'We are learning as we go': NC health officials provide clarity on vaccine distribution plans

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

Have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine? Send them to us here

3 p.m.
A no-cost COVID-19 testing and food distribution event is being held Dec. 12 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Global Scholars Academy located at 311 Dowd St. in Durham. The event is being sponsored by Union Baptist Church and The Episcopal Church El Buen Pastor, both located in Durham. Registration for the event is preferred but not required. You can register online for the Global Scholars Academy Community Testing Event, or over the phone by calling 984-222-8000 and choosing option 2. For Spanish, call 984-664-4132. If you are prompted to leave a voicemail, please provide your name, date of birth and contact information and you will be automatically registered for the event.

12:00 p.m.
In a news conference, NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen and state pharmacist Amanda Fuller Moore explained in more detail how the state's first allocations of the Pfizer vaccine will be distributed, should it receive emergency use authorization. Cohen said 53 North Carolina hospitals--decided based on number of beds, number of health care workers in direct contact with COVID-19 patients, and county population--will receive the first shipment of 89,800 vaccines. That includes 11 hospitals identified as having enough ultra cold storage to keep the Pfizer vaccine for a number of weeks, should the authorization process be delayed.



"These are going to be shipped in batches of at least 975 doses in a unit," Cohen said. "So each location must be able to store this amount of vaccine in ultra-cold storage or keep the shipping container for up to 30 days and use those doses within 10-15 days without have to reuse the dry ice."

Cohen and Moore said that while the state knows how many doses it will receive in the first week, it's unclear at this time how many doses the federal government will allocate to North Carolina in the second and third weeks, when health officials hope to get doses to additional hospitals and long-term care facilities.

"We're right on the precipice of this incredible tool that we've been waiting for for so long, but we're learning as we go," Cohen said.

And while we wait for the vaccine, Cohen reminded North Carolinians that the 3 W's will continue to be necessary for the foreseeable future, especially as cases spike and the hospitals approach. While she said she couldn't provide specifics about timing, she did say that people outside of health care workers and those living or working in congregate living settings shouldn't expect to be vaccinated before spring 2021.

"We want as many people in North Carolina to get the vaccine as possible, but we know that's going to take a while," Cohen said.

11 a.m.
State Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen during a news conference about vaccine distribution on Thursday announced that North Carolina had 5,556 new COVID-19 cases in that last 24 hours -- marking the 6th day of single-day cases over 5,000 this month. 10.5% of tests are positive, a decrease from yesterday's high of 11.7% but still more than double the state's goal of 5% or lower.

The state also saw a record number of hospitalizations with 2,444. Hospitalizations in the state have consistently been over 2,000 since Nov. 30.

53 more deaths were reported Thursday, bringing the total in the state to 5,714 since the start of the pandemic.

THURSDAY MORNING STORYLINES



The FDA is meeting to potentially authorize a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at 9 a.m. on Thursday in what could be a milestone in the race for a vaccine.

The experts may recommend some restrictions for the emergency authorization, including leaving children off the list for now. If given the go-ahead, the first deliveries of the vaccine would include 2.9 million doses. The U.S. Secretary of Health expects 20 million Americans to get vaccinated in the coming weeks.

Health organizations in the United Kingdom and Canada have already authorized the use of the vaccine in those countries.

At the meeting, a committee of independent vaccine experts will share their take on how to move forward. Pfizer is then scheduled to give a presentation at 1 p.m. A vote will follow in the afternoon for emergency authorization use.

Freezers needed to store Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine arrived at two of Duke's hospitals Wednesday. On Thursday morning, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen will give details about the distribution of the vaccine in North Carolina.

Cornerstone Tavern in Raleigh is closing for the winter due in part to the recent Executive Order passed that prohibits alcohol sales after 9 p.m. Alchemy on Glenwood South in Raleigh is also closing and will reopen on March 1.

More than 3,000 people died from COVID-19 on Wednesday, the deadliest day so far of the pandemic.

WEDNESDAY


5:27 p.m.
Wake County Public Health has confirmed an outbreak of COVID-19 at Raleigh Rehabilitation Center, 616 Wade Ave.

It's the second outbreak confirmed at the center. The first happened in July.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services defines an outbreak as two or more people - residents or employees - testing positive for the virus.

Under NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen's Order No. 3, certain facilities that experience new outbreaks must fall back to previous restrictions and not allow visitors for 28 days. That includes nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult care homes, behavioral health and intellectual/developmental disability services, intermediate care facilities and psychiatric residential treatment facilities.

5:25 p.m.
With a COVID-19 vaccine expected to arrive next week, Cumberland County officials held a news conference to update the public on what to expect.

"The vaccine distribution will ensure that those who need it most will get it first," said Charles Evans, chairman of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners

Local health officials urged people to not become fatigued taking measures in fighting COIVD-19 and to continue wearing masks, social distancing and washing their hands frequently.

"More than 120 county residents have died from this virus," Evans said. "I want everyone to remember - these cases are people. Our brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, friends and fellow citizens."

Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin asked residents to follow guidance from public health officials.

"My message is to the citizens of Fayetteville: We are walking through this together," Colvin said. "Please listen to health officials and do the things they are telling us to do."

Dr. Jennifer Green of the Cumberland County Health Department said they will be working with Fort Bragg to make sure that when the vaccine is delivered, they will make sure they have all the resources to store and distribute the vaccine to those who need it first.



Cases in Cumberland County, like in much of North Carolina, are on the rise. Currently, there are 10,843 positive cases and 124 deaths associated with COVID-19 in Cumberland County. The percentage of positive cases of those tested during the past two weeks is 9.6%. Along with community providers, Cumberland is testing more than 5,000 people each week.

"It's critical for our hospital staff who are caring for our COVID-19 patients and our public health staff who will be staffing our mass dispensing sites to get vaccinated first," Green said.

There are 60 patients with COVID-19 at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center and officials expect the number to grow.

Since the pandemic began the hospital has cared for more than 1,200 patients, including some as young as 2 weeks old.

Cumberland County Health Department will know more about the quantity of vaccinations they will receive after the holidays. Cape Fear Valley is prepared to receive 5,000 doses of the vaccine next week, said Mike Nagowski, Cape Fear Valley Health CEO.

"I will take the vaccine the moment it's available," Nagowski said. "I am 100% confident."

5:04 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department reports 25 new cases since Tuesday for a total of 2,184 total positive COVID 19 cases.

In all, there have been 38 deaths countywide. That's 1.7% of cases.

2:07 p.m.
Sampson County reports 64 new active positive cases since Tuesday, including three new deaths from COVID-19.

The county has had a total of 4,117 cases and 53 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

12 p.m.
The bad news continues on the COVID-19 front. The state released more numbers, again showing the virus is not slowing down.

More than 2,440 people are now in North Carolina hospitals dealing with complications from the virus. That is 67 more than yesterday and more than has ever been reported.

The state is also reporting a record number of new positive COVID-19 cases--6,495. That makes the third time in a week that we've seen more than 6,000 new cases.

The state has not reported fewer than 1,000 new cases in more than two months.

And while the state is continuing to test more people, the rate of positive COVID-19 cases is not declining. Today's rate is 11.7%. That is above where we were weeks ago and well above the state's goal of 5% or fewer.

Another 56 people died from the virus, increasing its North Carolina death toll to 5,661.

Click here to look at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 metrics for yourself.

11 a.m.
The N.C. State men's basketball team is suspending all team-related activities after two members of the program tested positive for COVID-19. The Wolfpack's previously scheduled home game for Saturday against Florida Atlantic won't be played.

"The health and safety of our student-athletes and staff remains our unwavering priority," said NC State Director of Athletics Boo Corrigan. "We will continue to work with all appropriate parties and adhere to ACC, campus and local protocols to make the most responsible decisions moving forward."

The university characterized those who tested positive as "members of the travel party."

NCSU's game against Michigan was postponed and its scheduled clash with UConn was canceled.

WEDNESDAY MORNING STORYLINES



North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is directing many businesses to shut down by 10 p.m. in order to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Grocery chains and some retail stores that sell groceries will still be allowed to open past 10 p.m. Bars and restaurants must shut down by that time.

Cooper wants people off the streets from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. because of a sharp rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the state.

North Carolina is hoping to deliver its first shipments of COVID-19 vaccines to hospital workers next week. Eleven North Carolina hospital sites, including four in our area, will get early shipments of the much-anticipated Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

Johnston County Schools will return to remote learning next Monday. Students in Granville County will also return to remote learning.

Cumberland County leaders will give an update on how the vaccination process will happen there. A press briefing is scheduled for 3 p.m.

The W.G. Pearson Elementary School Learning Center and meal site is closed again on Wednesday.

TUESDAY


10 p.m.
Hoke County Schools' decision to move completely remote has drawn mixed reactions from parents.

ABC11's Michael Lozano spoke to Nathaniel Waldahl, a Hoke County father of two. Waldahl said Tuesday's announcement came as a shock.

"Honestly, at this point, I don't feel comfortable with my child's ability to pass," said Waldahl, who went on to question the decision being made just a week away from the fall semester coming to a close.

Waldahl said his kids, who are both in elementary school, started off doing schoolwork remotely but quickly shifted to the blended in-learning option.

"This is going to greatly affect them because they get into a schedule, and now, all of sudden, you want to change it," Waldahl said.

Meanwhile, Shareia Ross, a Hoke County mother of two, said she's kept her kids working remotely all semester.

"I was considering sending them back if the numbers dropped and they got everything under control, but it seems they have not," Ross said.

A Hoke County Schools spokesperson told ABC11 the decision was made considering the county being labeled a critical area, seeing major COVID-19 community spread, according to NCDHHS. Although the school hadn't been drastically impacted by the numbers, they wanted to take the proper precautions.

Several Sandhills schools have also adjusted their approach due to the statewide coronavirus surge.

In Harnett County, the school board approved reverting to a blended Plan B option for K-5th grade; while in Cumberland County, the school board recently passed a motion to delay high school in-person testing.

Hoke County Schools said they will monitor the numbers and work closely with county health officials to determine how they want to approach the spring semester.

EMBED More News Videos

Hoke County Schools' decision to move completely remote has drawn mixed reactions from parents.



7:30 p.m.
The Johnston County School Board voted Tuesday to return back to remote learning on Dec. 14. Johnston County is now listed in the red on the North Carolina County Alert System map, meaning there is critical spread of COVID-19. Plan C will remain in place until at least Jan. 15

80 percent of North Carolina counties now in red, orange zones on alert system map
3 p.m.
At an afternoon news conference, Gov. Roy Cooper expressed concern about exploding case counts and COVID-19 metrics moving in the wrong direction and tightened restrictions on non-essential businesses.

"Vaccines aren't here yet, we have to act to save lives," Cooper said in announcing new changes in COVID-19 restrictions.

Cooper followed through on his recent warnings and announced a modified Stay At Home order that will soon take effect, the first such restrictions since Memorial Day. Specifically, the order imposes new measures that would close non-essential businesses like gyms, restaurants and retail, at 10 p.m. nightly, and allow them to reopen at 5 a.m. The new restrictions also include moving the alcohol curfew to 9 p.m. - a two-hour change. The order will expire January 8.

"We'll do more if our trends don't improve," Cooper said. "That could mean additional actions involving indoor restaurant dining, entertainment facilities or retail capacity. None of us want that.

"Our top priority is and must be saving lives," Cooper added.

12:10 p.m.
While speaking at a Racial Equity Task Force meeting, Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday afternoon's COVID-19 update will be led by "additional steps the state will take to slow the spread of COVID-19," meaning more restrictions are likely to be announced. Gov. Cooper complimented the task force for their work in the midst of a pandemic.



The announcement will be made at 3 p.m. and be carried live on ABC11 and abc11.com.

11:40 a.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported on Tuesday 4,670 new COVID-19 cases in the state, surpassing 400,000 cases since the start of the pandemic.

The state also reported another record number of hospitalizations -- with 2,373. That's up 133 from Monday.

277 confirmed COVID-19 patients have been admitted in the last 24 hours.

84 percent of those hospitalized are over the age of 50.

The percent positivity in the state is at 9.7 percent -- down from Monday but still well above the goal of 5 percent.

45 additional deaths were reported on Tuesday -- bringing the total to 5,605 since March.

TUESDAY MORNING STORYLINES


With talk of possible new COVID-19 regulations circulating in recent days, Gov. Roy Cooper and the state's Coronavirus Task Force are at another crossroads in the response to the virus. The state's current executive order ends Friday and the next step could come in an announcement on Tuesday afternoon.

Gov. Cooper released a statement on Twitter over the weekend that said in part the state was examining what additional measures could be taken to slow the spread of the virus.


The announcement will be carried live on ABC11 and abc11.com at 3 p.m.

On Nov. 24, Gov. Cooper extended North Carolina's Phase 3 Executive Order to Dec. 11, one week after it was set to expire. Mask-wearing policies were tightened weeks ago, asking everyone to wear a mask at all times when indoors in public places.

Business owners are watching the announcement closely. As temperatures drop, restaurants are battling the cold in addition to COVID-19 restrictions as outdoor dining becomes a less attractive option for many in the winter months. Clovis LaCour with Raleigh bar Dram & Draught told ABC11 he's having trouble finding heaters for outdoor seating. Others are concerned more indoor dining restrictions could be implemented.

As the state remains under Phase 3, the current limit on mass gatherings is 10 people indoors and 50 people outdoors. After the virus was declared a worldwide pandemic in March, 5,560 people have died from it in North Carolina. There have been nearly 400,000 total cases in the state after 4,372 more were reported on Monday.

ABC News is reporting that an internal Health and Human Services memo carried startling new coronavirus death figures that showed the U.S. saw a 50% increase in deaths compared to the week before. From Dec. 1 to Dec. 7, the country recorded 1,341,309 new cases, an 18.8% jump from the previous seven-day period, according to the memo.
Copyright © 2021 ABC11-WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved - The Associated Press contributed to this report.