NCDHHS launches 'Whatever Your Reason' campaign for slowing COVID-19 spread

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

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4:40 p.m.
The Wake County Public School System canceled its Friday device distribution due to a delay in shipment of devices from their supplier.

Pick up has now been moved from Sept. 8 to Sept. 11. Pick up locations include Apex, Enloe and Knightdale High Schools from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m..

To date, the district says it has distributed 68 percent of Chromebooks.

2 p.m.
In a news conference, NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen announced the state's new "Whatever Your Reason" public awareness campaign to promote preventative measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, most notably, wearing a face covering.

"I wear a mask to protect my family, friends and coworkers, and out of respect for every North Carolinian who's working hard to do the same," Cohen said. "Personal actions make an impact."

Cohen said the awareness campaign will consist of social media ads, radio and television commercials, billboards and bus stop advertisements to reach North Carolianians wherever they are, especially historically marginalized populations.

While Cohen said racial disparities in COVID-19 cases and deaths are improving, she said health leaders are still looking at ways to address the inequities that still exist.

Cohen also reminded North Carolinians to be mindful of the 3 w's over Labor Day weekend.

"This year it's important to make a plan in advance about how you and your loved ones are going to enjoy these three days in a safe way," Cohen said.

She added that wearing a face covering is important when around anyone not in your immediate family--including extended family and close friends.

"Memorial weekend likely accelerated viral spread in the US because of unsafe large gatherings and travel," Cohen said.

1:40 p.m.
The University of North Carolina Athletics Department is expecting to take a revenue hit totaling between $30 million and $52 million due to COVID-19.

Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham announced the financial news Thursday afternoon.

Because of the projected revenue loss, coaches and staff members are going to have their salaries reduced or be furloughed for 15 days. That comes after the department already halted spending, non-essential travel, and hiring.

Coaches and staff members making more than $200,000 will have their salaries reduced by 20 percent. Coaches and staff members making between $100,000 and $200,000 will have their salaries reduced by 10 percent. Coaches and staff members making less than $100,000 will be furloughed for 15 days.



Those measures will last through June 30, 2021.

Still, Cunningham said the cuts will not cover all the projected revenue losses for the 2020-2021 seasons.

1:23 p.m.
Halifax County reported three new cases and two additional deaths because of COVID-19. In all, the county has had 878 total positive cases and 13 deaths.

12:30 p.m.
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 1,656 new COVID-19 cases and 24 deaths, bringing the total to more than 2,800 deaths since late March.

While some graphics on NCDHHS's COVID-19 dashboard have not been updated for more than a day, case counts now show that 47% of Orange County's COVID-19 cases are in people between 18 and 24 years old. Statewide, that number is 16%.

The state reported 20,108 completed tests, roughly in line with previous weeks, though health officials have repeatedly said fewer people are seeking COVID-19 tests. The average turnaround time for testing is currently at 2 days.


Noon
UNC-Chapel Hill has identified a cluster of COVID-19 cases in a Rams Village building. The newest cluster marks the ninth such instance in a residence hall at UNC.

Rams Village is an on-campus apartment complex for undergraduate students on Ridge Road.

THURSDAY MORNING STORYLINES

The federal government has told states to prepare for a coronavirus vaccine to be ready to distribute by Nov. 1.

The timeline raised concern among public health experts about an "October surprise" - a vaccine approval driven by political considerations ahead of a presidential election, rather than science.

In a letter to governors dated Aug. 27, Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said states "in the near future" will receive permit applications from McKesson Corp., which has contracted with CDC to distribute vaccines to places including state and local health departments and hospitals.

"CDC urgently requests your assistance in expediting applications for these distribution facilities and, if necessary, asks that you consider waiving requirements that would prevent these facilities from becoming fully operational by November 1, 2020," Redfield wrote.

North Carolina leaders reported another decrease in hospitalizations on Wednesday with 858. There were 1,129 new cases reported with 7.6% of tests positive.

As of 7:20 a.m., the United States 6,115,030 cases of COVID-19 and 185,752 coronavirus-related deaths.

WEDNESDAY
6 p.m.
The NC Senate passed the COVID-19 relief bill, 44-5. It now goes to the House for a vote.

House Bill 1105, also known as Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0 is a $1.1 billion proposal that seeks to spend more than $900 million in funding left over from the $4 billion sent by Congress as part of the CARES Act.

One of the key components is reserving $440 million to send every North Carolina household with at least one child a one-time check of $335.

5 p.m.
The North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh is getting ready to welcome back guests as part of Gov. Roy Cooper's Phase 2.5 reopening plan.

Under the governor's plan, museums are allowed to open at 50 percent capacity for social distancing. The museum will reopen to the public September 9 with safety restrictions in place.

4:05 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department said it has just one new case of COVID-19 since Tuesday. The county has seen 875 total positive cases and 11 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
4 p.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services launched the NC Medicaid Optional COVID-19 Testing program, which will reimburse Medicaid providers for costs associated with COVID-19 testing of people without insurance.

Federal funding will be available to cover 100% of costs directly related to COVID-19 testing, including both viral and serological or antibody tests, through the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act. In North Carolina, Medicaid-enrolled providers may file directly with NC Medicaid for reimbursement for testing eligible uninsured individuals. Costs for COVID-19 tests will be covered retroactively up to three months if people were uninsured at the time of the test.

To qualify for the program's testing coverage, people must meet three checks: Live in North Carolina, not be eligible for or enrolled in Medicaid or have other health insurance; hold U.S. citizenship or other legal immigration status as mandated by federal regulations.

The reimbursement program will continue during the duration of the COVID-19 federal declaration of emergency. The NCDHHS website offers resources for individuals and health care providers interested in learning more about or participating in the program.

3:30 p.m.

Sampson County is reporting 18 new cases, bringing the total to 1,926 positive cases. There have been 23 deaths countywide.

3 p.m.
Wake County officials announced parks operated by Wake County Parks, Recreation and Open Space will reopen Saturday morning.

The parks include Blue Jay Point, Crowder, Green Hills, Harris Lake and Lake Crabtree county parks. Visitors should socially distance, wear masks and wash/sanitize their hands often.

RELATED: How each Triangle municipality is handling reopening parks, playgrounds

1:30 p.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday reported that hospitalizations in the state were below 900 for only the second time since the beginning of August.

Hospitalizations dropped to 858 on Wednesday -- down 80 from Tuesday. However, the part of the dashboard that says how many hospitals were reporting their numbers had not been updated.

The state reported 1,129 new cases on Wednesday, a sharp decline from the day before. 15,870 tests were reported as completed.

During a news conference on Tuesday, Dr. Mandy Cohen said the state's four key COVID-19 metrics are stabilizing, and some are even beginning to decline.
WATCH: Dr. Mandy Cohen explains North Carolina's key COVID-19 metrics
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While the metrics are stabilizing, Cohen said, numbers are still high.



Cohen said the number of emergency room visits for COVID-like symptoms has been declining for more than a month. However, Cohen said the metric was still high above its baseline.

Similarly, Cohen said the number of new cases had been decreasing since its peak in mid-July, with a slight increase in cases in mid-August among 18-24 year olds on college campuses.

Cohen added that the percentage of positive tests has been stable for more than a month, but is still higher than the 5% level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, though hospitalizations have been on the decline since late July, Cohen said the numbers are elevated. However, hospitals still have capacity in every region of the state.

8:30 a.m.
ABC News obtained the weekly White House Coronavirus Task Force weekly briefing for governors. It shows that North Carolina is in the red zone for cases, indicating more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population last week, with the 20th highest rate in the country. North Carolina is in the yellow zone for test positivity, indicating a rate between 5% and 10%, with the 24th highest rate in the country.

According to the report, "North Carolina has seen stability in new cases and stability in test positivity over the last week, but notable increases in Wake, Pitt, Orange, and Rowan counties" -- where universities have reported clusters.

Mecklenburg County, Wake County and Pitt County had the highest number of new cases over the last 3 weeks and represent 23.9% of new cases in North Carolina.

The following counties are in the red zone, according to the report: Pitt, Robeson, Nash, Edgecombe, Moore, Montgomery, Columbus, Hertford, Halifax, Richmond, Hoke, Bertie, Polk, Hyde, Perquimans, Gates, Pamlico.

WEDNESDAY MORNING STORYLINES

The state's General Assembly is reconvening on Wednesday, and discussing a plan for COVID-19 relief is on the agenda. House and Senate Republicans have agreed on a $1 billion plan that would help families with childcare and education. Under the plan, families would get a $325 payment from the state. Republicans want to send the bill to Gov. Roy Cooper's desk but Democrats don't feel the bill is adequate.

Gov. Cooper has issued an executive order that will soon allow residents to go to gyms but keep them prohibited from entering bars. The mass gathering limit will increase to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors starting on Friday.

The executive order will allow gyms and bowling alleys to open at 30% capacity. Bars, movie theaters, nightclubs, dance halls, amusement parks and indoor entertainment venues must remain closed. Cooper said the mandate for face coverings will stay in place.

At least 3,000 college students across North Carolina have tested positive for the coronavirus since schools reopened in early August. Roughly four in five cases across the state have come from UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State University and East Carolina University.

The spike in coronavirus cases prompted the three campuses to halt undergraduate in-person classes and move students out of their dorms as classes go fully online. Dozens of private and public colleges in the state have wildly different standards for reporting coronavirus information and the state public health department cannot force the universities to turn over much of their data.
Copyright © 2020 ABC11-WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved - The Associated Press contributed to this report.