Here are the latest updates about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in North Carolina.
North Carolina declined to accept any additional COVID-19 vaccines this week, for the first time since the shots were first available in December 2020. Vaccine providers are instead fulfilling orders through transfers or requests to local health departments. The move to refuse the state's entire weekly allocation from the federal government comes as demand for the vaccines drops. North Carolina has already returned hundreds of thousands of doses to the federal pool and refused to accept 2.4 million shots. The state now has a surplus of nearly 2.4 million COVID-19 vaccines waiting for residents to take.
North Carolina reported 680 new COVID-19 cases on Friday. That's the highest number of the week but still lower than last Friday.
The percent of positive tests is at 2.5%. That's the lowest of the pandemic.
613 people are currently hospitalized in the state with COVID-19. That's the same amount as Thursday and a 11.6% decrease since last week.
21 COVID-19 deaths were reported on Friday.
US to swiftly boost global vaccine sharing, Biden announces
The White House says the U.S. will swiftly share millions more doses of COVID-19 vaccines with the world. The U.S. will be directing most of the excess doses through the lagging United Nations-backed international COVAX program.
This promises many more infusions for South and Central America, Asia, Africa and others at a time of glaring shortages abroad and more than ample supplies at home.
The announcement came just hours after World Health Organization officials in Africa made a new plea for vaccine sharing because of an alarming situation on the continent, where shipments have ground to "a near halt" while virus cases have spiked.
Heart reaction probed as possible rare vaccine link in teens
Health authorities are trying to determine whether heart inflammation that can occur along with many types of infections could also be a rare side effect in teens and young adults after the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
An article on seven U.S. teen boys in several states, published online Friday in Pediatrics, is among the latest reports of heart inflammation discovered after COVID-19 vaccination, though a link to the vaccine has not been proven.
The boys, aged 14 to 19, received Pfizer shots in April or May and developed chest pain within a few days. Heart imaging tests showed a type of heart muscle inflammation called myocarditis.
None were critically ill. All were healthy enough to be sent home after two to six days in the hospital and are doing ''doing pretty well,'' said Dr. Preeti Jaggi, an Emory University infectious disease specialist who co-authored the report.
She said more follow-up is needed to determine how the seven fare but that it's likely the heart changes were temporary.
Only one of the seven boys in the Pediatrics report had evidence of a possible previous COVID-19 infection and doctors determined none of them had a rare inflammatory condition linked with the coronavirus.
The cases echo reports from Israel in young men diagnosed after receiving Pfizer shots.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alerted doctors last month that it was monitoring a small number of reports of heart inflammation in teens and young adults after the mRNA vaccines, the kind made by Pfizer and Moderna.
The CDC hasn't determined if there's really a link to the shots, and continues to urge that everyone 12 and older get vaccinated against COVID-19, which is far riskier than the vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine is available to those as young as 12; the Moderna shot remains cleared only for adult use.
This kind of heart inflammation can be caused by a variety of infections, including a bout of COVID-19, as well as certain medications -- and there have been rare reports following other types of vaccinations.
Authorities will have to tease out whether cases following COVID-19 vaccination are occurring more often than that expected "background rate."
For now, the CDC says most patients were male, reported symptoms after the second dose, and their symptoms rapidly improved.
"I think we're in the waiting period where we need to see whether this is cause-and-effect or not," said John Grabenstein of the Immunization Action Coalition, a former director of the Defense Department's immunization program.
A Pediatrics editorial noted that among U.S. children under age 18, there have been over 4 million COVID-19 cases, more than 15,000 hospitalizations and at least 300 deaths.
It said the heart inflammation cases warrant more investigation but added that ''the benefits of vaccination against this deadly and highly transmissible disease clearly far outweigh any potential risks.''
Editorial co-author Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, head of an American Academy of Pediatrics infectious diseases committee, is involved in Pfizer vaccine studies, including a COVID-19 vaccine study in children.
Stocks rise on Wall Street after jobs report
Stocks are pushing higher on Wall Street Friday after a lukewarm report on the job market raised hopes the Federal Reserve will keep the accelerator floored on its support for the economy. U.S. employers added 559,000 jobs in May, according to the Labor Department. It's an improvement from April's sluggish gain, though it still fell short of economists forecasts. The report also showed that companies are still struggling to find enough workers as the economy rapidly recovers from the pandemic recession. The early gains put the benchmark S&P 500 index back on track for a weekly gain after several choppy days of trading.
481 new COVID-19 cases were reported in North Carolina on Thursday.
The percent of positive tests is at 2.9%.
Cumberland County is at 6.7%, Wake is at 3% and Durham is at 1.5%.
613 people are currently hospitalized in the state with COVID-19.
49.5% of the adult population of North Carolina is fully vaccinated.
The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week for a fifth straight week to a new pandemic low, the latest evidence that the U.S. job market is regaining its health as the economy further reopens. Jobless claims dropped to 385,000, down 20,000 from the week before. The number of applications for unemployment aid, which generally reflects the pace of layoffs, has fallen steadily all year. The decline reflects a swift rebound in economic growth and the job market's steady recovery from the coronavirus recession. 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.
The International Labor Organization says the COVID-19 pandemic has created an "unparalleled" global labor market crisis that will affect the job market for years.
The U.N. agency said in a report Wednesday an estimated 8.8% of total working hours were lost last year. It says that is "the equivalent of the hours worked in one year by 255 million full-time workers."
The Geneva-based agency estimates that if there had not been a pandemic, the world would have created 30 million new jobs in 2020.
It says that this year, working hours lost corresponded to 140 million full-time jobs in the first quarter and 127 million in the current quarter.
The agency projects that an uneven economic recovery expected to begin in the second half of 2021 will create 100 million jobs this year and an additional 80 million in 2022. It says that is still short of pre-pandemic levels.
Employers can require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The EEOC said any vaccine requirement must still follow other Equal Employment Opportunity laws--such as following the Americans for Disabilities Act or providing exceptions for religious or medical reasons.
Vaccine incentives are also allowed under EEOC rules.
The current COVID-19 vaccines are being used with FDA emergency authorization. Wake Forest School of Law professor Mark Hall said he expects more employers to require the vaccines if and when they are upgraded past emergency authorization and given full FDA approval (like vaccines for polio, tetanus, hepatitis, etc.).
"Increasingly, employers are going to realize they have a responsibility, not just to their workers, but to their clientele," Hall said. "And if there are steps they could have taken that were very safe and well accepted, and they didn't, yes, I think they could face that liability."
The world's leading COVID-19 vaccines may offer lasting protection that diminishes the need for frequent booster shots.
That's according to scientists, who are finding clues in how the body remembers viruses. But they say more research is needed and that virus mutations are still a wild card.
Critical studies are underway, and evidence is mounting that immunity from the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna doesn't depend exclusively on antibodies that dwindle over time. The body has overlapping layers of protection that offer backup.
Scientists do not yet know what's called the correlate of protection, the level below which antibodies cannot fend off the coronavirus without additional help. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government's leading infectious disease expert, told a Senate subcommittee last week that vaccine protection would not be infinite.
Pfizer and Moderna officials have said people might need yearly shots, just like with flu vaccinations. The companies plan to have some candidates ready this fall. But companies won't decide when boosters get used. That's up to health authorities in each country. Some experts say boosters may be needed only every few years.
THURSDAY MORNING HEADLINES
North Carolina's unemployed would no longer receive the pandemic-related $300-a-week federal unemployment supplement under legislation approved by a state House committee on Wednesday.
The measure would withdraw North Carolina from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, joining two dozen other states that have done the same thing.
The proposal would eliminate these extra benefits 30 days after the bill became law. The program already is scheduled to expire nationwide in early September.
Republicans advancing the bill through the Finance Committee argued the extra benefits are slowing down the post-pandemic recovery. Some contend the supplement is a disincentive to work when employers are struggling to fill vacancies. Others say the benefits have been crucial for many people, especially women who are struggling to provide child care to children.
The proposal contrasts with a measure approved by the Senate this week that would keep distributing the extra benefits. But the Senate still wants to use the money from Washington to offer bonuses of $1,500 or $800 to benefit recipients who return to work.
About 240,000 people are currently receiving state unemployment benefits, according to a legislative analyst speaking in the committee. He didn't know immediately how many of them received the supplemental benefits.
The House measure, which is scheduled to get a floor vote on Thursday, also would revive two proposals that the chamber approved earlier this spring but had gone nowhere in the Senate.
One provision would allow recipients of federal Paycheck Protection Program loans to treat those proceeds as business expenses that could be deducted from their state income taxes in 2020 and 2021. The other provision would exempt the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits from a person's 2020 income taxes.
Gov. Roy Cooper said during a news conference on Wednesday that financial support is making a difference in getting more people vaccinated in North Carolina.
Right now, almost 80% of people 65 and older have been vaccinated.
NCDHHS previously launched pilot programs in four counties offering $25 cash cards for anyone who gets vaccinated or drives someone to get their shot.
"We're glad to see private businesses, schools and community groups sponsoring vaccine events on-site. We continue to explore other creative ways to bring people in," Cooper said.
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He acknowledged that he's seen some of the vaccine lotteries and other incentives in other states and is exploring those possibilities here.
Cooper also gave an update on the HOPE Program, which has provided rental and utility assistance to those in need during the pandemic.
The first round of the program awarded more than $133 million in assistance to help more than 36,000 families statewide, he said.
Two weeks ago, North Carolina opened a second application period for the program using funding from the American Rescue Plan.
Cooper said checks are now in the mail for people who applied.
As of Wednesday, 924 checks for a total of $1.1 million have already been mailed to help North Carolinians in need, he said.
Those who need help can call 888-9ASK-HOPE or visit hope.nc.gov to apply.
North Carolina is reporting 265 new COVID-19 cases and a 3.5% positive rate.
Throughout the state, eight more people are being hospitalized for COVID-19 and nine more have died from the virus.
In North Carolina, 53.4% of adults have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 49.2% are fully vaccinated.
Giving bonuses to North Carolina's unemployment benefit recipients who get a job soon would help both business struggling to fill vacancies and residents who need a nudge to return to work, Republican lawmakers said Tuesday.
The state Senate voted 35-10 for legislation that would provide $1,500 to people who accept reemployment within 30 days of the bonus program starting. The bonus would drop to $800 if they begin employment on or after 30 days but before 60 days.
Brewing company Anheuser-Busch announced Wednesday that it's partnering with the White House to give one free beer to Americans 21+ once 70% of U.S. adults are partially vaccinated.
To date, 62.8% of the adult U.S. population have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 133.6 million are fully vaccinated.
WEDNESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Gov. Roy Cooper and the state's Coronavirus Task Force will speak today at 3 p.m.
ABC11 will stream the full press conference live in the above video player and in our app available on your other streaming devices.
Cooper and the team are expected to give the latest updates on how the state is doing in the fight against COVID-19. In addition, they will also make an announcement about rent and utility assistance for people still struggling in this challenging times.
This announcement comes ahead of a new Executive Order taking effect Sunday which requires anyone asking for unemployment benefits to prove they're looking for work.
Meanwhile, Moderna and Pfizer announced their COVID-19 vaccines appear to be safe and effective to use on pregnant women.
The director of the National institutes of Health said a pair of studies show the vaccines protect the women and even appear to provide some level of protection for their babies.
The US just recorded a seven-day average of fewer than 20,000 new daily COVID-19 cases for the first time since March 2020.
The daily average of new cases dropped to about 17,248 as of Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. However, that number might be lower than reality, as some cases from the weekend and the Memorial Day holiday might not have been reported yet.
WATCH: Should people who had COVID-19 still get vaccinated?
268 new COVID-19 cases were reported in the state on Tuesday. That's the lowest number of new cases since May 4, 2020 when there were 184 but the holiday weekend could delay some data.
The percent of positive tests is at 3.7%.
602 people are hospitalized in North Carolina with COVID-19. That's the lowest number in more than a year. The last time hospitalizations were that low was May 19, 2020.
23 more COVID-19 deaths have been reported in the state since Friday.
49.1% of the adult population is fully vaccinated.
Wake County Public Health is moving vaccinations and testing under the same roof at four locations.
The Southern Regional Center in Fuquay Varina and the Eastern Regional Center in Zebulon will offer testing and vaccination on the same schedule:
Sundays & Mondays: CLOSED
Tuesdays & Thursdays: 12:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Wednesdays & Fridays: 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Saturdays: 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The Northern Regional Center in Wake Forest will offer free testing and vaccination on this schedule:
Sundays & Wednesdays: CLOSED
Mondays & Fridays: 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Tuesdays & Thursdays: 12:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays: 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
And the Wake County Human Services Center on Departure Drive in northeast Raleigh will offer free vaccination Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and free drive-thru testing Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Vision Church.
Those who received their vaccine from Kroger Health now have a shot of taking home a million dollar cash prize. Kroger, parent company of Harris Teeter, is giving out $1 million to 5 lucky winners who have received their vaccine from any of the company's pharmacies.
The company will also give away free groceries for a year to 50 winners over the course of five weeks. Registration for the chance to win in the #CommunityImmunity sweepstakes begin June 3.
The giveaways are part of Kroger's latest effort to incentivize more across the country to receive their COVID-19 vaccine. The company is working in conjunction with the Biden Administration to meet the White House's goal of getting 70% of U.S. adults, with at least their first dose of the vaccine, by July 4.
Kroger Health has distributed over 4.6 million doses of the vaccine so far, from their pharmacies and clinics across 35 states, including North Carolina.
The World Health Organization is announcing a new nomenclature for the COVID-19 variants that were previously - and somewhat uncomfortably - known either by their technical letter-number codes or by the countries in which they first appeared.
Hoping to strike a fair and more comprehensible balance, WHO said it will now refer to the most worrisome variants - known as "variants of concern" - by letters in the Greek alphabet.
So the first such variant of concern, which first appeared in Britain and can be also known as B.1.1.7, will be known as the "alpha" variant. The second, which turned up in South Africa and has been referred to as B.1.351, will be known as the "beta" variant.
A third that first appeared in Brazil will be called the "gamma" variant and a fourth that first turned up in India the "delta" variant. Future variants that rise to "of concern" status will be labeled with subsequent letters in the Greek alphabet.
WHO said a group of experts came up with the new system, which will not replace scientific naming systems but will offer "simple, easy to say and remember labels" for variants.
TUESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Wake County Public School System employees working at Central Services do not have to wear face coverings anymore.
These employees are extremely unlikely to come in contact with students. Anyone five and older still must wear a face covering when indoors at school buildings where students are located.
In the race to vaccinate, the rate of shots in North Carolina lag behind the national average.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said nearly 63 percent of adults across the country are at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19, but in North Carolina that number sits at 53 percent.
Dr. Michael Zappa, the Chief of Emergency Services for Cape Fear Valley Health, said the COVID-19 patients needing treatment at his hospital have been trending younger.
State metrics show that 18-24 year old's make up 9.4% of the population, but just 6.5% of vaccinations. Zappa and other health officials said targeting younger people will be the key to meeting the goal of having 70 percent of eligible Americans vaccinated by July 4.
Meanwhile, Duke Gardens is reopening to the public at limited capacity Tuesday.
The area will open from 8 a.m. until dusk seven days a week.
Masks are not required, unless you wind up in a crowded area where social distancing is not possible.
"We are excited to be able to welcome visitors to spend time in the beauty and serenity of Duke Gardens once again," executive director Bill LeFevre said.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.