RALEIGH, N.C. -- Here's the latest news and information on COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines.
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 4,963 new cases Friday, the fifth day in a row that the state reported fewer than five thousand cases.
The state also reported fewer than 3,000 hospitalizations for the second day in a row as the percentage of positive tests remained below 8% at 7.9%.
North Carolina passed 16,600 COVID-19 deaths--with 16,605 deaths as of Friday.
An experimental COVID-19 pill reduced hospitalizations and deaths by half in people recently infected with the coronavirus, according to U.S. drug maker Merk.
If cleared, Merck's drug would be the first pill shown to treat COVID-19, a potentially major advance in efforts to fight the pandemic. All COVID-19 therapies now authorized in the U.S. require an IV or injection.
The company said it would soon ask health officials in the U.S. and around the world to authorize use of the pill.
FRIDAY MORNING HEADLINES
The debate over requiring children to wear masks at schools rages on, but not among doctors, scientists or teachers, according to ABC News.
Multiple recent studies have shown that masks effectively slow virus transmission and prevent school closures. Three such studies were just published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's weekly report on infectious diseases.
Kara McCormick-Lyons, a seventh grade teacher and president of the White Plains Teachers' Association in Arizona, said the new findings weren't surprising.
"Of course it works," McCormick-Lyons said. "Physical distancing, masking, being outdoors when you can, all of these things make a difference."
Whatever mild discomfort children may experience from wearing a mask, she added, is a small price to pay and "if that's what we have to do to all stay here (in school), then it's well worth it."
One recent study from Arizona found the odds of an outbreak were 3.5 times higher in learning environments without a mask requirement. Additionally, schools that implemented mask mandates before school restarted in the fall have had fewer outbreaks compared to schools that more recently adopted the policy.
Meanwhile, a group representing school board members around the country asked President Joe Biden on Thursday for federal assistance to investigate and stop threats made over policies including mask mandates, likening the vitriol to a form of domestic terrorism.
The request by the National School Boards Association demonstrates the level of unruliness that has engulfed local education meetings across the country during the pandemic, with board members regularly confronted and threatened by angry protesters.
School board members are largely unpaid volunteers, parents and former educators who step forward to shape school policy, choose a superintendent and review the budget, but they have been frightened at how their jobs have suddenly become a culture war battleground. The climate has led a growing number to resign or decide against seeking reelection.
"Whatever you feel about masks, it should not reach this level of rhetoric," NSBA Interim Executive Director Chip Slaven told The Associated Press by phone.
The latest NCDHHS data shows just 8% of cases and 5% of deaths between January 1 and September 18 have been in fully vaccinated North Carolinians.
As of September 18, there have been 63,582 documented post-vaccination cases of COVID-19. As of that date, more than 4.9 million North Carolinians were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That means fully vaccinated North Carolinians had a 1 in 100 chance of getting sick with COVID-19 or a less than 1 in 10,000 chance of dying from COVID-19.
According to NCDHHS, unvaccinated North Carolinians are more than four times more likely to get COVID-19 and more than 16 times more likely to die from COVID-19--after adjusting for age--than vaccinated individuals.
Governor Roy Cooper and State Health Director Betsey Tilson got their flu shot at Health Park Pharmacy in Wake County.
There, they urged others to do the same.
"A local pharmacy is a great place to get a safe and effective COVID vaccine as well as a flu shot," Cooper said. "It's critical that people get these vaccines to protect themselves and slow the spread of the COVID virus as well as the flu."
Health Park Pharmacy, a small, independent pharmacy was the third in North Carolina to have access to vaccines, and they have administered more than 25,000 COVID-19 shots, Cooper's office said.
"Our team and volunteers have been and continue to be focused on serving our community and getting as many shots in arms as possible," said Steve Adkins, owner of Health Park Pharmacy. "This is truly the only chance we have at slowing this pandemic and relieving the stress on our healthcare systems."
4,765 new daily COVID-19 cases were reported in North Carolina on Thursday.
The percent of positive tests in the state is at 7.7%.
2,943 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state.
That's the first time hospitalizations have under 3,000 in more than a month.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services will host a live fireside chat and tele-town hall at 5 p.m. on NC Medicaid and COVID-19 testing, treatment and prevention, including COVID-19 vaccines.
The event is hosted by NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D. Panelists include Dr. Shannon Dowler, NC Medicaid's Chief Medical Officer, and Dr. Janelle White, NC Medicaid's Associate Medical Director. WPTF 680AM program director Rick Martinez will moderate.
Beginning Friday, the Cape Fear Valley Health Pavilion North ExpressCare will be temporarily closed to all non-vaccination clinic visits in response to the high demand for COVID-19 vaccine boosters.
Other services in the facility will remain open. Cape Fear Valley Health's other ExpressCare locations - inside Highsmith-Rainey Specialty Hospital and at Bladen County Hospital in Elizabethtown - remain open.
"We saw more than 400 people come to this location for their booster shots on Tuesday," Vice President of Pharmacy and the Cancer Center Christopher Tart said. "We want to be able to provide these boosters to the community as quickly and efficiently as possible. Switching over to an all-vaccination operation at this location will allow us to do that."
The COVID-19 vaccine clinic at HPN will now be open for appointments from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. Previously, it opened at 9 a.m. The two additional hours, as well as shifting the rest of the clinic to focus on vaccinations, will allow the clinic to more than triple its capacity for vaccine appointments.
A new study finds 37% of COVID-19 patients had at least one symptom three to six months later. The most typical symptoms included breathlessness, fatigue, abdominal pain, depression and anxiety.
Researchers from the University of Oxford analyzed millions of medical records, comparing long-haul symptoms after COVID-19 to long-haul symptoms after the flu. A significant portion of people who had the flu also experienced symptoms three to six months later, but far more people who recovered from COVID-19 experienced at least one long-haul symptom.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has launched several large research studies to look into why long-haul symptoms happen to some people and how to treat them.
A survey of Americans on President Joe Biden's plan to require most workers to get either vaccinated or regularly tested for COVID-19 finds a deep and familiar divide: Democrats are overwhelmingly for it, while most Republicans are against it.
With the highly contagious delta variant driving deaths up to around 2,000 per day, the poll released Thursday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that overall, 51% say they approve of the Biden requirement, 34% disapprove and 14% hold neither opinion.
About three quarters of Democrats, but only about a quarter of Republicans, approve. Roughly 6 in 10 Republicans say they disapprove. Over the course of the outbreak, Democrats and Republicans in many places have also found themselves divided over masks and other precautions.
The unions representing American and Southwest airlines pilots are asking lawmakers and the White House for an exemption or an alternative to the federal mandate requiring companies with more than 100 people to get vaccinated, according to ABC News.
Roughly 30% of American Airlines pilots are not vaccinated, according to the Allied Pilots Association, the union representing American's 14,000 pilots. Southwest's pilot union could not say how many of its members were unvaccinated.
"Some of APA's members are unable to undergo vaccination for documented medical reasons, while others are reluctant to get vaccinated based upon concerns about the potential for career-ending side effects," union president, Captain Eric Ferguson wrote in a letter to more than 15 people at the DOT, White House, and Congress.
Commercial airline pilots adhere to strict medical requirements and some pilots fear vaccine side effects like blood clots or heart problems could prevent them from maintaining a medical clearance, thus ending their careers as pilots.
The CDC reports there have been more than 200 million doses of vaccine administered already in the U.S. and serious safety problems are very uncommon.
Most side effects from COVID vaccines are mild and temporary and include things like soreness at the injection site or fatigue, headaches, chills and nausea. These side effects usually go away within a day or two.
There have been rare adverse events of blood clots -- about 7 per million vaccinated women between 18 and 49 -- with the J&J vaccine. Women in that age range may want to select a different vaccine.
There have been a small number of temporary heart problems associated with Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for young men. These reports are rare and the known and potential benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the known and potential risks of getting COVID -- which include myocarditis or pericarditis.
The union representing Southwest's pilot's echoed American's request to the federal government, saying in a statement: "Our pilots have shouldered an elevated risk of illness from the start of the pandemic, including well before the vaccines became available. And we are hopeful that our contributions are recognized and accounted for as we seek approval of an alternate means of compliance and an operationally feasible implementation period."
Both unions say the 60-day-timeline for the requirement to get vaccinated could have a significant impact on holiday travel if pilots who choose not to get vaccinated are forced off the job.
"We are also concerned that the Executive Order's anticipated 60-day implementation period for mandatory vaccinations could result in labor shortages and create serious operational problems for American Airlines and its peers. Airlines generate a substantial portion of their annual revenue during the holiday period, with a great many travelers depending on us to get them to their destinations. Our nation's airlines, and the traveling public, cannot afford significant service disruptions due to labor shortages," Ferguson wrote in the letter.
Meanwhile, United Airlines says 98.5% of its employees are now vaccinated after the company mandated the shot. At least seven United employees are suing the company to avoid getting the vaccine.
Delta Air Lines will soon charge unvaccinated employees $200 more per month for health insurance. The company says at least 82% of its employees are vaccinated.
Cumberland County Schools is offering signing bonuses to teachers who would be assigned to the district's state-designated low-performing schools.
Assoc. Superintendent of HR, Ruben Reyes, said the state designation, which the district refers to as PASE for Performance, Accountability, Support, and Empowerment, is based off testing from the 2018-2019 school year.
Nonetheless, Reyes said that if teachers are looking to make a difference in students' lives, they should consider Cumberland County.
"This is really just part of our continuing commitment as a district to ensure that every student has a highly qualified, competent, caring teacher in front of them," said Reyes. "It's really a way for us to leverage some additional funding that we have to help ensure that we have a stable workforce that can provide a high quality education to the students."
The signing bonuses, covered by the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, are aimed at teachers who would be assigned to work in one of the district's 23 PASE schools for two years:
$5,000 signing bonus for first and second year teachers who do not have EVAAS data
$7,000 signing bonus for teachers who've met expected growth in EVAAS for two years
$10,000 signing bonus for math teachers who've met expected growth in EVAAS for two years
You can learn more here and apply anytime before the end of the school year.
"We are incredibly proud of the commitment our team members have made to embody our core value of caring for our patients, their loved ones, and each other," Duke Health officials said Wednesday of its vaccine mandate.
As of Wednesday, the system said nearly 100% of employees have complied.
Health officials said "fewer than 20 people" were fired for not participating in the vaccination requirements.
3 Doors Down announced it will be cancelling its show in Raleigh on Oct. 7.
The band announced that "due to new regulations put in place since the announcement" the show would be canceled.
Refunds will be given.
Saint Augustine's University is moving all its classes online for the next week.
The university said the move was being done for the health and safety of the Falcons community.
"Our change in course delivery was another precautionary strategy to mitigate viral transmission on our campus," Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Josiah J. Sampson, III said.
Students told ABC11 they went to morning classes in-person before receiving an email from the university announcing the virtual classes decision.
There was mixed reaction from students.
"I'm absolutely so glad that my university, my HBCU, is taking the precautions that we need to be safe the upcoming year," said St. Aug's sophomore Miles Beasles. "It's only online for just one week. Honestly, I feel if anyone has a problem, it's just one week. We'll be back in class before no time. It's fine."
Others want to be in a classroom and learning face-to-face.
"I'm really a hands on student so, therefore, it's kind of different than hop online," said freshman Zach Bates.
Duke Health reports that nearly all of its employees have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine.
Wednesday was the deadline for employees to be vaccinated and the hospital reported last week that around 200 employees were not yet in compliance.
The university said fewer than 20 people decided not to get vaccinated. They are no longer employed with the hospital.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an urgent health advisory to people who might become pregnant.
The CDC urges pregnant people, those trying to become pregnant and those who are breastfeeding to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Through Sept. 27, more than 125,000 pregnant people tested positive for the virus. More than 22,000 of those cases resulted in hospitalization, and 161 of them ended in death. In August alone, 22 pregnant people have died from COVID-19, according to the CDC.
Pregnant people who have a symptomatic case of COVID-19 have a two-fold risk of admission into intensive care; plus, a 70 percent increased risk of death.
COVID-19 has also been linked to preterm birth, stillbirth and the newborn arriving with COVID-19 and having to be admitted to the ICU.
New metrics from North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services shows COVID-19 cases trending down.
The state reported another 4,789 new cases Wednesday, but that is 1,500 fewer than last week and 2,500 fewer than the week before that.
The percentage of tests coming back positive also dropped out of the double digits--down to 9.7%
Sixty-three fewer people are currently in the hospital battling COVID-19, although the total remains above 3,000--wish 633 of those on ventilators.
WEDNESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Approximately 80 employees resigned and another 35 job candidates declined job offers at UNC Health over the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
UNC Health said 98% of its employees now have confirmed their vaccination status or been granted exemptions.
A few miles down the highway in Durham, Wednesday is the deadline for Duke University Medical Center's vaccine mandate.
The healthcare center is scheduled to give an update on how many of its staff is unvaccinated and what's next for their future.
As of last week, Duke had around 200 employees who had not complied with the vaccine mandate.