Gov. Cooper signs school reopening bill into law

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.
Thanks to a partnership with Ottendorf Labs, Durham Public Schools will offer COVID-19 testing for students, teachers, staff and community members beginning the week of March 22.

The tests will be offered upon request for free, with results returning on average of 24 hours.

"I am so excited that we will have this additional level of protection for our students and staff," Dr. Mubenga said in a statement. "Thanks to the federal grant supporting Ottendorf, anyone who wants it will have easy access to convenient and free PCR level COVID-19 testing."

5:39 p.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper has signed into law Senate Bill 220: The Reopen Our Schools Act of 2021.

The move comes after Republicans in the general assembly and the governor reached an agreement to reopen schools after Cooper vetoed SB 37, a previous effort to pass school-reopening legislation. The NC Senate then failed to override Cooper's veto.

"Getting students back into the classroom safely is a shared priority, and this agreement will move more students to in-person instruction while retaining the ability to respond to local emergencies," Cooper said.

3 p.m.
Gov, Roy Cooper held a media briefing to update progress on COVID-19 vaccinations.

Cooper announced that some members of Group 4 will be able to get vaccines starting March 17, a week earlier than previously planned.

People at higher-risk plus certain people living in congregate housing will be eligible first. Other members of Group 4 will be eligible April 7.

"This move to Group 4 is good news," Cooper said. "I know there are many efforts across the state getting vaccines to people as quickly and fairly as possible and I want our providers to know that their work is making all the difference."

As with previous eligibility changes, some vaccine providers may not be ready to open to Group 4 on March 17 if they are still experiencing high demand for vaccines in Groups 1 through 3.

"We are very fortunate to now have three tested, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines that keep people out of the hospital and prevent death from this virus," said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen. "With improving supplies, North Carolina can get more people vaccinated sooner and meet our goals to provide equitable access to vaccinations in every community in the state."

12:45 p.m.
2,061 new COVID-19 cases were reported in North Carolina on Thursday. That's the first time new cases have been over 2,000 since March 6.

1,039 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state. 134 confirmed COVID-19 patients were admitted in the last 24 hours.

The percent of positive tests is at 3.8.

11.2 percent of the population of North Carolina has been fully vaccinated.

11 a.m.
The Duke University men's basketball team announced on Thursday that it would be dropping out of the 2021 ACC Tournament following a positive COVID-19 test within a member of the program's Tier 1 personnel.

9:45 a.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services will host a live fireside chat on COVID-19 vaccines on March 11 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

NCDHHS Sec. Mandy Cohen will host the event and featured guests include Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II and North Carolina NAACP State Conference President Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman.

Sec. Cohen and Rev. Barber both received a one-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at the PNC Arena in Raleigh on March 5. They will share their vaccination experience, discuss the safety and effectiveness of approved COVID-19 vaccines and answer questions from viewers during the live stream.

9:15 a.m.
About 1 in 5 Americans say they lost a relative or close friend to the coronavirus, highlighting the division between heartache and hope as the country itches to get back to normal a year into the pandemic.

A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research illustrates how the stage is set for a two-tiered recovery. The public's worry about the virus has dropped to its lowest point since the fall, before the holidays brought skyrocketing cases into the new year.

But people still in mourning express frustration at the continued struggle to stay safe.

"We didn't have a chance to grieve. It's almost like it happened yesterday for us. It's still fresh," said Nettie Parks of Volusia County, Florida, whose only brother died of COVID-19 last April. Because of travel restrictions, Parks and her five sisters have yet to hold a memorial.

Parks, 60, said she retired from her customer service job last year in part because of worry about workplace exposure, and now she is watching with dread as more states and cities relax health rules.

Only about 3 in 10 Americans are very worried about themselves or a family member being infected with the virus, down from about 4 in 10 in recent months. Still, a majority are at least somewhat worried.

"They're letting their guard down and they shouldn't," Parks said. "People are going to have to realize this thing is not going anywhere. It's not over."

COVID-19's toll is staggering, more than 527,000 dead in the U.S. alone, and counting.

9 a.m.
The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to 712,000, the lowest total since early November, evidence that fewer employers are cutting jobs amid a decline in confirmed coronavirus cases and signs of an improving economy. The Labor Department said Thursday that applications for unemployment aid dropped by 42,000 from 754,000 the week before. Though the job market has been slowly strengthening, many businesses remain under pressure, and 9.6 million jobs remain lost to the pandemic that flattened the economy 12 months ago.

6 a.m.
Gov. Cooper and members of the Coronavirus Task Force will share an update on COVID-19. The press conference will take place at 3 p.m.

5 a.m.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has so far declined to issue new guidance on travel for vaccinated Americans due to concerns about travel-related surges but is "looking forward" to updating guidance once more people get protected.

"What we have seen is that we have surges after people start traveling, we saw it after July 4, we saw it after Labor Day, we saw it after the Christmas holidays," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday in response to a question from CNN's Kaitlan Collins during a COVID-19 briefing.

Walensky said because 90% of people remain unvaccinated they will wait to update guidance until "we have more protection across the communities and across the population."

THURSDAY MORNING HEADLINES

It's been one year since the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a global pandemic.

When the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic one year ago Thursday, it did so only after weeks of resisting the term and maintaining that the highly infectious virus could still be stopped.

A year later, the U.N. agency is still struggling to keep on top of the evolving science of COVID-19, to persuade countries to abandon their nationalistic tendencies and help get vaccines where they're needed most.

Marking a year of loss and disruption, President Joe Biden will use his first prime-time address since taking office to steer the nation toward a hungered-for sentiment - hope - in the "next phase" of the fight against the pandemic that has killed more than 529,000 Americans.

Previewing his remarks, Biden said he would "talk about what we've been through as a nation this past year, but more importantly, I'm going to talk about what comes next."

Biden's challenge Thursday night will be to honor the sacrifices made by Americans over the last year while encouraging them to remain vigilant despite "virus fatigue" and growing impatience to resume normal activities given the tantalizing promise of vaccines. Speaking on the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization's declaration of a pandemic, he'll mourn the dead, but also project optimism about the future.

5:40 p.m.
One Merck & Co.'s facility located in Durham is at the receiving end of a $105.4 million federal government investment to aid in the production of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

"Our Durham, N.C. facility is part of Merck's global manufacturing network. This site is preparing to produce bulk drug substance for the J&J vaccine," a spokesperson for the company said in a statement to ABC11.


Last Wednesday, President Joe Biden entered a "historic manufacturing partnership to expand the production of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine."

The facility located off of Oxford Road in north Durham will perform the "fill-and-finish production" of the vaccine.

3:40 p.m.
Gov. Cooper toured the state's first FEMA-backed mass vaccination site in Greensboro -- exactly one year after he issued a state of emergency for North Carolina because of COVID-19.

EMBED More News Videos

Gov. Cooper spoke at a new FEMA-backed COVID-19 mass vaccination site Wednesday



Members of the National Guard, US Air Force and health care volunteers started giving people their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at the clinic situated off I-40 at the Four Season Town Center.

The mass vaccination site will run every day, 7 days a week, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the next two months.

You must book your appointment ahead of time.

EMBED More News Videos

Gov. Cooper toured a new FEMA-backed COVID-19 mass vaccination site Wednesday



On Wednesday, Gov. Cooper watched the process that will now get will get 3,000 people vaccinated every day.

He said the clinic will concentrate on getting shots to people in underserved communities and to people of color.

"The success will be measured at how well this clinic gets shots to people equitably," he said. "We want to make sure those arms reflect North Carolina's population, our very diverse population."

If you're eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in groups 1, 2 and 3, you can book an appointment for the clinic in Greensboro now.

3:03 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department reports six new cases for a total of 5,049 total positive COVID 19 cases. One additional death was reported for a countywide total of 101 -- 2% of total cases.

2:47 p.m.
Urban Ministries of Wake County is hosting its second COVID-19 vaccine event for its clinic patients on Saturday from 9 a.m. through 5 p.m. WakeMed is providing Urban Ministries with 100 additional vaccines with the goal of giving a second dose to the patients who received them at its first event last month.

The event is at the main campus, 1390 Capital Blvd.

1 p.m.
North Carolina health officials reported 1,861 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday.

There are 72 fewer COVID-19 patients in North Carolina hospitals, in total there are 1,075 in total.

Throughout North Carolina, 43 more people have died from the virus. That brings the death total to 11,595.

The state is reporting a 5.3% positive test rate.

10 a.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper and North Carolina Republican leaders joined forces to announce a bipartisan plan to return all public elementary schools schools to Plan A--which is all in-person learning.

The governor was joined by Senate Leader Phil Berger, Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, House Speaker Tim Moore and House Minority Leader Robert Reives.

"Today the bill before you, tells schools when and how (to reopen). The good news is that we all want the same thing, to open our schools to in-person instruction for all students and to do it safely with important emergency protections," Gov. Roy Cooper said.

Cooper did clarify that elementary school parents parents would still be allowed to keep their children in virtual academies if they chose to do so.

"There is a full option for a parent to chose a virtual option for their children," Cooper said.

WEDNESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
On this day a year ago, Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency for North Carolina. That came a day after state health officials identified North Carolina's first COVID-19 cluster.

Today, more than 1 million people have been vaccinated against the virus, and the state is celebrating the opening of the first FEMA-backed vaccination site.

That site is located at Four Seasons Town Centre in Greensboro. It will be able to vaccinate 3,000 people per day for 8 weeks.

You must meet state vaccine eligibility requirements to receive a vaccine, and you must register ahead of arriving. You can register at this website.

Meanwhile, Walgreens announced it has administered 5 million vaccines throughout the USA, including to people in North Carolina.

The company said it is close to finishing vaccines at long-term care facilities. It is working now to get more shots to teachers, childcare workers and other frontline groups.

TUESDAY
5:30 p.m.
The Duke football team has paused in-person activities indefinitely after a cluster of COVID-19 cases was identified within the program.

The Blue Devils started spring practice on Feb. 26 and had conducted three official workouts prior to the pause.

3 p.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper gave a media briefing on North Carolina's COVID-19 response and where we stand.

The governor said North Carolina's mission remains "fast and fair" when it comes to vaccinating people.

"Today, I'm proud to share that our state has fully vaccinated more than 1.1 million people," Cooper said. "With almost 8 million adults in our state, there is more work to do - but this is a huge milestone."

EMBED More News Videos

Gov. Cooper warned about not celebrating too soon in the fight against COVID-19 on Tuesday.



Cases are on the decline but Cooper urged people to remain vigilant.

"Let's not get caught celebrating too early," he said. "Let's keep wearing our masks and being responsible so that one day soon we can turn the corner on this pandemic."

2:30 p.m.
997 new COVID-19 cases were reported by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday.

That's the lowest number of new cases in the last month.

As of Tuesday, 1,147 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state. That number also continues to trend downward.

89 confirmed COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospitals in the last 24 hours.

10.6 percent of North Carolina's population is currently vaccinated. 1.1 million people have received both doses of the vaccine. More than 7,000 people have received the single-shot COVID-19 vaccine.

2:20 p.m.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek said the company should be able to reopen its California theme parks, Disneyland Resort and Disney California Adventure Park, with limited capacity by late April.

2 p.m.
The U.S. is making an additional 900,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines available to states and pharmacy partners this week.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced that states and territories will receive 15.8 million doses of the two-shot vaccines, up from 15.2 million last week. Another 2.7 million doses will be distributed through the federal pharmacy program this week.

Last week, President Joe Biden directed the pharmacy program to prioritize teachers and childcare workers. Psaki says the U.S. is now delivering an average of 2.17 million doses per day.

There will be no shipments this week of the newly approved single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to manufacturing constraints. Those deliveries, which total 3.9 million doses so far, are set to resume as soon as next week. Another 16 million doses are expected to be shipped by the end of the month.

1 p.m.
The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History has acquired the vial that contained the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine administered in the United States.

The museum announced the acquisition of the vial and other materials related to that first vaccine dose on Tuesday to mark the upcoming one-year anniversary of the pandemic on Thursday.

Associated Press journalists were given an exclusive backstage look at the newly obtained materials, including vials, special shipping equipment and the medical scrubs and ID badge of the New York City nurse who was America's first coronavirus vaccine recipient.

New York-based health provider Northwell Health administered that first dose and donated the Pfizer vial.

12 p.m.
Roughly 4 in 10 Americans say they're still feeling the financial impact of the loss of a job or income within their household as the economic recovery remains uneven one year into the coronavirus pandemic.

The new poll was conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The financial outcome often depended on the type of job a person had and their income level before the pandemic.

The pandemic has particularly hurt Black and Latino households, as well as young Americans, who are now going through their second major economic crisis of their adult lives.

The poll shows about half of Americans say they have experienced at least one form of household income loss during the pandemic, including 25% who have experienced a household layoff and 31% who say someone in the household was scheduled for fewer hours. Overall, 44% say their household experienced income loss from the pandemic that is still having an impact on their finances.

Thirty-eight percent of Hispanics and 29% of Black Americans have experienced a layoff in their household at some point during the past year, compared with 21% of white Americans.

Overall, about a quarter of Americans say they've been unable to pay one or more bills in the last month.

Some 745,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits the week of Feb. 22, according to the Labor Department. Nearly 18 million Americans remain on the unemployment rolls.

TUESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
More students could return to the classroom fulltime very soon.

Wake County Public School System leaders are scheduled to meet Tuesday and vote on adding fourth and fifth grade students to plan A.

Currently, students in kindergarten through third grade are going to school every day; older students are on a blended schedule with some days in class and some days remote.

That meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Stay with ABC11 for all the updates from the meeting.

Meanwhile in Durham, the district's superintendent is expected to release an update on his district's plan to return students to the classroom.

Durham Public Schools currently plans to allow some students back to class for the first time this school year on Monday.

Governor Roy Cooper is scheduled to hold a press conference at 3 p.m. today to give an update on the state's progress in distributing the COVID-19 vaccine.

You can watch all of that press conference in this article this afternoon.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines for people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The big takeaway is that fully vaccinated people can attend small indoor gatherings without masks or physical distancing. Mixed groups of vaccinated and non-vaccinated family members can gather in small groups inside as long as the unvaccinated members of the family are not at high risk for a severe case of COVID-19.
Copyright © 2021 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.