Gov. Cooper 'optimistic' that NC will move in to Phase 1 of reopening next week

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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6:50 p.m.
Durham County has confirmed an additional coronavirus-related death raising the county total to 21, according to health officials.

Since Wednesday night, Durham County is up nine positive COVID-19 cases, raising the county total to 733.

The health department continues to monitor outbreaks at four long-term care facilities and one crisis and assessment center. The numbers are as follow:
  • 111 at Durham Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
  • 49 at Treyburn Rehabilitation Center
  • 5 at Durham Recovery Response Center
  • 4 at Durham VA Healthcare System Community Nursing Home
  • 2 at Hillcrest Convalescent Center


6:30 p.m.
A Walgreens in Durham will open a COVID-19 testing site on Friday, May 1.

The Walgreens at 3798 Guess Road will host testing outside of the pharmacy at no cost. Testing at the location is only available by appointment only and those who meet the CDC's eligibility criteria.

5:45 p.m.
The Department of Public Health says there are 13 new cases in Cumberland County, for a total of 272 positive COVID-19 cases countywide.

5:00 p.m.
Wake County Department of Health reports 20 new COVID-19 cases in the county, raising the total number of positive cases to 813.

4:35 p.m.
Wake County is monitoring its third outbreak of COVID-19 at a long-term care facility.

Officials said the county public health team received positive COVID-19 test results linked to Capital Nursing and Rehabilitation Care in Raleigh, but did not elaborate how many cases are at the center or whether those cases were in patients or staff members.

"Because of the virus' ability to spread quickly, people in co-living environments are at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19," said Wake County Epidemiologist Dr. Nicole Mushonga in a written statement. "We are working with the facility's medical staff to answer their questions about the virus and provide guidance to protect their residents and staff."

4:20 p.m.
The Lee County Health Department is monitoring 15 new positive cases of COVID-19, raising the county total to 169.
The Health Department said of those 169 cases, 20 have resumed normal activities.

3:30 p.m.
At a news conference, Gov. Roy Cooper addressed the frustrations of many who are eager for the economy to reopen.

The governor said he wants that, too, but it must be tempered with caution and guided by data and facts.

"Last week we shared details on key indicators we're watching to ensure data and facts guide our decisions," Cooper said. "We remain optimistic the trends will be stable enough to move us into Phase 1 next week. My message today is to stay vigilant. Right now, we need people to continue following the Stay-At-Home Order so that we can move into the phases of easing restrictions. Complacency could risk lives and undo these plans."

Cooper added that North Carolinians need to feel safe in order to reopen the economy--if busineses open too early, employees and customers might not feel safe returning to work and to shop.

"We must get this economy running better, but we need working North Carolinians to trust that they feel safe as we move forward, and that's our goal--to move forward," Cooper said.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen outlines where North Carolina stands in terms of the four trends outlined in the governor's plan to reopen. In order to move into the first phase of reopening, Cohen said the state must see a downward trajectory in the number of COVID-like syndromic Emergency Room visits, a decrease or sustained leveling in the number of new cases reported each day, a decrease in or sustained leveling of the number of hospitalizations, and a decrease in the number of positive tests as a percentage of total tests completed.

"North Carolina is doing better than a lot of the rest of the country, and we need to keep that up," Cohen said.

While North Carolina had been on a steady downward trajectory in the number of COVID-like Emergency Room visits as a percentage of total visits, in the last seven days, the state has seen a slight uptick in these visits. Cohen said North Carolinians should look at this as a sign that the state is not yet ready to reopen.

Additionally, Cohen emphasized North Carolina saw its highest single day increase in the number of laboratory-confirmed cases to date. As the number of cases reported each day continues to increase, Cohen said officials would continue to monitor those numbers to look for a sustained leveling.

However, Cohen pointed out that the number of cases increasing could be a result of more tests being completed. "As we test more, we know there's more COVID-19 out there, so we know we're going to pick up more cases," Cohen said.

That's why Cohen pointed to the number of cases as a percentage of total tests as a positive metric--the ratio of positive tests appears to be decreasing steadily. Additionally, Cohen said hospitalizations have been mostly level in the range of 400 to 500 patients occupying hospital beds each day.

Cohen also applauded the state's efforts to increase testing and contact tracing, but highlighted that the state has less than a 30 day supply of surgical gowns and N95 masks.

"The overall picture is mixed, but we remain optimistic that these trends will be stable enough to be able to move into Phase 1 next week," Cohen said.

Cooper also responded to individuals and counties who are defying the stay-at-home order. "I have concerns when people are blatantly ignoring rules because it can cost lives," Cooper said. "This is truly a matter of life and death."

3:30 p.m.
The Sampson County Health Department reports 11 new positive cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing the total positive cases in Sampson County to 74.

As previously reported, there is an active outbreak of COVID-19 at Smithfield Packing Company in Clinton. County health officials said there are 21 confirmed cases at the plant (some of these cases are in people who live in other counties and are not counted in the total cases for Sampson County). Smithfield and the Health Department continue to work closely together to monitor the health of their employees, the county said.

Sampson County has not had a COVID-19 related death.

2 p.m.
The North Carolina House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a $1.7 billion coronavirus relief package Thursday.

Now, the House and the Senate, which passed a $1.4 billion relief bill Wednesday must work to find a compromise before the package can go to Gov. Roy Cooper.

1 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department said that as of midnight, it was aware of 381 confirmed tests performed, with 60 cases of COVID-19 confirmed.

The county has had one COVID-19-related death. Thirty patients have recovered. Health officials said 21 tests are pending and 300 people tested negative.

11 a.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is now reporting 10,509 cases across the state which is an increase of 561, the largest increase so far during the pandemic.

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

While the state is reporting more cases, they're also reporting many more tests. In the last 24 hours, 9,596 tests were completed, which is the second-highest count we've seen so far. On April 10, 9,836 tests were conducted, which was the most of the pandemic. The state's goal is 5,000 to 7,000 tests daily.

24 more deaths were also reported on Thursday. The total in the state is now 378.

This is why North Carolina does not report coronavirus recoveries

Here's how North Carolina health officials determine and report coronavirus deaths



THURSDAY MORNING STORYLINES

Wake County is letting its stay-at-home order expire after Thursday. Starting Friday, Wake Co. will operate under the state's stay-at-home order. Gatherings of up to 10 people will now be allowed in the county.

A $1.4 billion COVID-19 relief bill is up for vote in the NC House Thursday. The bill passed the state Senate Wednesday.

The nation's health leaders are reporting positive results from a drug to treat severely ill COVID-19 patients. Gilead Sciences said its drug Remdesivir has proved effective against the new coronavirus in a major U.S. government study that put it to a strict test.

Gov. Roy Cooper and the state's Coronavirus Task Force will hold a COVID-19 briefing Thursday at 3 p.m.

New models from a team of epidemiologists and data scientists show that North Carolina has flattened the curve of the novel coronavirus better than previously expected.

In a report from the Sheps Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, researchers said the doubling rate of COVID-19, or the amount of time it takes for cases to double, has increased from 2-4 days in mid-March to 7-8 days in early April and 13-14 days by April 22. However, the researchers did point out that some counties are seeing a higher rate of infection because of outbreaks in nursing homes, prisons and food processing plants.

Thursday marks one month since the stay-at-home order went into effect in North Carolina and ABC11 obtained fresh data showing whether or not people are staying home.

According to the anonymous cellphone location data analyzed by Safegraph -- the percentage of people staying home started to peak across the state in mid-April at 37.7 percent. By April 24, that number went down two percentage points with 35.7 percent of people staying home the entire day.

The frustrations continue for many people when it comes to not getting their stimulus money.

As of April 17, the IRS said approximately 36 percent of people in North Carolina had gotten their stimulus money, meaning a lot of people are still waiting.

Tracking North Carolina COVID-19 cases

WEDNESDAY
8 p.m.
The NC Senate unanimously passed a $1.4 billion COVID-19 relief bill directed at aiding recovery efforts of those hit hardest by the virus as well as supporting research.

Senate Bill 704 passed 48-0. The bill now has to pass through the North Carolina House for approval where it will then move to Gov. Roy Cooper's desk to be signed.

7:50 p.m.
Wake County is reporting 814 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with a total of 16 deaths. The County said the average age of a COVID-19 patient in 44 and 59 percent of those with the illness are female.

6:30 p.m.
Durham County has 20 COVID-19 related deaths after health officials confirmed three more Wednesday. The residents were all over 65 and had multiple underlying health conditions.

There are 724 cases reported throughout Durham County, up 12 from Tuesday evening's update.

5:50 p.m.
Cumberland County is reporting 259 total COVID-19 cases, up 31 since Tuesday. Eight residents have died from COVID-19 complications.

4:30 p.m.
An Apex tattoo shop owner was arrested Wednesday afternoon for violating the governor and Wake County's stay-at-home order.

After receiving complaints from the community, Apex Police arrested and charged Matthew Paul Myers, 38, the owner of Apex Tattoo Factory, with violation of executive order which is considered a Class 2 misdemeanor.

Myers knew he would get arrested for the act, insisting that his rights were being trodden on and essentially ruining his business, according to newsgathering partners at the News and Observer. Myers said that he is losing so much money that he fears he will lose his home and the ability to feed his three children.

No bond has been set at this time, but Myers is being held at the Wake County Jail.

4 p.m.
Governor Roy Cooper is responding to a North Carolina county that has prepared a symbolic order declaring support for reopening businesses while acknowledging its residents are still subject to the governor's stay-home order.

Read more about that here.

Lee County health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday for a total of 154. Of those, 20 have resumed normal activity. There are no lab-confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the county.

2:30 p.m.
In a news conference, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said nearly half of all North Carolinians have a chronic health condition such as diabetes, heart conditions, high blood pressure or lung conditions that could put them at high risk for severe complications from COVID-19. That's why, she said, it's important for the state to follow a phased reopening only when the trends show that the spread of the virus has sufficiently slowed.

"The more we keep down the spread of the virus, the more it helps people who are high risk," Cohen said.

Cohen also said she was working with the state General Assembly as lawmakers finalize how federal funds will be allocated across the state. After looking at a plan put forward in the State Senate on Tuesday, Cohen said she did not feel enough money was allocated to rural communities and basic necessities such as food, public safety and shelter.

"We know we're fighting the largest public health battle that our state has ever faced," Cohen said.

Addressing President Donald Trump's executive order requiring all meat processing plants to stay open, Director of Emergency Management Mike Sprayberry said health and emergency officials are currently monitoring plants across the state where employees have tested positive, implementing prevention procedures and testing workers.

Cohen addressed individual counties attempting to reopen businesses by saying she appreciated the work North Carolinians are doing to stay at home and emphasizing that Gov. Roy Cooper's Stay-at-Home order is still in effect.

"We're in a crisis, and I think confusion is really, really damaging during a crisis," Cohen said. "You have truly flattened the curve. We're doing great as a state-- let us walk through this together. That's how we're going to be strongest."

Cohen referred to a report from epidemiologists and data scientists outlining current trends and models for the spread of disease in North Carolina. While she said they were promising, she emphasized they show the virus is still in our community, and a phased reopening is the best course of action.

She said in order to reopen, the state would need to improve on a number of key metrics in combination--including hospitalizations, percent of positive tests and number of cases and deaths reported each day.

"There's no one trend that everything is going to turn on," Cohen said. "We do need to look at them in combination."

2 p.m.
Sampson County health officials are reporting 14 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 63. This is the largest single day increase in the county.

Of the 14 new cases, 13 are at home and one is in the hospital.

There are three more COVID-19 cases linked to the Smithfield plant in Clinton, bringing the total number of linked cases to 12 at the plant.

1:30 p.m.
UNC System Interim President Bill Roper announced on Wednesday that he expects to reopen the campuses for the Fall 2020 Semester.

"Our institutions have done a remarkable job serving their students during this time of crisis. Our speedy adaptation to remote teaching and learning was a necessary and invaluable step to preserve the continuity of our students' academic pursuits while protecting health and safety," he said in a statement. "But for many in the UNC System, digital learning technologies simply cannot be a long-term substitute for the facilities and community that our campuses provide. The majority of our faculty and students need access to our libraries, labs, classrooms, and medical and agriculture facilities to fully engage with their research, teaching, learning, and service work."

UNC System interim president says he plans to reopen campuses for 2020 fall semester but with changes

Roper said some institutions might consider staggered or shortened academic calendars, while others may take action to reduce student density in campus housing and classrooms.

1 p.m.
Wake County will follow Gov. Cooper's stay-at-home order after it's own order ends on April 30.

Wake County currently has 796 known positive cases of COVID-19. 16 of those patients have died from the virus.

Starting May 1, Cary, Fuquay-Varina, Garner, Holly Springs, Knightdale, Morrisville, Raleigh, Rolesville, Wake Forest, Wendell, and Zebulon along with portions of Angier, Clayton and Durham located within Wake County will follow Gov. Cooper's stay-at-home order.

Read more on that here.

Gov. Cooper announced last week that he has a three-phase plan for lifting these restrictions.

11 a.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services now reports a total of 9,948 COVID-19 cases in the state. That's up 380 from Tuesday.

Twelve more deaths have been reported. Two more counties now have cases, bringing the total to 96. Currently, 551 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, up 88 from Tuesday.

196 of the deaths in North Carolina are linked to nursing home and residential care facility outbreaks.

The state reports that 5,688 more tests were completed in the last 24 hours, which is much higher than Tuesday's total of 2,832. The state's goal is 5,000 to 7,000 tests daily.

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



This is why North Carolina does not report coronavirus recoveries

Here's how North Carolina health officials determine and report coronavirus deaths

WEDNESDAY MORNING HEADLINES

Wake County is expected to make an announcement Wednesday regarding the next steps for its stay-at-home order. It's currently set to expire on Thursday. Wake County's order limits movement outside people's homes except for essential jobs and tasks mostly related to health and food. Last week, the state's stay-at-home order was extended through May 8.

Here are the phases of Gov. Cooper's reopening plan

Gov. Cooper said Tuesday that he would not allow local governments to ease restrictions further than the guidelines laid out by the state stay-at-home order.

"We know this virus does not respect county lines," Cooper said. "We know that there are people that live in one county, work in another county and maybe shop in yet another county."

Gov. Roy Cooper laid out a plan to reopen North Carolina, but here's what has to happen first

However, he said officials are looking into the possibility of allowing some regional loosening of restrictions after May 8.

Durham County is reporting 151 new cases of coronavirus with a significant chunk of them connected to an outbreak at the Durham Butner Correctional Facility. Neighboring Person County has reported its first coronavirus-related death.

North Carolina is reporting more than 9,500 cases with 342 deaths and 463 hospitalizations. 28.5 percent of the cases are in congregate living facilities. More than half of the state's deaths have been linked to nursing homes and residential care facilities.

In Raleigh, house and senate leaders are focused on more than $2 billion worth of emergency funding. Lawmakers are planning to vote on a spending plan with funds going to a reserve fund for local governments to address budget shortfalls. Some money would help the UNC system move classes online and sanitize campuses before opening back up. $50 million from the deal would buy PPE ventilators and sanitizing wipes. Leaders hope to vote by the end of the week.

Gov. Roy Cooper is confident the state will reach the goal of testing between 5,000 and 7,000 people per day soon. State officials are asking for federal help to expand testing. Gov. Cooper maintains public health is the state's top priority.

ReOpen NC protesters gathered outside the General Assembly in Raleigh Tuesday morning. Activists who want the North Carolina government to roll back coronavirus safety regulations on businesses voiced their concerns again. Four arrests were made.

Gov. Cooper said it's likely the Coca-Cola 600 will be held as scheduled at the Charlotte Motor Speedway on Memorial Day weekend. If held, the NASCAR race would be the first public sporting event since the early rounds of the ACC Tournament in Greensboro in March.
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