Coronavirus NC: Sen. Tillis tapped for President Trump's task force to reopen national economy

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

7:25 p.m.
Twelve Durham County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in the county to 388.

The county continues to monitor virus outbreaks at three Durham long-term care facilities including 76 cases at Durham Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, nine at the Treybrun Rehabilitation Center Durham VA Health Care System Community Nursing Home and four at Durham VA Healthcare System Community Nursing Home.

5:50 p.m.
Two more people have died from complications related to COVID-19 in Wake County, bringing the county total to three.

In the span of a day, Wake County has also seen an increase of 8 positive cases within the county, raising the county total to 557.

5:45 p.m.
The Cumberland County Department of Health reports two more people have died from the coronavirus, raising the county total to five deaths.

Officials said one person, who was in their 70s was a resident of Village Green Health and Rehabilitation Center, died on Wednesday at the Cape Fear Valley Medical Center. The patient had underlying medical conditions.

The second person, who was in their 50s, died at home on Thursday.

"We offer our deepest condolences to these two families as they deal with the loss of their loved ones," Health Director Dr. Jennifer Green wrote in a news release.

In addition, the health department reports four new positive cases within the county, bringing the county total to 98.

5:40 p.m.
Johnston County reports a total of 113 confirmed COVID-19 cases within the county. Nine of the confirmed cases are currently hospitalized.

5:25 p.m.
Gov. Cooper released a statement regarding President Trump's call with the nation's governors today:
"Yesterday I laid out what's required for North Carolina's path to gradual re-opening, and it's good the White House has shared similar guidance, but we still need the federal government to help with testing and personal protective equipment. We will continue working with our federal and local partners to beat this virus, protect people's health and recover our economy."

5:20 p.m.
The Department of State Treasurer announced that North Carolina has received more than $2 billion from the federal government as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The CARES Act, as passed by Congress and signed by the President, will provide $150 billion for the Coronavirus Relief Fund including direct payments to states.

The money is the first disbursement from the federal government of more than $4 billion slated for North Carolina.

The North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) will decide how the state's money will be spent as part of legislation expected near the end of the month. Once an agreement has been reached, OSBM will distribute the funds.

5:00 p.m.
North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis was named to President Donald Trump's Congressional Economic Task Force, according to a news release from the senator's office.

The task force will provide advice on how and when to reopen the nation's economy, based on the White House's new guidelines.

Tillis released the following statement:
"I've talked to countless North Carolinians over the last several weeks and they're rightfully concerned about protecting the health of their loved ones and getting clarity on how and when we can safely re-open the economy. I strongly believe that data must drive this decision and we must properly time and implement a staggered re-opening based on the unique conditions on the ground in our states, cities, and towns. I'll continue to work with President Trump and Governor Cooper in the weeks ahead as North Carolinians keep doing their part to defeat this virus and get ready to begin our nation's economic recovery."

4:50 p.m.
Two new COVID-19 cases have been reported in Lee County, raising the county total to 21.

4:20 p.m.
New White House guidelines outline a phased approach to restoring normal commerce and services, but only for places with strong testing and seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases.

President Donald Trump unveiled his administration's plans to ease social distancing requirements on a call Thursday with the nation's governors.

The new guidelines are aimed at clearing the way for an easing of restrictions in areas with low transmission of the coronavirus, while keeping them in place in harder-hit places.

Places with declining infections and strong testing would begin a three-phased gradual reopening of businesses and schools, which each phase lasting at least 14 days, meant to ensure that the virus outbreak doesn't accelerate again.

Those most susceptible to the respiratory disease would be advised to remain sheltered in place until the final phase.

3 p.m.

In alignment with Wake County, the Town of Morrisville has signed a new proclamation extending the stay-at-home order until April 30.

There are several new additions to the updated order:
  • All retail businesses are allowed to operate if they provide delivery or curbside pickup options for customers.
  • Businesses designated as "essential" are required to comply with North Carolina Executive Order 131. The state order, which was signed on April 9, sets requirements for maximum occupancy, social distancing measures and cleaning protocols for retailers.
  • The proclamation reiterates the need for employers to conduct basic health screenings - including temperature checks, documenting changes in coughs or sore throats, and asking about shortness of breath - and sending workers home if they are ill.
  • Faith organizations are allowed to hold drive-in services, with specific requirements.
  • Funeral services with no more than 25 attendees are allowed.

"The good news is we're making progress toward flattening the curve," said Morrisville Mayor TJ Cawley. "However, we're not where we need to be to lift the stay-at-home restrictions."

Read the full Wake County proclamation here (.pdf)

2 p.m.
State Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen touted telehealth at a media briefing saying it's a way for people to continue to get the care they need.

"Staying home doesn't mean you have to ignore the things that need medical attention," Cohen said.

Cohen said the best way to save lives in most cases is to continue to stay home.

"As we look ahead to how we stay ahead of the curve, knowing that this virus is going to be with us for some time, we need to be sure that people can access the care that they need if they test positive for COVID-19 or if they have other health issues," Cohen said.

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State officials Dr. mandy Cohen and Mike Sprayberry give latest update on COVID-19 efforts.

Recognizing that an improved testing protocol will be necessary to reopen the state, Cohen said North Carolina has made huge improvements to the number of tests it can process daily. However, supplies continue to be a limiting factor--not only in number of tests but in amount of available protective equipment for health care workers collecting those tests.

Cohen also said North Carolina health officials are working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a reliable, standardized metric for the number of "recovered" patients.

"We don't have that ability yet, but it's something we've asked our CDC partners," Cohen said.

Emergency Operations Center Director Mike Sprayberry said the center has been activated for 38 days, longer than the agency was activated for Hurricane Matthew or Hurricane Florence.

Sprayberry also said the agency is working to make sure people in need have food and has entered into partnerships with schools and other organizations to fill gaps in the food chain.

"Rest assured, we'll be here as long as it takes to make sure North Carolina is safe from COVID-19," Sprayberry said.

11:30 a.m.
Halifax County reported two more COVID-19 cases, bringing the county total to 31 cases. Of those people, 11 have recovered, county officials said. One person has died from complications related to the virus.

10:50 a.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is reporting 5,465 COVID-19 cases and 131 deaths in the state. That's up 342 cases and 14 deaths from Wednesday. According to the state, 452 people are currently hospitalized.

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

9:20 a.m.
Wake County has officially extended its stay-at-home order to protect citizens from COVID-19.

The previous stay-at-home order was set to expire Thursday. The extension pushes the regulations out through April 30.

"While we're making good progress to flatten the COVID-19 curve in our community, we haven't hit our peak caseload yet, so it's too early to lift our stay-at-home restrictions," Wake County Board of Commissioners Chairman Greg Ford said. "However, we understand how challenging this is - particularly for businesses - which is why this extension includes provisions to help the local economy while enabling us to save lives."

The updated order allows all retail businesses in the county and its 12 municipalities to stay open if they provide delivery or curbside pickup options.

Faith organizations are also allowed to hold drive-in services, according to the updated order.

"We know that in challenging times, religious and spiritual support is one way that people find strength and comfort," Ford said. "While these services are accessible online, we have extended the ability to allow drive-in services if churches and places of worship are able to follow certain social-distancing parameters."

The county says according to data from between March 17 and April 8, the doubling rate of COVID-19 cases has gone from about 3.5 days to about 8 days.

8:45 a.m.
5.2 more million people have filed for unemployment benefits in America, bringing the total for the last month to 22 million - a record stretch of job loss. Some economists say the unemployment rate could reach as high as 20% in April, which would be the highest rate since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

8:30 a.m.
Greg Ford, Chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, says that the county's stay-at-home order will be extended through April 30 with some changes based on positive trends stemming from social distancing measures. More details are expected to be unveiled today. Ford says all 15 mayors in Wake County approve of the plan.

7:20 a.m.
Wake County is expected to extend its stay-at-home order Thursday.

Wake County put a stay-at-home order into effect Friday, March 27 at 5 p.m. It is scheduled to expire automatically Thursday.

However, the county just reported its first death Wednesday to go along with 510 cases. With the county being one of the hardest hit in North Carolina, it is unlikely the stay-at-home order will be allowed to expire.

The News & Observer reports an announcement will be coming sometime Thursday to extend the order and possibly make some tweaks to it.

Even if no announcment comes, residents of the county would still be required to abide by the state's stay-at-home order, which Gov. Roy Cooper said was working and is not set to expire until April 29.

Thursday morning storylines

  • While addressing the state's need to reopen, Gov. Roy Cooper said he believes the current stay-at-home order has North Carolina well-positioned to handle the current number of COVID-19 cases statewide. The Governor feels the state needs to make progress in the areas of testing, contact tracing and spreading trends. President Trump is expected to release guidelines to show states how to reopen for business today at 5 p.m.
  • Lawmakers are supposed to continue negotiations today about more funding for the Paycheck Protection Program that's helping small businesses stay alive. President Trump has asked for $250 billion to supplement the program.
  • More than 136,000 people across the world have died from COVID-19 and earlier this week, Harvard researchers found social distancing practices may need to continue until 2022 to contain the spread of the virus.
  • More universities are dropping the SAT and ACT requirements for fall 2021 admissions in response to the pandemic. The companies behind both tests have canceled their testing until June. A home version of the SAT, that would require remote proctoring, is being prepared.

7 p.m.
27 new COVID-19 cases have been reported in Durham County Wednesday evening, raising the county total to 376.

In the meantime, the Durham County Department of Public Health is monitoring outbreaks at three Durham long-term care facilities. AS of now, 75 COVID-19 cases were reported at Durham Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, six at Durham VA Healthcare System Community Nursing Home and four at Treyburn Rehabilitation Center.

5:55 p.m.
Johns Hopkins University said there are at least 619,607 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States and at least 27,760 confirmed deaths.

5:45 p.m.
Three new COVID-19 cases have been reported in Lee County, raising the county total to 19.

According to a news release, of the 19 cases, 16 people continue to be monitored by the county Health Department and three have returned to normal activities.

5:35 p.m.
Johnston County officials announced its ninth COVID-19 related death. All of the counties nine deaths are patients ages 65 or higher.

Seven of the deaths were linked to Springbrook Rehabilitation & Nursing Center. The seven deaths are included in the 35 COVID-19 cases in residents. 12 staff who live in Johnston County have the virus along with seven who live in another county.

At Johnston Correctional Institute, there are three inmates and three staff who have tested positive.

5 p.m.
A third person in Cumberland County has died from complications with COVID-19.

The person was in their 80s and was a resident of Village Green Health and Rehabilitation and had underlying medical conditions, according to the Cumberland County Department of Health.

The death is among seven cases associated with the long-term care facility; five involve patients and two are staff members.

As of Wednesday evening, Cumberland County now has 94 positive COVID-19 cases within the county.

4:55 p.m.
An 81-year-old man is the first person in Wake County to die as a result of complications from COVID-19, the county announced Wednesday afternoon.

"It's heart-breaking," Regina Petteway, Wake County Human Services director said in a news release. "My deepest sympathies go out to his family and loved ones, and I know that everyone working to slow the spread of this virus shares that sentiment. We must continue to do all we can individually to make a collective difference in the impact COVID-19 has on our community. And that means staying at home."

4 p.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper said at a media briefing that "as we ease restrictions, we're going to enter a new normal."

The governor said with a vaccine still perhaps a year away, vulnerable populations will continue to be at risk.

"In our new normal, we will still have to decrease the risk of exposure for older people and those with underlying health conditions," Cooper said. "In our new normal, you may see more people wearing masks or getting their temperature checked. Sporting events may have no in-person crowds. A new normal can get us back to work, back to school and back to play but in a new way for a while."

The lifting of restrictions will need to be gradual, the governor said.

"Rather than an on-off switch, think of it as a dimmer switch," Cooper said.

In order to lift restrictions, Cooper said North Carolina would need to make progress in three areas. testing, contact tracing and trends.

NC Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said North Carolina's measures are working to "flatten the curve."

"Our plan is to stay ahead of the curve," Cohen said.

Cohen said the next steps "will be driven by science and data."

She said the three areas of improvement that Coper outlined would be used to help determine when to dial up or dial down social distancing measures.

2:55 p.m.
In the past 24 hours, the Division of Employment Security has made more than $100 million in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments to North Carolinians receiving unemployment assistance.

The FPUC program provides an additional $600 in weekly unemployment insurance benefits to eligible claimants for weeks beginning March 29 and ending by July 31, 2020. Individuals who are still owed FPUC payments will be paid retroactively.

DES says it is working as quickly as possible to roll out the two remaining federal unemployment programs to ensure timely and accurate payments for eligible North Carolinians:

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). This program provides unemployment compensation for individuals not eligible for regular unemployment insurance, such as independent contractors and self-employed workers, and those who have exhausted any extensions to unemployment insurance.

DES estimates its online filing system will be ready to accept claims for this assistance program around April 25, 2020.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). This program provides up to 13 additional weeks of benefits for those who have exhausted their state unemployment benefits. DES will update the public as a timeline for this program is available.

2:40 p.m.
Moore County officials said there has been another COVID-19 related death, totaling four in the county. There are 88 confirmed cases in Moore County to date.

2:20 p.m.
A Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools worker helping with the school district's Meals for Students program tested positive for COVID-19.

The school district said the employee was not involved with prepping or handing out food.

Staff members with the program had already been taking precautions to stay safe--such as wearing gloves and masks, using hand sanitizer, having daily temperature checks and regularly sanitizing food transportation vehicles.

However, the news of the positive test has caused the school district to take additional steps in the name of safety.

Essential staff is being divided up into multiple teams and only one member of each team will report to work at any given time. Social distancing measures will also be strengthened.

"We believe this will provide a better opportunity to keep the food initiative and critical operations rolling in case a staff member or volunteer gets sick," Acting Superintendent Patrick Abele said in a statement.

1:15 p.m.
Three more people have died from COVID-19 in North Carolina. All three of the victims were residents at Louisburg Nursing Center.

Franklin County Health Department said the facility has now lost five residents to the virus.

Louisburg Nursing Center is just one of several nursing and long-term care centers in North Carolina that have been hit hard by the virus outbreak.

11:30 a.m.
Halifax County health officials said there is one more COVID-19 case, making for a total of 29 positive cases, 11 recovered and one death.

11 a.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services now reports at least 5,123 people have tested positive for COVID-19, and 117 have died from the virus.

The new numbers show 99 more laboratory-confirmed cases Wednesday than Tuesday, along with 9 more deaths.

Those increases come after 2,788 more tests were conducted.

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

Mecklenburg County has more than 1,000 cases--the highest of any county. It is followed by Wake County with 510 cases and Durham County with 330 cases.

Outbreaks have been reported in at least 30 nursing homes and 9 residential care facilities across 24 counties. Six correctional facilities have outbreaks.

CORONAVIRUS MAP: Tracking COVID-19 across North Carolina

8:45 a.m.
As millions of Americans receive their stimulus checks, be mindful of scammers wanting to get your money. When checking the status of your stimulus payment, make sure you only use this website or the IRS app IRS2Go.

ABC11 Troubleshooter has warned about some of these schemes related to the stimulus payments where scammers duplicate banking websites and the IRS website to try and intercept your personal information to get your payment. Read more here.

7 a.m.
Check your bank account! Stimulus checks have been arriving for some Americans over the last couple days, but Wednesday is the day the government says most people will get their direct deposit.

CLICK HERE to check the status of your check

Millions of Americans who qualify for economic stimulus checks and have direct deposit set up with the IRS will receive them by the end of the day Wednesday. The first payments will go to those who have already filed their 2018 and 2019 tax returns. Social Security recipients will get payments even if they haven't filed a return.

Not everybody is eligible for these stimulus checks. For example, if you owe child support, the government could use the money to pay off that debt.

Morning headlines
The number of coronavirus cases surpassed 5,000 in North Carolina on Tuesday with a focus on the rise of cases at nursing home facilities. It was North Carolina's deadliest day of the pandemic so far, with 22 deaths. There have been 108 deaths in the state with 5,024 cases across 93 counties. Wake County (504) and Durham County (349) have the most in the ABC11 viewing area.

Durham Public Schools will resume feeding children and families twice a week starting Thursday.

Importance of social distancing
There have been outbreaks at three long-term health care facilities in Durham County. 54 cases were confirmed at Durham Nursing and Rehab Center, five at Durham VA Healthcare System Community Nursing Home and four at Treyburn Rehab Center.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said social distancing guidelines are helping combat the spread of the virus.

Stores like Sam's Club and Publix are setting aside shopping hours specifically for first responders and healthcare workers. Sam's Club is setting aside two hours every Sunday for what it's calling "hero hours." The medical professionals can shop without a membership from 8 to 10 a.m. each Sunday. Publix is designating Thursday nights (8-9 p.m.) and Friday morning (7-8 a.m.). Walmart is launching a pickup hour for high-risk customers older than 60 to limit interaction with employees.
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