53% of NC adults are at least partially vaccinated

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

7:37 p.m.
Children at summer camps can skip wearing masks outdoors, with some exceptions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted the guidance Friday. Children who aren't fully vaccinated should still wear masks outside when they're in crowds or in sustained close contact with others - and when they are inside.

But fully vaccinated kids need not wear masks, indoors or outside. It's the first in a wave of guidance updates that seek to incorporate recent CDC decisions to tell Americans they don't have to be as cautious about using masks and physical distancing outdoors.

6:54 p.m.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared Friday that public schools no longer have his permission to require masks for coronavirus protection, though his executive order fell short of banning such mandates outright.

The Republican governor's written order came two days after Kemp gave a preview in a Fox News Channel interview Wednesday, declaring: "The time for mandates is over."

"We're not going to have a mask mandate for our kids," Kemp said. "Our teachers have had the ability to get vaccinated. It certainly doesn't keep anyone from wearing a mask."

The actual order adjusting Georgia's few remaining coronavirus restrictions isn't so strongly worded.

Instead, Kemp's order says Georgia school districts can no longer claim their authority to require masks comes from the governor.

It's unclear how many Georgia districts ever required employees and students to wear masks. While a number of metro Atlanta school districts enforced the requirement, many districts in outer suburbs and rural areas only strongly recommended masks.

Anthony Michael Kreis, a constitutional law professor at Georgia State University, said school boards can likely require teachers and staff to wear masks without the governor's permission, much like they impose dress codes.

Kreis said Kemp's order "punted this as a political issue back to the local school boards and said, I don't want you to do this and you can't use me as your justification.'"

Kemp is running for reelection in 2022 and has been taking steps to shore up support among Republican voters still restive over claims that Kemp didn't do enough to overturn President Joe Biden's election victory in Georgia.

4:30 p.m.
In Colorado, two sheriff's deputies who contracted COVID-19 have died in less than two weeks.

The Denver Sheriff's Department announced the death of Deputy Daniel "Duke" Trujillo on Thursday. The former Marine was a seven-year department veteran who worked for the city's downtown jail. His death followed the death of Deputy James Herrera. Herrera worked for the department for 25 years and was also assigned to the downtown jail.

After Trujillo's death was announced, criticism of some of his social media posts that seemed to express skepticism about coronavirus vaccinations surfaced. Like other workplaces, the department says employees aren't required to be vaccinated.

1:31 p.m.

The Chatham County Public Health Department announced that COVID-19 vaccination clinics that occurred regularly through May in Pittsboro, Siler City and Goldston would continue throughout the month of June.

As of Friday, 36,208 Chatham County residents had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, marking 48.6% of the county's population; 32,339 are fully vaccinated, making up 43.4% of the county's population.

Even more Chatham residents have the opportunity to receive their vaccine at these locations:
  • The Chatham County Public Health Department is offering first- and second-dose Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations at its Siler City clinic (1000 S. 10th Ave.) on Fridays. To make an appointment, call (919) 742-5641. Walk-ins will also be welcome.
  • StarMed Healthcare is continuing to operate Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination clinics at the Chatham County Agriculture and Conference Center in Pittsboro on Fridays and Saturdays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. To register, visit starmed.care or call (980) 445-9818. Walk-ins are also accepted.
  • StarMed Healthcare is providing Pfizer vaccinations at the Goldston Town Hall (40 Coral Ave. A) from 2 p.m.to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays. Second-dose appointments will follow three weeks later. To register, visit starmed.care or call (980) 445-9818. Walk-ins are also accepted.


"We are thankful to all of the COVID-19 vaccine providers in Chatham County, who have been instrumental in our efforts to beat the pandemic," said Chatham County Public Health Director Mike Zelek. "We remain grateful to them for their ongoing commitment to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines across the county."

12:32 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department reports four new cases for a total of 5,643 positive COVID-19 cases. No new deaths were reported. The death toll remains at 112.

12:09 p.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 738 new cases, down more than 100 cases from the previous day (849).

The positivity rate remained low, at 3.1%, just a tad higher than the previous day's 2.8%, which was the lowest percent positivity rate since the state started tracking it.

A total of 694 people are hospitalized and 13,078 deaths have been recorded, including 23 newly reported ones.

In all, 53.1% of adults have received at least a partial vaccination and 48.8% of the state's adults are fully vaccinated.

THURSDAY
4:02 p.m.
Wake County is reminding people that NCDHHS still requires everyone age 5 and older to wear face coverings when indoors at schools, preschools, and on school or vendor transportation on days when students are in the building.

On days when no students are in the school building, however, face coverings will be optional indoors for employees and visitors. If a student is present, employees must wear a face covering.

Face coverings are still optional for everyone when outdoors.

Effective June 1, face coverings will also be optional for employees at Wake County Central Services who are not likely to interact with children and for visitors to these sites, including visitors to Board of Education and committee meetings.

12:30 p.m.
More than 14 months after the start of the pandemic, North Carolina has topped 1 million COVID-19 cases.

NCDHHS reported 849 new cases, which pushes the state to a total of 1,00,416 cases.

Not all the news was grim, however. The new case count is far below last Thursday's report, which listed 1,187 cases, and even better than two weeks ago when 1,394 cases were reported.

The most encouraging news might be that C hit the lowest positivity rate of the pandemic at just 2.8%. It's the lowest percent positivity rate since the state started tracking it.

Cumberland County remains a trouble spot, though, as the positivity rate sits at 6.1%. Wake County by comparison is at 3.4% and Durham County saw a very good 1.9% rate.

Hospitalizations dipped to 681, 14 fewer people than the previous day and well below last's week's total of 793.

Twenty-four additional deaths were reported, In all, 13,055 deaths have been recorded in the state since the start of the pandemic.

Statewide, 38.4% of the population is fully vaccinated and 48.5% of adults have been fully vaccinated.

12:25 p.m.
Two encouraging studies suggest that people who recovered from COVID-19 had immune responses to the virus long after antibodies faded, even up to one year later.

The findings may help put to rest lingering fears that protection against the virus will be short-lived.

Click here to read the full story.

9:30 a.m.
The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped last week to 406,000, a new pandemic low and more evidence that the job market is strengthening as the virus wanes and economy further reopens.

Thursday's report from the Labor Department showed that applications declined 38,000 from 444,000 a week earlier. The number of weekly applications for jobless aid - a rough measure of the pace of layoffs - has fallen by more than half since January.

The decline in applications reflects a swift rebound in economic growth. The government separately estimated Thursday that the economy expanded at a strong annual pace of 6.4% in the first three months of this year, unchanged from its initial estimate. More Americans are venturing out to shop, travel, dine out and congregate at entertainment venues. All that renewed spending has led companies to seek new workers, which helps explain why a record number of jobs is now being advertised.

Yet many businesses complain that they can't find enough applicants for all those open jobs, even though the unemployment rate remains 6.1%, well above the 3.5% rate that prevailed before the pandemic struck in March of last year. Job growth slowed sharply last month compared with March, a surprise pullback that was largely ascribed to a labor shortage in some industries.

Economists blame a range of factors for the shortfall of workers, including an extra $300-a-week payment that people receiving jobless aid have been able to get, on top of their state unemployment check, since March. The federal benefit was included in President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion rescue package. With many people able to earn more from their combined federal and state jobless aid than from their former jobs, the extra income has likely discouraged some of the unemployed from seeking work, some analysts say.

Other people remain reluctant to take jobs in restaurants, hotels and other service industries for fear of contracting COVID-19. And some women can't return to work without adequate child care, though recent research by two economists found the impact of this factor to be relatively small.

Complaints from businesses that they can't find enough workers have led most Republican governors to curtail unemployment aid. Twenty-four states, including such populous ones as Texas, Florida, Georgia and Arizona, have said they will stop paying out the supplemental $300-a-week federal jobless payment beginning in June.

Twenty of those states also say they will stop participating in two emergency programs. One of those programs covers self-employed and gig workers. The other provides aid to people who have been unemployed for more than six months. The cutoffs of those two programs could cost at least 2.5 million people all their jobless aid.

9 a.m.

With employers struggling to fill positions as post-pandemic restrictions end, North Carolina state senators advanced a proposal Wednesday giving $1,500 bonuses to unemployment benefit recipients who return to work this summer.

The Senate Commerce Committee gave bipartisan support to the measure, which would offer bonuses, but only if federal labor officials allow the state to use money coming from Washington that's made unemployment benefits more generous during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill also would place additional requirements upon current beneficiaries to respond to job interview requests, or they could ultimately see benefits cut off.

"It's a good first step to helping us address the workforce shortages that we have in North Carolina right now," Sen. Chuck Edwards, a Henderson County Republican, told the committee.

The additional $300-a-week benefit provided by Washington is proving to be a disincentive to some displaced workers, according to bill supporters. Several senators have been told by local employers that they can't find enough people to hire, even while increasing wages.

"This crisis is widespread; it's impacting all industries, all sizes all across North Carolina," said Nicole Hendren with Catapult, a North Carolina-based employer consultant on personnel and other issues. "The federal supplement is creating an incentive to not work. Elimination or repurposing is key."

Lynn Minges, president of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, said its member businesses lost workers permanently during last year's restrictions on in-person dining. Now that all capacity limits are lifted, the industry loss of a ready workforce is being felt.

"We have hotels who are now turning away reservations because they can't service rooms. We have restaurants that ... now are shutting their dining room two days a week because they can't find workers," Minges said. "Without workers, the hospitality industry cannot sustain and cannot recover."

With federal approval, the bill would provide $1,500 bonuses to people who accept reemployment within 30 days. The bonus would drop to $800 if they begin employment on or after 30 days but before 60 days.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who would be asked to sign any bill into law, issued an executive order the day after the measure surfaced last week that requires all unemployment benefit claimants to meet work search requirements in state law starting June 6. The work-search mandate was suspended last year and partially reinstituted in March. Cooper also directed the state Commerce Department to find ways the state could create an incentives programs using federal funds.

Hendren said employers are concerned that the unemployed may work for a short period of time to receive the bonus, then quit. Edwards, a fast-food restaurant operator, said later that there's no guarantee a worker won't leave quickly. He said he believes it would be difficult for these workers to requalify for pandemic benefits.

Edwards said he's speaking with Senate Democrats about whether the bill can be amended to address helping people whose child care challenges are an obstacle to retaining employment. The bill next heads to another Senate committee.

North Carolina's unemployment rate was 5% in April, marking a decline for the seventh consecutive month. The jobless rate reached a pandemic high of 13.5% in spring 2020.

More than 20 states plan to begin blocking the $300-a-week federal payment for the unemployed starting in June. Interest in North Carolina doing the same has been muted, but GOP U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis urged Cooper on Wednesday to end the expanded benefits immediately and focus on incentives to return people to the workforce.

"The employment shortage caused by exorbitant federal unemployment benefits is a real and serious threat to North Carolina's recovery," Tillis and Burr said in a joint statement.

8:30 a.m.
The North Carolina House unanimously approved legislation on Wednesday that aims to spend $750 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to install high-speed internet in rural and remote areas lacking it.

The legislation would set aside $350 million in discretionary American Rescue Plan funds earmarked for North Carolina to expand a relatively new state broadband installation matching funds program with internet providers and electric cooperatives.

The bill also expresses the intent to use $400 million in the funds from Congress on a new program that gives counties the ability to put out bids for broadband expansion in underserved areas. Federal aid going to counties also would pay for those projects.

The measure, which now goes to the Senate, meets goals of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper in his proposal last week to spend $1.2 billion of America Rescue Plan money on improving internet access.

But his plan spends half of that money on things like subsidizing service costs, purchasing computer equipment for households lacking it and offering "digital literacy" training.

Some Democrats said during floor debate they wished Wednesday's bill contained the service subsidies. Still, the bill passed 109-0.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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