Coronavirus: Governor Cooper expected to unveil plan to ease stay-at-home restrictions on Thursday

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

10 p.m.
Facing a growing chorus of complaints from business owners and stir-crazy North Carolina families, Governor Roy Cooper is expected Thursday to unveil his plan to begin easing the stay-at-home restrictions put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.

In an interview on ABC 11 Eyewitness News at 5:30, the state's health director, Dr. Betsey Tilson said the governor's reopen plan would be guided by the data.

READ MORE: State health director talks reopening economy, COVID-19 testing

"The governor is always saying we want to be looking at our trends: our cases, our hospitalizations, our deaths -- looking at all our trends to let us know when we think it may be safe to be able to start reopening the economy. Nobody more than governor wants to reopen the economy," Tilson said.

It's not just ReOpen NC demonstrators pressuring the governor. The top Republican in the state senate, Phil Berger sent a letter to Cooper, signed by every member of the GOP leadership, demanding answers on what the governor's reopen plan is; when the plan would be released; and seeking more detailed statistics on the infection and death rates.

And Republican State House Rep. Jake Johnson from western North Carolina penned a separate letter to Cooper expressing his support for "returning decision-making authority back to the counties once the current stay-at-home order expires at the end of April."

At Wednesday's state briefing, the governor's Health and Human Services Secretary, Dr. Mandy Cohen, said a regional reopening of the state's economy may be reasonable -- but not a county by county strategy.

"I think making decisions at the county level is incredibly challenging given how people move through the county. The virus certainly doesn't respect county borders," Cohen said.

To illustrate her point about the potential for spread if every county had the power to decide on its own when to reopen, Dr. Cohen pointed to data showing the workforce that comes in and out of Charlotte every day travels from 32 different counties. It's one more factor that will inform Governor Cooper's reopen plan that he's expected to roll out Thursday at 3 pm.

9:15 p.m.
A Durham County resident over the age of 65, with multiple underlying health conditions, has died; marking the seventh death for the county.

The Durham County Department of Public Health (DCoDPH) has also seen an increase of 30 COVID-19 cases, raising the county total to 469.

The DCoDPH said it is continuing to respond to COVID-19 outbreaks at three Durham long-term care facilities. As of now, the following COVID-19 case totals have been confirmed for all residents and staff at the facilities:
  • 91 at Durham Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
  • 20 at Treyburn Rehabilitation Center
  • 4 at Durham VA Healthcare System Community Nursing Home


6:30 p.m.
Cumberland County reported 154 COVID-19 cases, an increase of 21 cases since Tuesday and the largest daily jump since the county reported its first cases.

"As local providers and labs increase their capacity for testing and decrease the turnaround time for results, it is not surprising to see a jump in the number of cases," said Health Director Dr. Jennifer Green in a written statement.

Cumberland County officials said hospitalized patients, health care workers, first responders, patients who live in or have regular contact with congregate settings or people at high risk of severe illness can call 910-433-3655 or 910-433-3645 for an assessment to be tested at the Health Deaprtment.

Lee County also reported 16 new COVID-19 cases for a total of 64 cases in the county, 57 of which are being monitored by local health officials.

"I recognize that the increase in reported numbers today may cause some alarm in the community," said Health Director Heath Cain in a written statement. "While our first case was reported at just over a month ago on March 20th, our community has seen a significant increase in cases over the past two weeks as we climbed from 4 confirmed cases on April 8th to 64 confirmed cases today. While the department is not able to provide additional details, I want to stress that the health and well-being of our community is the department's priority. Remember, COVID-19 is widespread in the community. This is not a case of knowing where the virus is and avoiding those places to avoid getting sick; the virus is everywhere, there are no safe spots and anytime you leave your home, you risk infection. If you must leave your home for essential work or activities, be smart - complete your tasks quickly and return home. When you are out, wear your face masks, maintain social distancing, and practice good hygiene. These are difficult times but we will get through this together."

Halifax County also reported one more COVID-19 case in the county. Of 231 tests reported to county officials, 40 have been positive and 10 are still awaiting results.

2:00 p.m.
In a news conference, North Carolina Director of Emergency Management Mike Sprayberry addressed the state's shortage of personal protective equipment, reporting that the state has requested $280 million in protective equipment but has only received a little more than five percent of what has been ordered.

"Many vendors do not have stock immediately available," Sprayberry said. The state most needs surgical gowns, N95 masks and procedure masks, according to Sprayberry.

While the state has received a substantial percentage of the equipment it requested from the National Strategic Stockpile, private vendors are slowly filling additional requests.

"Yesterday was one of the highest requests for PPE to date," Sprayberry said, citing 76 requests from hospitals, individual medical providers, first responders, nursing homes and other groups. In addition, Sprayberry said his team has received 161 requests from local law enforcement and fire departments.

Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, Sprayberry said his team has received 6,399 requests for resources--primarily personal protective equipment--and 3,833 of those requests have been filled.

Sprayberry encouraged vendors who sell personal protective equipment to visit the state's website and input their company's information.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen also said two workgroups--one that represents large gatherings and another that represents the business community--are meeting to discuss how to reopen North Carolina's economy while keeping its residents safe.

Cohen said the groups are communicating about how to optimize social distancing and combat misinformation about the virus while taking into account the economic realiites many venues and businesses face.

"They're going to help us navigate through this very uncertain time," Cohen said.

Cohen also addressed the idea of reopening the state county by county, saying the approach would be challenging because not everyone lives in the county whre they work.

"This virus certainly doesn't respect county borders," Cohen said.

She said any decisions about reopening North Carolina will be made on a state level, though health officials may look at individual regions.

Additionally, Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee stressed his team is working to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus within prisons.

"The health and safety of our staff and the men and women in our custody are of the utmost importance to us," Ishee said.

When asked about the outbreak at Neuse Correctional Institution, Ishee said nearly all of the offenders who have tested positive are asymptomatic.

Ishee said while all correctional facility staff across the state will be tested for COVID-19, inmates will continue to be tested as an individualized decision.

1:40 p.m.
The Durham County Sheriff's Office confirmed six employees tested positive for COVID-19 and are now at home.

All inmates have been tested and are negative for the virus, officials said.

11:50 a.m.
The first coronavirus death of a North Carolina state inmate was reported Wednesday.

An inmate at Pender Correctional Institution died at the hospital on April 21. The offender first had symptoms on April 8, received a positive test on April 10 and was hospitalized on April 13.

The man was in his late 50s and had underlying health conditions that were complicated by COVID-19.

"Any death is a tragedy, and we must continue our efforts to do all we can to try and flatten the curve of COVID-19 in Prisons," said Todd Ishee, Commissioner of Prisons. "The health and safety of the staff and the men and women in our custody is of paramount importance."

11:45 p.m.
GoDurham is limiting the number of bus passengers to 16 in order to maintain social distancing.

Once 16 people are on the bus, the operator may change the sign to "Bus Full" to alert riders on the street to wait for the next bus.

11 a.m.
Twenty-nine additional coronavirus deaths in North Carolina have brought the total to 242 since the state's first death was reported on March 25.

There are now more than 7,000 cases of COVID-19 in the state. There are 434 people hospitalized across 93 counties. More than 90,000 tests have been administered.

Here's why you might see different case counts depending on where you look.



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

9:35 a.m.
The number of unemployment claims surpassed 700,000 in North Carolina according to the state's division of employment security.

From March 15 through Tuesday, there were 705,339 claims filed with 606,081 claims filed because of COVID-19. The highest one-day total came on March 20 when 34,706 claims were filed. More than 15,000 claims were filed on Tuesday.

9:15 a.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services received a $2 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to support the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The grant will support the department's efforts to aid people with mental health issues and substance use disorder as it relates to the COVID-19 crisis.

The money is part of a program that's awarded $110 million to states.

7 a.m.
North Carolina-based LabCorp says it's expanding serological testing for COVID-19 to more hospitals and healthcare organizations.

The serological tests are in addition to the company's existing molecular test for COVID-19, and to healthcare workers and emergency responders through its Pixel at-home test kit. The at-home kit gained FDA authorization on Tuesday.

WEDNESDAY MORNING HEADLINES

Hundreds of protesters called for the reopening of North Carolina on Tuesday. Gov. Roy Cooper said he will make an announcement this week about whether he plans to extend the stay-at-home order set to expire next week.

"We are working to ease restrictions in a responsible way, in a staged way," Cooper said. "We understand that we can't stay at home forever and this is not something that is sustainable long term. But what we have to do is ease back into it to make sure that this virus does not spike, which it very easily could do."

He'll also announce plans for public schools, currently closed through May 15.

North Carolina first responders, nursing home workers feeling the effects of PPE shortages, officials say

The Wayne County Board of Commissioners wrote Gov. Cooper a letter, asking Cooper to consider the economic consequences before extending any restrictions. The letter reads, "The restrictions that are in place right now have caused an unprecedented disruption among our businesses and will have dramatic effects on our economy for years to come."

Tuesday's COVID-19 update from state Department of Health and Human Services was grim as 34 deaths were reported, the highest single-day total for North Carolina. Two workers at a Smithfield Foods plant in Tar Heel tested positive for coronavirus.

In Cumberland County, the school district has temporarily closed its drive-thru food distribution site at Douglas Byrd Middle School after an employee tested positive for COVID-19. The site will shut down for 14 days while other sites will stay open.

Raeford Farms is scheduled to hold another surplus chicken sale on Wednesday morning at the State Fairgrounds. Previous sales at the State Farmers Market and Knightdale High School drew huge crowds and this one will likely be no different.

The Graybeard Distillery in Durham is selling hand sanitizer to the public through their website. Customers who have already purchased sanitizer can pick up sanitizer Wednesday starting at 9 a.m.

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

President Donald Trump announced Tuesday he will be placing a 60-day pause on the issuance of certain immigration green cards in an effort to limit competition for jobs in a U.S. economy wrecked by the coronavirus. Trump said that the move would not impact those in the country on a temporary basis and would apply only to those looking for green cards in hopes of staying.

TUESDAY
7 p.m.
Cumberland County Schools is closing the meal site at Douglas Byrd Middle School for 14 days after a person who worked at the site tested positive for COVID-19.

Cumberland County health officials said they are tracing any close contacts of the patient and will alert anyone who was within a 6-foot radius of the patient for more than 10 minutes.

Cumberland County Schools said the worker was wearing gloves and a face mask during food distribution, and the risk of exposure to anyone who came through the drive-thru line is low because close contact was limited.

School officials said all staff and volunteers are wearing face masks, keeping six feet of separation when possible, not leaning into families' cars when delivering food, washing their hands, minimizing contact with cars and doorknobs, providing pre-wrapped utensils and disinfecting common surfaces regularly.

"I am grateful to all of our Child Nutrition staff and volunteers for working hard to provide meals for our students," said CCS Superintendent Dr. Marvin Connelly, Jr. in a written statement. "Our thoughts are with the individual, and we are hopeful for a full recovery. We will continue to follow the guidance of local health officials and take the necessary precautions to keep our staff, volunteers and families safe."

All other meal sites will continue to operate.

6:40 p.m.
Durham County now has 439 COVID-19 cases.

The Durham County Department of Public Health has also confirmed two COVID-19-related deaths, for a total of six COVID-19-related deaths confirmed within the county to date.

The residents were younger than 65 years old and had multiple underlying health conditions.

The Durham County Department of Public Health said it is continuing to respond to COVID-19 outbreaks at three Durham long-term care facilities. As of now, the following COVID-19 case totals have been confirmed for all residents and staff at the facilities:
  • 91 at Durham Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
  • 20 at Treyburn Rehabilitation Center
  • 4 at Durham VA Healthcare System Community Nursing Home


6 p.m.
As North Carolina reports more than 200 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 deaths, state health officials on Tuesday explained how they report that statistic each day.

In a news conference, Department of Health and Human Services Director Dr. Mandy Cohen said COVID-19 deaths are determined by medical examiners.

Health officials said deaths are reported to the state in two ways: through laboratory-confirmed cases reported by hospitals and through death certificates.

In a written statement, a representative for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said laboratory-confirmed deaths are reported by hospitals and physicians to local and state health departments, usually within hours or days of a patient's death. These deaths only include patients who previously tested positive for the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, and who died without fully recovering from the disease.

More information here.

4:50 p.m.
Lee County confirmed three more cases of COVID-19. There are 41 active cases, seven previous cases have resumed normal activities. There are no confirmed deaths in the county at this time.

4:10 p.m.
Johnston County reported 119 confirmed cases in total as of 4 p.m.
There are eight people hospitalized, and 101 are recovering at home.

Ten people have died in Johnnston County, and all of them were 65 or older.

4 p.m.
Halifax County officials said three more COVID-19 cases bring the county total up to 39. 20 of the 39 cases are recovered.

2:30 p.m.
During a news conference, Gov. Roy Cooper said he will make an announcement this week about whether he plans to extend the stay-at-home order set to expire next week.

"We are working to ease restrictions in a responsible way, in a staged way," Cooper said. "We understand that we can't stay at home forever and this is not something that is sustainable long term. But what we have to do is ease back into it to make sure that this virus does not spike, which it very easily could do."

Cooper also announced new budget proposals for federal money designated to North Carolina, saying the funds will be allocated to public health and safety, schools and other core state government services, and small businesses and assistance for local governments.

During the news conference, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said the testing task force is working to increase access to COVID-19 testing in communities of color--stressing the disproportionate numbers of members of the black and African American community who have COVID-19 or have died from COVID-19.

"These disturbing trends are not going unnoticed by me or my team," Cohen said.



Director of Emergency Management Mike Sprayberry emphasized the state's continued mission to acquire personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and first responders on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When asked by ABC11's Andrea Blanford about the status of the personal protective equipment shortage, Cooper said some hospitals and medical systems have enough equipment, others may not. In addition, Sprayberry and Cooper both stressed that first responders do not have the equipment they need to safely respond to emergencies. Cohen also said nursing homes are requesting protective equipment in large numbers as outbreaks arise in assisted living facilities across the state.

2 p.m.
Cooper announced on Tuesday that he signed an executive order that allows furloughed workers whose employers have paid them a severance or furlough payment to receive unemployment benefits.

Impacted by coronavirus? Here's how to file for unemployment in North Carolina

Cooper said he is working with legislators to try to codify the order into law next week when the General Assembly returns.

12:45 p.m.
As fewer people hit the roads in North Carolina, the Department of Transportation is dealing with a $300 million budget shortage for the fiscal year ending June 30.

In a news release, the department said NCDOT revenue is funded through the Motor Fuels Tax, Highway Use Tax and DMV fees-all of which have dropped.

NCDOT said 50 major projects scheduled to start over the next 12 months have been delayed.

The changes do not affect construction projects currently underway.

In addition, NCDOT said the department is allowing critical purchases only, laying off temporary workers and consultants, suspending or decreasing programs and services, and implementing a hiring freeze except for public safety positions.

NCDOT said it is developing plans for potential furloughs, but no decision has been made at this time to enact them.
11:30 a.m.
Approximately 300 people gathered outside North Carolina General Assembly to protest the safety precautions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 in North Carolina.

ReOpen NC is the group behind the protest. They came out for the second time in the last couple weeks to show support for reopening businesses in the state.

10:55 a.m.
North Carolina reports 34 more people have died of COVID-19, bringing the total death toll of the virus up to 213. That is the largest single-day increase in fatalities so far in the state.

The first death in North Carolina was reported on March 25, meaning COVID-19 is to blame for 213 deaths in 27 days.

The state health department said 6,951 people have tested positive for the virus. Many more are expected to have had the virus and recovered without getting tested.

As of Tuesday morning, 427 people remained in the hospital receiving treatment for the virus.

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

10 a.m.
The state's division of employment security reports that 689,424 unemployment claims have been filed between March 15 and April 20. 593,235 of those claims were related to job loss due to COVID-19.

8 a.m.
LabCorp has received authoritization from the Food and Drug Administration for a COVID-19 At-Home Test Kit.

The kit allows for patients to take a nasal swab sample for testing.

Patients can get the kit if it's recommended by a healthcare provider after completing a COVID-19 questionnaire. LabCorp received an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA to issue the kits. The EUA permits nasal swab specimens to be collected at home using LabCorp's "Pixel" kit.

Initially, the test will be available for medical employees with symptoms. It will become available to others in the coming weeks.

TUESDAY HEADLINES
Raleigh City Council is looking into ways to help small businesses that are struggling during the pandemic. Today, city leaders will meet to talk about the small business assistance program. Raleigh will contribute $1 million to the Carolina Small Business fund and Wake Technical Community College, who each have loan programs. The hope is for the program to become a community benefit fund that encourages the public to donate.

The "Reopen NC" group is pushing Gov. Roy Cooper to get the state's economy moving again and a crowd is expected to gather in front of the Governor's mansion for a protest Tuesday. The group believes the economic fallout from the order outweighs the health hazards that experts say it is successfully helping stem. .

Gov. Cooper briefed Vice President Mike Pence on the state's response to the virus. Cooper said "North Carolina has 14 labs able to test for COVID-19, but to continue increasing our testing numbers, we need help from the federal government getting more testing supplies and personal protective equipment." Cooper will provide an update at 2 p.m. on ABC11 and ABC11.com.

Duke University Hospital confirmed an employee tested positive for COVID-19. The hospital is reaching out to potentially affected patients and staff.

Wake County is reporting 605 cases and eight deaths from COVID-19. Durham County reported its fourth death and 435 cases.

Harris Teeter is now requiring masks or other face coverings for its employees working at its stores, distribution centers and facilities. Shoppers are encouraged to cover their faces.

The coronavirus has killed more than 168,000 people worldwide, according to ABC News. Data from Johns Hopkins University shows that more than 2.4 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
The United States now has more than 787,000 diagnosed cases and at least 42,094 deaths.
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