Teachers and other school staff to receive COVID-19 shots today

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Here are the latest updates about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in North Carolina.
7:15 p.m.
K-12 teachers and daycare workers in Cumberland County received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday at the Crown Complex.

The Cumberland County Department of Public Health held their vaccine clinic drive for this new group along with Groups 1 and 2.

Stephanie Terrell, a Cumberland County teacher, signed up online on Wednesday morning and was able to get an appointment later that afternoon, adding, "I was anxious to get it, um, because I do work with children and, you know, that contact. So, I wanted to be safe for myself as well as the children."

A similar experience for Cumberland County substitute teacher Cecilia Dean who says, "they just came to my car and gave it to me in my car, and I never got out; it was really quick."

County officials at the arena say around 50 percent of Wednesday's appointments were made up of teachers and daycare workers like Terrell and Dean. The others were frontline health care workers or residents 65 years or older.

In a Monday Zoom interview with Dr. Jennifer Green, the Director of the CCDPH, she told ABC11 that they were seeing less people in Groups 1 and 2 who need the vaccine.

"We've seen the demand for our 65 and older group drop off a little bit. We still know there are many more that still need to get vaccinated," Green said.

Dean tells ABC11 she is eager to receive the second dose and see her students for the first time in nearly a year.

"I'm excited. I'm very excited. I want to see the children, and I want to see my coworkers," Dean added.

The county health department will hold another vaccination clinic on Friday.

5:15 p.m.
Durham Public Schools said that in partnership with the Durham County Department of Public Health, Duke Health, and others. more than 200 teachers and other employees have received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccine.

5:02 p.m.
Nash County Public Schools has partnered with the Nash County Health Department to host two COVID-19 vaccine clinics for school employees who elect to get vaccinated.

There are currently 1,100 employees signed up to receive their vaccination. The first clinic will be held March 5 for staff members whose last names begin with A through K and all staff members who are age 65 or older. Remaining staffers whose last names begin with L through Z will be vaccinated during the second clinic on March 12.

Only NCPS employees will be eligible to receive their vaccination at these clinics. Registered Nash County Public School staff will receive their vaccinations in a drive-through clinic at Nash Central High School.

4:44 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department reports 17 new cases for a total of 4,943 positive COVID-19 cases. The death toll remains at 95 countywide -- 1.9% of cases.

3:30 p.m.
A bill that would require school districts to offer summer school programs to aid kids who struggled to learn during the pandemic is on its way to North Carolina Senate floor for debate.

House Bill 82, also known as Summer Learning Choice for NC Families, was met with unanimous approval (120-0) by the state House of Representatives on Wednesday.

So far, the bill has been met with bipartisan approval from state lawmakers.

3 p.m.
More than 2,000 Johnston County Public School employees received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on the first day that the vaccine were available to North Carolina educators.

The drive-through clinic, located at North Johnston High School, was a coordinated effort with Johnston County schools and health officials.

The event ran from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

2 p.m.

Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday announced significant rollbacks of restrictions on businesses and other venues, as the rates of COVID19 hospitalizations, deaths and positive cases continue to drop and stabilize across the state.

Specifically, Cooper officially lifted his modified Stay-At-Home closing non-essential businesses like gyms, restaurants, and retail, at 10 p.m. nightly. That order, signed in the wake of the Thanksgiving and Christmas surge, also slapped a 9 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales.

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Governor Roy Cooper on Wednesday announced significant rollbacks of restrictions on businesses and other venues.

"This is a huge, hard-fought win," said the North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association President Zack Medford. "The lessening of these restrictions would never have been possible without the tireless efforts of NCBATA members and allies for the past 343 days. We look forward to continuing to build on this success with the Governor's Office, and helping get our bar and taverns back on their feet after such a devastating year."

READ MORE: Cooper's full executive order (.pdf)

NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said that tracking metrics are improving but she urged caution as variant strains of the coronavirus emerge.

"With those new COVID variants, we need to keep our guard up," Cohen said.

Cohen said new cases are trending down since a peak in January.

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Dr. Mandy Cohen talks about improving COVID-19 metrics but urges continued caution.

"New case rates are back down to levels where they were in October," Cohen said.

Hospitalizations are also trending downward, Cohen said, but she warned that they remain high.

12:30 p.m.
North Carolina health officials are reporting 3,346 new COVID-19 cases. This brings the total to 849,630 statewide since the pandemic began.

Throughout the state, 109 more people have died from the virus. Now, 11,074 people in North Carolina have died from COVID-19.

With 97 percent of hospitals reporting, there are 33 fewer COVID-19 patients in North Carolina hospitals. In total, 1,530 remain hospitalized with the virus.

NCDHHS data said 180 confirmed COVID-19 patients were admitted in the past 24 hours.

11 a.m.
During the State of Agriculture address, Commissioner Steve Troxler said: "We are going to have a State Fair. Everybody take the vaccine when it's available to you and let's have the biggest State Fair ever." He also said that COVID-19 has challenged farmers but: "Together we're going to build a strong future for agriculture and that's what we do every day."

10:07 a.m.
Sens. Todd Johnson (R-Union), Danny Britt (R-Robeson), and Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell) will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. with parent-advocates whose petition urging an increase in attendance limits at outdoor high school sporting events garnered 45,000 signatures.

8 a.m.
President Joe Biden is preparing to sign an executive order to review U.S. supply chains for large-capacity batteries, pharmaceuticals, critical minerals and semiconductors that power cars, phones, military equipment and other goods.

The shortage of PPE amid the COVID-19 outbreak, for example, exposed the fragility of the nation's vital supply chains.

5:45 a.m.
Long lines are expected at North Johnston High School as more than 2,000 teachers, principals and other staff receive their COVID-19 vaccines. The appointment-only event begins at 8 a.m.

Have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine? Send them to us here
Wake County Public Health will hold a mass COVID-19 vaccination event for teachers, educators and other school staff. This will include Groups 1 and 2, plus 400 people in Group 3.

The County Health Department believes there are an estimated 50,000 people in the Pre-K through 12 and childcare setting population they will likely get to. This also includes people who may be signed up on more than one list.

Gov. Roy Cooper could ease COVID-19 restrictions as trends improve across North Carolina. He is scheduled to hold a news conference at 2 p.m.

The state's stay-at-home order is set to expire on Sunday, Feb. 28.

11 p.m.

On the eve before North Carolina educators are able to get a COVID-19 vaccine, ABC11 spoke with a UNC doctor who helps run the clinics ready to administer shots to the next group of eligibility.

Dr. Sachin Gupta of the UNC Physicians Network manages clinics outside of the Friday Center including four in Wake County. Gupta is excited to enter the next phase but still foresees supply chain issues.

"We are not having problems putting vaccines into arms, just the biggest challenge is getting that supply and part of it is the weather," said Gupta. "It's not only about the adults it's for the kids as well and being able to get them back into school is critical.

Gupta says he believes more people will become less leery of getting a shot as more people get vaccinated.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that the tide is starting to shift a little bit. As we start to get more and more people vaccinated, we're hearing good results. People seemed a little leery of the side effects. We've seen those numbers be really low so I feel more people are getting comfortable with this," said Gupta.

7:30 p.m.
Nearly 100 vaccine providers in North Carolina reported discarding COVID-19 doses, according to records the ABC11 I-Team obtained from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services .

Of the 1.8 million doses the state has administered, 2,346 doses (0.1%) were deemed unusable as of Feb. 18.

Vaccine providers attribute the waste to shipping issues, lack of patients, refrigeration problems and user errors.

1:45 p.m.
1,514 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Tuesday.

That's the lowest number of new cases this month but tests completed were also lower than average in the last 24 hours.

1,563 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-10 in the state. That number has been declining since January.

Still, 139 confirmed COVID-19 patients were admitted in the last 24 hours.

31 more deaths were reported Tuesday, bringing the total to 10,965 since the start of the pandemic.

1:19 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department reported nine new cases for a total of 4,943 positive COVID 19 cases. There have been 95 deaths countywide -- 1.9% of cases.

1 p.m.
Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky addressed the National Forum on the COVID-19 vaccine and shared that more than 44 million people in the United States have now received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot. Walensky also said that 75 million vaccine doses have been delivered and some 64 million vaccine doses have been administered so far.

"More than 75 million vaccine doses have been delivered, and approximately 64 million doses have been administered. This represents more than 44 million people who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. And approximately 20 million people who were vaccinated receiving two doses," Dr. Walensky said.

12:21 p.m.
The Orange County Health Department said it will work with the two public school systems, private and charter schools and childcare providers within the county to develop a plan to vaccinate eligible staff. More information about the process will be available soon on the Orange County website.

Orange County continues to register people in Groups 1 and 2 (healthcare workers and long-term care providers and anyone 65 or older). The county will announce its plans for registering the other essential frontline workers from Group 3 soon.

11:54 a.m.
The Sampson County Health Department said it has 39 new cases of COVID-19 for a total of 6,770. One additional death was reported for a total of 90.

Sampson County is holding a drive-thru vaccination clinic for second dose administration on Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Sampson County Expo Center.

Second dose administration is guaranteed for those persons 65 and older who received their first dose vaccine on Jan. 23.

On Saturday, there will be a drive-thru vaccination clinic for childcare and grade-school employees from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Sampson County Expo Center

This is a first dose vaccination event for childcare and grade-school employees. Participants are encouraged to bring their teacher IDs or another form of employee identification. Vaccines will be available as supply allows.

11:05 a.m.
With COVID-19 numbers decreasing across North Carolina and vaccine distribution increasing, a group representing bars and taverns in the state has formally asked Gov. Roy Cooper to allow bars to reopen and end the stay-at-home curfew.

"We're not asking to go back to business as usual," said Zack Medford, president of the N.C. Bar and Tavern Association. "We're just asking for Gov. Roy Cooper to turn the dimmer switch up a notch. We're asking him to allow bars to operate at 30 percent capacity inside, and let them serve until 11 p.m. We can do it safely. We can do it wearing masks, and we can do it socially distant."

NCBATA released a proposal back in September with guidelines for reopening bars safely. The proposal calls for all bars to require masks, social distancing and capacity restrictions.

"No one knows better than bar owners that this pandemic is an immediate threat to our community and that we must all do our part to help stop the spread of Covid19," said Medford. "Bar owners know the stakes, and are willing to follow this guidance to the absolute best of their ability."

9 a.m.
A year into the coronavirus pandemic, doctors and researchers are still striving to better understand and treat the epidemic of COVID-19-related anosmia - loss of smell - draining much of the joy of life from an increasing number of long-term sufferers.

One doctor slid a miniature camera into a patient's right nostril, making her whole nose glow red with its bright miniature light.
"Tickles a bit, eh?" he asked as tears welled in her eyes.

But the patient, Gabriella Forgione, wasn't complaining. The 25-year-old pharmacy worker was happy to be examined at the hospital in Nice, in southern France, to advance her increasingly pressing quest to recover her sense of smell. Along with her sense of taste, it suddenly vanished when she fell ill with COVID-19 in November and neither has returned.

Being deprived of the pleasures of food and the scents of things that she loves are proving tough on her body and mind, causing her to lose weight and self-confidence.

"Sometimes I ask myself, 'Do I stink?'" she confessed. "Not being able to smell bothers me greatly."

Some doctors are concerned that growing numbers of smell-deprived patients, many of them young, could be more prone to depression, cognitive issues and other difficulties.

8 a.m.
Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson says it will be able to provide 20 million U.S. doses of its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March, assuming it gets the green light from federal regulators.

J&J disclosed the figure ahead of a Congressional hearing on Tuesday looking at the country's vaccine supply. White House officials cautioned last week that initial supplies of J&J's vaccine would be limited.

The company reiterated that it will have the capacity to provide 100 million vaccine doses to the U.S. by the end of June. That supply will help government officials reach the goal of having enough injections to vaccinate most adult Americans later this year. On a global scale, the company aims to produce 1 billion doses this year.

U.S. health regulators are still reviewing the safety and effectiveness of the shot and a decision to allow its emergency use is expected later this week. J&J's vaccine would be the first in the U.S. that requires only a single shot.

Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses spaced weeks apart. Executives from both companies and two other vaccine makers will also testify at Tuesday's hearing.

7 a.m.
The Food and Drug Administration said Monday that it won't require huge, months-long studies if COVID-19 vaccines eventually need tweaking to better match a mutating virus -- small, short studies will suffice.

The vaccines now being rolled out do still protect against different variants of the virus, the FDA stressed. But viruses mutate constantly, and some new versions are starting to raise concerns. So FDA issued new guidelines for vaccines -- as well as for virus tests and treatments -- on steps that companies can start taking to get ready.

"We're trying to be prepared in advance," said Dr. Peter Marks, the FDA's vaccine chief.

Already major manufacturers have started updating their vaccine recipes if regulators eventually decide that's necessary.

Marks said the needed tests would include a few hundred people rather than thousands and could take just two or three months. Volunteers would receive experimental doses of the tweaked vaccine and then have their blood checked to see if it revved up the immune system about as well as the original vaccines do.

6:25 a.m.
Durham City Council is organizing a virtual town hall to reach out to immigrants and refugees with information about COVID-19 and the vaccine.

The event will begin at 7 p.m. and last approximately 2 hours. Its agenda was set by community members in order to get answers about the pandemic from local elected leaders.

The round table event will be broadcast in three different languages simultaneously.

For English, click here.

For Spanish, click here.

For Arabic, click here.

With COVID-19 numbers improving across the United States and in North Carolina, many people are wondering when business restrictions will be lifted.

The current stay at home order in North Carolina is set to end on Feb. 28. The order was put in place Dec. 22 and then extended in January.

But daily cases and the percent positive rate at the time were much higher than they are now. Plus, the state's county alert map now shows 27 counties with critical community spread of the virus--the lowest number since the creation of the map.

Gov. Roy Cooper has not announced when, or if, he'll give a COVID-19 update this week. However, we expect that he will do so sometime in the coming days.

On Wednesday, the state will begin offering COVID-19 vaccines to teachers and other school staff members. In Wake County, 10,000 school workers have already signed up for the waitlist.
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