Many central North Carolina counties see percentage of positive tests drop below 5%

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

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5:09 p.m
A newly committed offender with pre-existing medical conditions, who tested positive for COVID-19, has died at a hospital, a prison spokesperson said.
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The offender was hospitalized Aug. 20 before being admitted to the state prison system and assigned to Central Prison on Sept. 15, per a court order signed by a Durham County judge on Sept. 14.

The offender, who was in his late 50s, never physically entered a prison. He died at the hospital Wednesday afternoon.

3:41 p.m.
Two drive-thru COVID-19 testing events have been scheduled for next week in Moore County.

  • On September 21 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.at St. Peter, The Rock Church, 192 Esther Road in West End.

  • On September 24 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Morganton Road Sports Complex, 100 Fire Lane in Southern Pines.


3 p.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday told school districts across the state they will soon have the option of opening elementary schools for full time in-person learning.

The announcement means administrators can implement 'Plan A' of the state's protocols as early as October 5, but officials are limiting that option to kindergarten through fifth grade only; middle schools and high schools may still offer in-person learning under 'Plan B', which requires reduced capacity and more stringent safety measures.

To accompany the announcement, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said the state is currently stabilizing in all of its key COVID-19 metrics--and even decreasing in some. However, COVID-like syndromic emergency room visits, the trajectory of cases, the percentage of positive tests and hospitalizations are all too high above the state's baseline numbers to ease further restrictions, especially with flu season on the horizon.

WATCH: Secretary Cohen walks through North Carolina's key COVID-19 metrics
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Though all of the state's key metrics have been stabilizing in recent months and some have been decreasing, state health officials said they have all stabilized at high levels.



Still, Cohen said the state's current metrics, along with research that shows that children are less likely to spread COVID-19 or develop severe illness, allowed for the decision to reopen elementary schools. However, she added that all students, regardless of whether their schools were operating under plan A or plan B, would be required to wear face coverings, stay six feet apart when possible, and wash their hands frequently.

"While we can reduce risk, we can never eliminate it," Cohen said.

Cohen also promised further details about an app that would facilitate contact tracing by tracking location and informing people they have been exposed to someone who tested positive. She said the app would roll out next week.

2:36 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department reports 942 total positive COVID 19 cases, including nine new ones. A total of 17 people have died from COVID-19 in Halifax County. That's 1.8 percent of cases.

1 p.m.
Wake County Public Health's free drive-thru testing will return next week to the Sunnybrook Building parking deck, located in eastern Raleigh at 2925 Holston Lane. Testing will take place Sept. 21-22 and Sept. 24-26.

Appointments are in half-hour intervals from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with 400 testing slots available. The service is free, but people must make an appointment.

12:26 p.m.
There will be a drive-thru COVID-19 testing event in Roxboro on Saturday.

It will be held from 9 a.m. to noon at Shady Hill Baptist Church, 1500 Old Durham Road.

For questions, call Lois Cameron at (919) 937-3662 or the Person County Health Department at (336) 597-2204.

11:30 a.m.
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 1,552 new COVID-19 cases and 31 more deaths Thursday morning.

In addition, the state reported 24,950 more completed tests with a percent positive rate of 5.6%, a slight decrease from the day before. However, many central North Carolina counties are reporting a percent positive test rate at or below 5%, including Wake, Durham, Orange, Chatham, Granville, Person, Vance, Halifax, Johnston, Wayne and Duplin.

Currently, 894 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 with 96% of hospitals reporting. 370 suspected COVID-19 patients were admitted to North Carolina hospitals in the last 24 hours, and 286 people are currently in the intensive care unit with COVID-19.

11:36 p.m.
The Sampson County Health Department is reporting 13 new cases, bringing the total to 2,111 positive COVID-19 cases.

In total, 26 people have died from COVID-19 countywide.

11 a.m.
The UNC/UNC Charlotte football game has been canceled after several Charlotte players are in quarantine and some have tested positive for COVID-19.

The game was canceled after several UNC Charlotte offensive linemen were placed into quarantine following the University's COVID-19 contact tracing protocols.

READ MORE HERE.

THURSDAY MORNING STORYLINES

Gov. Roy Cooper will address the state at 3 p.m. Thursday regarding the state's response to COVID-19. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen is expected to give an update on metrics since the state moved into Phase 2.5.

The Johnston County Schools' central office is reopening Thursday after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.

The building underwent a deep cleaning and will reopen at 8 a.m.

Tropical Depression Sally is forcing some changes to COVID-19 testing. A drive-thru testing operation at Wake County's Sunnybrook Building will suspend operations at 12 p.m.

If you are registered for a test after 12 p.m., you do not need to re-register. You can instead just come tomorrow between 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. Consider checking in with your testing center before your scheduled testing time.

Nationally, a 2-month-old from Michigan who died this week is the state's youngest victim of the virus.

A White House staffer tested positive for COVID-19 Wednesday. President Donald Trump said it was not anyone who had contact with him.

Schools across the country are facing a teacher shortage because of the pandemic. One county in Florida said 200 teachers have either quit, retired, or taken a leave of absence. In New York City, teacher retirements jumped 120 percent in August.

WEDNESDAY
6:05 p.m.
Wake County will suspend drive-thru COVID-19 testing at Sunnybrook Building parking deck on Thursday, Sept. 17, at noon due to the heavy rains forecasted from the remnants of Hurricane Sally.

Those canceled testing times can come back on Friday, Sept. 18, at any time convenient for them between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. If they cannot come on Friday, they can sign up for a new time at wakegov.com/testing.

The county will continue to monitor the forecast for the rest of the week to determine if other testing dates need to be changed.

5:30 p.m.
Four Moore County residents died from COVID-19 complications, bringing the total to 27 county-wide. Three of the deaths were residents of Accordius Health at Aberdeen.

Three deaths were in patients over the age of 75. The other death was in the 25 to 49 age group.

12:55 p.m.
Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and parents of students called on Gov. Roy Cooper to change his school policy to provide all parents with the option of full-time, in-person instruction for their children.

Under Cooper's current policy, roughly two-thirds of North Carolina students are not able to receive in-person instruction. The Wake County School Board heard from many parents and teachers with concerns and questions about the issue at its work session Tuesday night.

"For far too many kids, especially those from disadvantaged households who are already at risk of being left behind, virtual learning is a slow-motion train wreck from which, according to Harvard public health experts, 'some children may never recover.' Gov. Cooper created this mess, and he needs to fix it by directing school districts to accept students for full-time instruction if their parents choose it," Berger said.

Forest, who is running against Cooper as the Republican candidate for governor, said he would safely reopen schools if elected.

"All over the state, parents are fed up by the virtual learning that Gov. Cooper's plan has forced on North Carolina," Forest said. "We've known for months that closed schools don't work for working families. They don't work for children with special needs and IEPs. That don't work for other students, either, especially low-income students who are already at risk of falling behind. We must reopen schools to give parents the option of sending their children to the classroom full-time."

Several parents joined Wednesday's news conference to share their stories about virtual learning. For example, Tara Deane has two adopted children with special needs. Her children have vision impairment, learning challenges, and autism, and virtual learning is not a good option. Deane spoke about how her children have regressed, and about the urgent need to provide them with the instruction and social interaction they need.

The group called for a plan that would provide every parent with the choice of full-time in-person instruction or virtual learning.

"When it came to opening playgrounds, the Governor argued that counties couldn't make the determinations for themselves. But on the politically charged issue of education, the Governor is all too quick to abandon his responsibilities and pass off blame to local districts," Berger said. "The Governor needs to stand up and give parents a choice."

In Wake County, the district wants to propose a target date of Oct. 26 for Plan B students to return to in-person instruction.

12:21 p.m.
The Sampson County Health Department reported one new death and 24 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 2,098 positive cases countywide. In all, 26 people have died of the illness.

11:30 a.m.
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 1,137 new COVID-19 cases and 22,513 completed tests Wednesday. As of Monday, 5.8% of tests are positive--the first time the metric has jumped above 5% since last Wednesday.

Durham, Orange, Granville and Chatham counties are reporting percent positive rates below 4%. Counties in the Sandhills, however, are all reporting percent positive rates above 6%.

Currently, 918 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 with 96% of hospitals reporting.

9:40 a.m.
The latest White House Coronavirus report shows North Carolina is in the yellow zone for cases, indicating between 10 and 100 new cases per 100,000 population last week, with the 25th highest rate in the country.

North Carolina has seen a decrease in new cases and a decrease in test positivity over the last week, but sustained intensity in smaller cities and counties, the report says.

61% of all counties in North Carolina have moderate or high levels of community transmission (yellow or red zone), with 12% having high levels of community transmission (red zone).

The following counties are in the red zone: Pitt, Robeson, Montgomery, Richmond, Hertford, Bertie, Pamlico, Bladen, Avery, Greene, Chowan and Hyde.

WEDNESDAY MORNING STORYLINES

Free COVID-19 testing will be offered on Wednesday in Chapel Hill. The testing will be in the parking lot of the former Sheps Center building at 725 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Those interested in getting a test can register there.

Dr. Mandy Cohen announced a new partnership to expand testing capacity on Tuesday. OptumServe will join two other vendors - the North Carolina Community Health Center Association and StarMed Urgent and Family Care - to provide free community testing.

In total, the three have 230 sites planned across 80 North Carolina counties for this month and next.

TUESDAY
3:19 p.m.
The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners approved a modified Coronavirus Relief Fund that outlines the proposed use of $12.2 million allocated to the county by the General Assembly. The County submitted the revised plan to the N.C. Pandemic Recovery Office by the Sept. 15 deadline.

The legislation directed that at least 25% of the total amount of funding, or $3,055,096, go to municipalities. Using a per capita formula for the municipalities that completed the required application, the City of Fayetteville will receive $2.7 million; the Town of Hope Mills will be granted $202,163; and the Town of Spring Lake will receive $153,130. In a late submission, the Town of Stedman requested and will receive $2,050 to install a physical barrier.

All funding must be spent by Dec. 30 and monthly reports will be due to the state. The federal guidelines require that funds must be used for COVID-19 response. CRF money can be used for payroll expenses for "public safety, public health, health care, human services, and similar employees whose services are substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency."

Staff recommended that for reporting and accounting purposes, approximately $8.3 million of the funding be charged out to the County's payroll expenses for COVID-19 mitigation and response and for the payout of the federally mandated Family First Coronavirus Recovery Act leave (Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Emergency Family Medical Leave).

The redirected payroll funding will be used to address internal County government and community COVID needs. County departments have requested $4.8 million for technology, office and workspace modifications, protective barriers and other expenses related to COVID response.

For community funding, $250,000 was allocated for community-based organizations to set up virtual learning centers for school-age children. The county will be issuing a Request for Proposal and information on how to apply for the funding.

In addition, the commissioners approved allocating $500,000 to the 20 volunteer fire departments to purchase personal protective equipment, defibrillators, and disinfecting misting sprayers.

"On behalf of the fire service, we are very, very appreciative of this funding and it will do a lot of good things for our citizens," said Freddy Johnson, president of the Cumberland County Fire Chiefs' Association.

2:56 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department reports 930 total positive COVID 19 cases, including five new ones.

There have been 17 COVID 19 related deaths countywide.

2:30 p.m.
North Carolina Health Secretary Mandy Cohen joined Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry on Tuesday afternoon for a COVID-19 update.

Cohen started with a quick rundown of the state's metrics, which had at least 50 more deaths added to the virus' total.

"(It's) a stark reminder that this virus continues to be dangerous and sometimes deadly," Cohen said.

She announced that a new vendor was joining the state. That vendor will help the state create 230 free COVID-19 testing events in 80 counties over the next two months.

Cohen said that last week's FEMA report showed North Carolina as having the lowest percent positive COVID-19 rate in the region. She said that was because of the state's evidence-based response on how to slow the spread of the virus.

"North Carolinians are wearing masks and practicing social distancing and it's helping our state stand out from the rest of the South."

Cohen said she plans on doing a deep dive into the numbers and trends on Thursday. That's when she'll have a slightly better idea of how the state's move into Phase 2.5 is going. However, she warned that it would not be a complete evaluation of Phase 2.5, because she would need another week or so of data to make a more complete evaluation.

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Cohen said that last week's FEMA report showed North Carolina as having the lowest percent positive COVID-19 rate in the region.



2:22 p.m.
The Moore County Health Department was notified of a new COVID-19 related death.

The man was older than 75 and died Sept. 8. There have been 23 deaths countywide.

In total, there have been 1,498 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Moore County to date.

12:21 p.m.
The Sampson County Health Department is reporting 17 new cases, bringing the total to 2,074 positive cases of COVID-19. The number of deaths has increased by one to a total of 25.

11:30 a.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 1,106 new cases of COVID-19 in the state on Tuesday.

9,563 new tests were reported as completed and 916 people are currently hospitalized. That snaps the three-day streak of hospitalizations being under 900 in the state.

The percent positive test rate in the state is at 5 percent, a slight increase from Monday's 4.8 percent. The percentage has been around 5 percent in the last few days -- a number Dr. Cohen has identified as a goal for that metric.

Durham County is around 3.9 percent positive, Wake County is around 4.3 and Cumberland County is at 8.1 percent.

51 more deaths were reported in North Carolina on Monday, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 3,111. You can see complete data via the state's COVID-19 response website.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen, M.D. and Director of North Carolina Emergency Management Mike Sprayberry are scheduled to speak to the media at 2 p.m. today about the state's COVID-19 response.

8:15 a.m.
A county in North Carolina incorrectly told nearly 7,000 residents they had tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Charlotte Observer reports the messages were sent by text messages to more than 6,700 residents in Mecklenburg County on Friday. More than 500 people also received a county email with the notice. The county said Friday on Twitter the messages went out due to a technical glitch.

The county's manager told county commissioners on Monday they were sent through HealthSpace Data System, a company based in Canada. The county has been using the company's software to help with contact tracing efforts in the pandemic.

6 a.m.
Parents in Wake County may learn when their kids can return to the classroom on Tuesday.

Wake County Public School System Superintendent Cathy Moore is expected to update the Board of Education with a plan to get back to in-person learning. Other Triangle districts like Durham Public Schools say they're committed to virtual learning for the first nine weeks while Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools are sticking with online classes throughout the entire semester.

Wake County's board meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.

WCPSS should get an update on plans for high school athletes to practice and play again during a 4 p.m. work session.

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Johns Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Center reports more than 29,000,000 global cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday morning.
Copyright © 2020 ABC11-WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved - The Associated Press contributed to this report.