NHL approves PNC Arena to host more than 15K fans for remaining Carolina Hurricanes games

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

4:12 p.m.

Wake County Public Health has confirmed an outbreak of COVID-19 at UNC REX Rehabilitation and Nursing Care Center at 4210 Lake Boone Trail in Raleigh.

This is the third outbreak at this location.

1:15 p.m.
Don Waddell, the president and general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes, announced Wednesday afternoon that the NHL has approved a capacity of more than 15,000 fans for any remaining home playoff games in PNC Arena.

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The Carolina Hurricanes have increased capacity at PNC Arena for remaining home games.



The increased capacity will be effective immediately if there is a Game 7. The Canes face the Predators in Game 6 Thursday night in Nashville.

"We are grateful to the NHL and to our friends at Gregory Poole for allowing us to safely increase capacity in time for this weekend," said Waddell. "The atmosphere for our home games at PNC Arena has been incredible, and we are looking forward to hosting even more of our passionate fans."

The exact capacity will be determined prior to the next home game.

12:34 p.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is launching a new public campaign encouraging North Carolinians to "Vax Up or Mask Up" to support the new guidance that lifts many of the state's COVID-19 restrictions.

NCDHHS says that for those who are not yet fully vaccinated against COVID-19, wearing a mask "is essential" to protect themselves and the people they love. The CDC recommends that anyone who is not vaccinated continue to wear a mask in public indoor settings and outdoors when they cannot maintain physical distance.

"For the past year, we have all been diligent about practicing the 3 Ws," said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen. "These preventative measures helped us get to where we are today. We're incredibly grateful to the community organizations and businesses who helped share the 3 Ws and made them their own. As we transition to this new phase of the pandemic and this new campaign, we must continue to protect one another as everyone makes the choice to 'Vax Up or Mask Up.'"

NCDHHS also recommended that businesses and community organizations post signage reminding employees and visitors to wear a face covering if they are not fully vaccinated. Because it can be hard to know who is vaccinated and who is not, employers may decide to post signage asking all employees and visitors to wear a face covering until more people in North Carolina are vaccinated.

Under Executive Order 215, masks are still required in certain settings, such as child care centers, schools, hospitals, doctor's offices and other high-risk settings like correctional facilities and homeless shelters.

12:15 p.m.
North Carolina health officials are reporting 866 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday.

The state is reporting a 3.8% positive test rate.

Throughout the state, 695 patients are being hospitalized with the virus. That is 4 fewer than Tuesday.

In North Carolina, 13,031 people have died from COVID-19. That is 27 more since Tuesday.

According to NCDHHS data, 52.9% of adults in the state have had at least one COVID-19 dose and 48.4% of adults are fully vaccinated.

Wake County enhancing vaccine outreach to target neighborhoods

In Wake County, health officials are getting much more tactical about vaccinating as many people as possible against COVID-19.

The NC Dept. of Health and Human Services revealed Tuesday the new tool it is using to increase equitable vaccine distribution across the state.

The census tract COVID-19 mapping system is the same tool Wake County Public Health is using to target specific communities where vaccinations are lagging.

Beginning in June, two neighborhoods in Raleigh will see an influx of public health staff, known as vaccination strike teams, on the ground in their communities.

Read more about that here.

NC Senate tax cut plan includes virus aid for businesses

A broad tax cut proposal from North Carolina Senate Republicans that began its advance in the chamber on Tuesday also contains federal COVID-19 relief money to give more aid to businesses that previously received federal or state pandemic assistance.

GOP finance leaders unveiled an amended version of its tax plan, some of which was already revealed in March and contained an individual income tax rate reduction and more generous standard deductions. The latest edition also would increase the amount of per-child deductions by $500. If approved, more low-income individuals would pay zero income tax, and all individual filers would see their monetary tax burdens reduced.

Republicans have made rate reductions and deduction increases a cornerstone of their fiscal policy since a landmark overhaul in 2013 consolidated taxes to one flat rate and scaled back credits.

"We are proposing yet another tax cut because we believe people spend their money better than government does," Sen. Paul Newton, a Cabarrus County Republican and Senate Finance Committee co-chairman, said during a news conference. "Allowing North Carolinians to keep their own money is the best form of stimulus our economy could have."

The new version also attempts to assist business owners and some nonprofits that received the federal forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans and other government assistance to keep employees hired during the pandemic. State law prevented PPP recipients from treating loan proceeds as business expenses that could be deducted, leaving an otherwise higher tax burden that business owners say would impair their recovery. The House passed legislation that would allow the deductions, resulting in smaller tax bills.

The Senate GOP tries to address that monetary loss instead by creating a program that would set aside $1 billion of North Carolina's share of American Rescue Plan funds to send grants automatically to any entity that received PPP loans or awards from four other business relief programs. These grants would be based on aid received but capped at $18,750.

Newton said the grant proposal would benefit as many as 400,000 businesses, or potentially double what the House plan would assist.

Origins of COVID pandemic still unclear

White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt says "we need to get to the bottom" of the origins of the pandemic pathogen and the World Health Organization and China need to do more to provide definitive answers for the global community.

The precise origin of the virus remains undetermined and speculation has reigned about whether it jumped from animals to humans or whether it could have escaped from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan, the city that saw the first outbreak.

"We need a completely transparent process from China," Slavitt said at Tuesday's coronavirus task force briefing. Full assistance from the WHO is needed, and "we don't have that now."

Dr. Anthony Fauci said "many of us" feel like it was a natural occurrence, but "we don't know 100%" and it is imperative to investigate.

TUESDAY

The Johnston County Health Department is holding a first and second dose Pfizer walk-in clinic on June 2 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Smithfield-Selma High School, at 700 M Durwood Stephenson Parkway in Smithfield. The clinic will be in the SSS Cafeteria. To register, click here.

All teens desiring vaccination should be accompanied by an adult (someone 18 or older) and should eat at least 1-2 hours prior to receiving the vaccine.

Individuals seeking a second dose should have received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on or before May 12.

1:45 p.m.
525 new COVID-19 cases were reported in North Carolina on Tuesday.

This marks the second day below 600 new cases and the lowest since August 17 when there were 431.

The percent of positive tests is at 4.2%.

There are currently 699 people hospitalized with COVID-19. This is the first day of an increase in this metric after 5 days of decline.

COVID-19 deaths in the state surpassed 13,000. A total of 13,004 have died as a result of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

48.1% of the adult population of NC is fully vaccinated.

1:09 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department reports four new cases for a total of 5,631 positive COVID-19 cases. No new deaths were reported (112 total).

11:20 a.m.
A new report by the CDC shows that breakthrough infections are very rare in fully vaccinated individuals and almost all patients survive COVID-19.

Breakthrough infection was defined as positive test 14 or more days after being fully vaccinated with any FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer, Moderna, or J&J).

The study period was from Jan 1 - April 30, 2021, at the end of which 101 million persons had been fully vaccinated and a total of 10,262 breakthrough infections were reported (roughly 0.01%).

In all, 27% were asymptomatic, only 10% were hospitalized and only 2% died. At least 29% of the hospitalized patients were asymptomatic or hospitalized for a non-COVID reason. Of those who died, median age was 82 years and 18% died from a non-COVID cause.

11 a.m.

North Carolina's unemployment rate has reached another COVID-19 post-lockdown low, even as overall job growth is somewhat uneven.

April's seasonally adjusted state jobless rate of 5% marks a decline for a seventh consecutive month, according to the state Commerce Department. It compares to the top pandemic rate of 13.5% recorded in both April 2020 and May 2020.

While the number of employed people grew by 4,500 between March and April to about 4.76 million, overall non-farm employment actually dropped by 5,800. And with the number of unemployed also falling by 8,100, it appears some displaced workers are no longer actively seeking work.

The employment categories that include professional and business services and transportation saw the largest numerical decline, according to data released by the department.

Last Friday's jobless figures came the same day that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order reinstating the requirement that, as of June 6, all unemployment benefit recipients meet work-search rules set in state law to receive payments.

Those requirements had been suspended during the pandemic. Cooper had already reinstated work-search requirements for new benefit filers as of mid-March.

The governor's office also said last Friday the Commerce Department was told to look at ways the state could use federal funds to create an incentive program for jobless individuals who become employed.

Republicans in the state Senate unveiled a legislative proposal last week that would give benefit recipients bonuses of $1,500 or $750 if they return to work soon. GOP lawmakers say they've heard from employers desperately seeking employees to fill vacancies.

10 a.m.
A White House official has confirmed that the U.S. is set to mark yet another notable vaccine milestone on Tuesday, when the country surpasses 50% of its adult population fully vaccinated against COVID-19, ABC News reports. Currently, 49.8% of the country's adult population is fully vaccinated, according to data released last night by the CDC.

It is also possible that the country could hit another milestone on Tuesday, or in the days to come, when it marks 50% of the total population vaccinated with at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. Currently, 49.4% of the country's total population has received at least one dose, per CDC data.

9 a.m.
The Cumberland County Public Library said visitors no longer need to make appointments and visits are no longer limited to 45 minutes.

Cleaning will happen during the day rather than the library closing for hourly cleaning sessions. Visitors are still encouraged to limit their time in a library to one hour. Computers are socially distanced and available for use. Group visits and in-person programming is still restricted.

8:05 a.m.
Moderna released its data from testing its COVID-19 vaccine on teenagers.

The company said the vaccine was highly effective and safe.

Moderna is expected to ask the FDA for emergency use authorization of its vaccine to be extended to kids ages 12 and older.

6:35 a.m.
The push to get all North Carolinians vaccinated against COVID-19 ramps up.

A new vaccine clinic is opening in Wake County. It's located at the Eastern regional Center in Zebulon on Dogwood Drive near Highway 96 and Arendell Avenue.

Anyone 12 and older can get a vaccine at that new clinic between 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

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UNC Dr. Alexa Mieses-Malchuk answers your questions about COVID-19 and the vaccine.



That comes as North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is launching a pilot program that would pay people to get vaccinated.

The state's plan earmarks $25 gift cards for anyone who gets vaccinated or anyone who drives someone else to a clinic to get vaccinated.

Find all the specific details about the limited program here.

NC Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen will host another virtual fireside chat starting at 5:30 p.m. on NCDHH's social media pages.

Cohen will be focusing on efforts to increase the vaccination rate for people living in rural communities.
Copyright © 2021 ABC11-WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved - The Associated Press contributed to this report.