, including a new death, which raises the county total to two.

A total of 173 patients are considered recovered.

2 p.m.
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said during a news conference on Wednesday that she remains concerned about the direction of the trends in the state.

"We had 1,011 new laboratory-confirmed cases which was our fourth day in the last week where we exceeded 1,000 cases and it was our highest day yet of hospitalizations," she said. "I continue to be concerned."

She noted that other states in the region are seeing similar trends.

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Cohen stressed the importance of the three Ws -- wearing a cloth face covering, waiting 6 feet apart and washing your hands. She said that coronavirus continues to be spread by people who don't realize they have it and wearing a mask prevents people from spreading it when they don't know they have it.

Two ways that the state is responding, she said, is through contact tracing and testing. She encouraged people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 or work in essential businesses to get tested, even if they aren't experiencing symptoms.

Cohen also said that there are particular areas across the state where health officials are working to surge tracing and testing -- including Mecklenburg, Durham, Wake, Forsyth, Duplin, Lee, Johnston, Alamance counties.

She said that some of those counties, particularly Lee County, were flagged as places of possible concern by Dr. Deborah Birx and the White House Coronavirus Task Force when the state talked to them earlier this week about potential trouble spots.

On the topic of higher education, Cohen said health officials are having those conversations with university officials around the state and will be releasing guidance soon, though, she noted the guidance will likely be similar to what the CDC has already put out.

12 p.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is reporting a record-high number of hospitalizations yet again. 780 people are now hospitalized due to complications of COVID-19, up 6 from Tuesday. This marks the 5th new record high of this metric in June.

With 86 percent of hospitals reporting, 22 percent of inpatient beds and 14 percent of ICU beds are still available.

NCDHHS is reporting 1,011 more cases of COVID-19 in the state, bringing the total to 38,171. 24 more deaths were reported. So far, 1,053 people have died from COVID-19 in North Carolina since the start of the pandemic.

In the last 24 hours, the state has exceeded its testing goal of 5,000-7,000 per day with 17,939 more tests.

11:10 a.m.
Orange County has extended its State of Emergency for COVID-19 through Aug. 31 and mandating the use of face coverings for several situations in public.

The mask requirement is for:
  • All customers, employees and other users of restaurants and grocery and retail stores while they are indoors.
  • All occupants of public transportation vehicles.
  • Anyone in an indoor or outdoor situation where they cannot maintain a 6-foot physical distance from others.

Face coverings are not required:
  • For people whose religious beliefs prevent them from wearing a face covering.
  • For those who cannot wear a face covering due to a medical or behavioral condition.
  • For children under 12 years old.
  • For restaurant customers while they are dining.
  • In private offices.
  • When complying with directions of law enforcement officers.
  • In settings where it is not practical or feasible to wear a face covering when obtaining or rendering goods or services.
  • While with family or household members.
  • Local leaders speak


The face-covering requirement goes into effect Friday at 5 p.m.

"Today's declaration is part of our broader strategy to protect public health and slow the spread of the coronavirus in our community," said Orange County Health Director Quintana Stewart. "By covering your face when you are out in public, you are helping reduce the risk of infecting those around you. Until there is a vaccine for COVID-19, face coverings are a part of our new normal. We know it will take some time to get used to, but it will help save lives."

10:05 a.m.
Raleigh businesses can now apply for an Outdoor Seating Temporary License from the City at no cost. The application is for businesses wanting to extend outdoor seating as part of the state Phase 2 reopening plan. New Raleigh guidelines permit businesses to expand their footprint onto City public rights-of-way such as sidewalks or privately owned parking lots. More info here.

9:45 a.m.
ABC News has found eight states across the country-- including Arizona, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah-- are experiencing an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Percent increase in hospitalizations since May 25:
Arkansas: 65.8%
Arizona: 45.1%
Mississippi: 3.5%
North Carolina: 19.3%
South Carolina: 6.6%
Tennessee: 65.1%
Texas: 10.5%
Utah: 10.5%

9:30 a.m.
The Durham Bulls and Durham Parks and Recreation (DPR) have canceled the city's annual July 4th Celebration due to COVID-19. The event draws thousands most years, but was canceled to protect the health and safety of residents and visitors.

"This was not an easy decision as we look forward to hosting this family-oriented event each year to include a day of baseball, food, fun, and fireworks," said DPR Interim Director Joy Guy. "However, safety is our number one priority, and we must adhere to the regulations of state and local officials, and the guidance from public health experts, specifically the NCDHHS."

WEDNESDAY MORNING STORYLINES

A bill that would allow bars and gyms to reopen passed the state Senate on Tuesday and is now going to the House. The bill would allow gyms, health clubs and fitness centers to reopen at 50 percent capacity. Bars would also be allowed to reopen and restaurants to double their capacity under the bill.

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in North Carolina hit another high on Tuesday at 774. Twenty-three additional deaths brought the total to 1,029 deaths since mid-March.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released new guidance on Tuesday about who should be tested for COVID-19. North Carolina is now focused on rapidly increasing testing of people who may not currently have symptoms, but may have been exposed to COVID-19.

The guidance recommends that doctors conduct or arrange for COVID-19 testing for: Anyone with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, close contacts of known positive cases regardless of symptoms, populations with higher risk of exposure or a higher risk of severe disease if they become infected including people who live in high-risk settings, historically marginalized populations who may be at higher risk for exposure, frontline and essential workers, health care workers or first responders, people who are at high risk of severe illness and people who have attended protests, rallies, or other mass gatherings.

Read more here

Members of the D.C. National Guard have tested positive for COVID-19 in the wake of the massive protests across the city last week over the death of George Floyd.

Guard spokeswoman Lt. Col. Brooke Davis says they will not release the exact number of infected troops. But U.S. officials say they believe it is not a large number, at least so far. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information publicly.

While some Guard troops responding to the protests wore protective equipment, most were not wearing masks and it was largely impossible to maintain any social distancing.

Davis said in a statement that unit commanders were responsible for ensuring their troops adhered to guidelines calling for Guard members to wear protective equipment and maintain social distancing where practical. Officials said about 5,000 Guard members, including troops from 11 states, were in the nation's capital for the protests.
TUESDAY
6:00 p.m.
The North Carolina Senate passed a bill that would allow gyms and bars to reopen across the state, with some restrictions. Gov. Roy Cooper has repeatedly been critical of similar legislation, saying that signing such bills would make it more difficult for health leaders to impose restrictions again should North Carolina see another spike of COVID-19.

However, lawmakers said they included a fail-safe in the legislation that would allow Cooper flexibility to re-close those businesses.

The bill now goes to the North Carolina House for their approval.

5:30 p.m.
ABC11's Gloria Rodriguez sat down with the family of 8-year-old Aurea Soto Morales, the first child to die of COVID-19 in North Carolina.

"It's a nightmare I never imagined living," her mother, Araceli Morales Martinez, said in Spanish, as she cried. "It's such a large pain. I ask all mothers take care of their children, please."

Watch Gloria's full interview with the Morales family
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After four days at UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill, Aurea Soto Morales passed away June 1 from complications associated with COVID-19.



2:13 p.m.

Halifax County has 219 positive cases of COVID-19.. There have been 1,309 confirmed tests performed on residents. Of those, 1,085 were negative and 173 patients have recovered.

There remains just one COVID-19 related death in the county.

What can we help you with? View our COVID-19 information and resources page here


2 p.m.
Cary will not have its annual Lazy Daze Arts & Crafts Festival in 2020.

The town announced Tuesday that the festival would not happen this year due to COVID-19.

The event was scheduled for August 22-23 at Cary's Town Hall Campus on Academy Street.

12:35 p.m.
The state ordered Alamance County's Ace Speedway to close immediately, calling it an "imminent hazard" for the spread of the novel coronavirus.

On Saturday, the track drew a crowd of more than 2,000 spectators in defiance of the state's coronavirus restrictions after declaring the race a "protest."

12:15 p.m.
North Carolina's hospitalizations from coronavirus continue to grow. The state now has 774 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19, 35 more than the number reported Monday, setting a record for the fourth time in June.

With 84 percent of the hospitals reporting in the state, 25 percent of inpatient beds and 17 percent of ICU beds are still available.

Twenty-three more deaths were included in Tuesday's report, bringing the total number of deaths to 1,029 since mid-March. The state Department of Health and Human Services reported it met its testing goal in the last 24 hours, completing 15,598 new COVID-19 tests. That means 535,711 have been completed in total since the pandemic began.

The state has confirmed at least 37,160 confirmed cases of COVID-19; that's an increase of 676 from Monday.

For the first time since the outbreak began, the state has a full 30-day supply of person protective equipment.

Six new congregate care facility outbreaks have been reported since Monday -- including two at nursing homes and three at residential care facilities.

TUESDAY MORNING STORYLINES

The vote on whether gyms can reopen in North Carolina before Phase 3 is set for Tuesday. The state Senate is expected to vote on House Bill 594 that would reopen the businesses early.

The current bill would allow Gov. Roy Cooper to impose restrictions again if there's a second wave of infections. Cooper would have to get approval from the council of the state. In a Tuesday media briefing, Cooper said he'd rather focus on reopening schools than bars and focus on getting the state's number of cases down.

On Monday, state Sen. Rick Gunn (R-Alamance) announced changes to the legislation that would let gyms reopen and said he expects the bill to pass the state Senate and be signed into law.

Cooper is expected to get a COVID-19 test Tuesday. Cooper's office said he interacted with some protesters recently and encourages anyone who has been in a crowd to get tested.

North Carolina has one of the highest rates of positive COVID-19 tests in the country, according to North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen.

Cohen said she was concerned about the recent upward trend in positive cases. Cooper echoed those concerns but said he was still pursuing a Phase 2.5 opening that would allow bars and gyms to reopen in some capacity ahead of Phase 3.

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.
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