North Carolina COVID-19 hospitalizations dip below 2,000 for first time since late November

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

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SUNDAY

8 p.m.
The improving COVID-19 metrics are sight of optimism for Amber Echevarria and Jaime Radar; the two Raleigh locals own a clothing store called Munjo Munjo in the downtown area.

"Just a weird year where there weren't many people in downtown for most of the summer and the fall," Echevarria said.

However, in recent weeks, the duo has seen some minor changes, Echevarria going on to say she's, "seen more people out, recently. Like, in the last couple of weeks versus maybe a month ago."

Dr. Lina Butler, a Chief Medical Officer at UNC Rex Healthcare, tells ABC11 the state's downward trend is thanks in part to vaccinations.

"I think vaccinations for sure is one; I think that people are still doing their best to comply with social distancing and wearing the masks and good hygiene practices," Dr. Butler said.

Those statewide total numbers reflect the hospital's current patient intake with front line workers treating 23 COVID-19 positive patients, many of them being there longer than 21 days, per Dr. Butler.

"I think, as long as we follow the CDC guidance, we're in good shape. And people need to not, you know, become less vigilant," Dr. Butler added.

Health officials tell ABC 11 that, aside from the growing number of people getting vaccinated, the lack of major upcoming holidays will also help keep the COVID-19 metrics from spiking, creating less reasons for people wanting to gather in large groups.

All great news for Echevarria and Radar, who are one of many downtown Raleigh businesses trying to stay open. They hope that people continue to take the pandemic seriously so more people can safely return to supporting small businesses.

"Not only is the business held back by being open less and not doing as much, but I mean, we're stuck at home too; everybody is stuck at home. It's not just a light at the end of the tunnel for the business, it's for everybody; it's for all of Raleigh," Radar said.

11:35 a.m.
North Carolina is reporting 3,170 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 821,894.

Throughout the state, 38 more people have died from the virus.

With 95 percent of hospitals reporting, COVID-19 hospitalizations are down 101 to 1,989. This is the first time hospitalizations have been below 2,000 since Nov. 30.

The state's percent positive test rate has been 6.5% for three straight days.

7:20 a.m.
According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 27,576,276 COVID-19 cases throughout the United States since March.

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SATURDAY

5 p.m.
Despite the weather, more than 1,000 people got vaccinated at Raleigh's PNC Arena on Saturday.

Along with conjoined efforts with other outreach programs in the area, another 1,000 people were vaccinated in Wake County totaling to more than 2,000 people getting vaccinated.

12 p.m.
North Carolina is reporting 4,130 more COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 818,724.

State health officials are reporting 77 more deaths, bringing the total to 10,453.

Hospitalizations have decreased by 50 to 2,101.

The state's percent positive test rate has remained the same since Friday at 6.5%.

7:45 a.m.
According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 27,492,955 COVID-19 cases throughout the United States since March.

FRIDAY

6 p.m.
Data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services shows that Wake County, one of the largest counties in the state, received some of the fewest doses per capita.

The county has received 7.5 doses per every 100 residents, an average that places the county three doses below the state's average (10.6).

5:15 p.m.
NCAE issued the following statement in regards to the new CDC guidance on reopening schools:

"NCAE has said all along that educators want to get back into classrooms for in-person instruction when schools can reopen safely. This new guidance from the CDC on how our schools can do that is now crystal clear," said NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly. "Our General Assembly and local school boards should follow this science-based guidance. Among the recommendations, the CDC says physical distancing of at least six feet should be maximized 'to the greatest extent possible.'

"We have said that North Carolina's Plan A full enrollment guidelines do not set a six-feet social distancing goal, and the CDC says they should. All plans to reopen our schools during a pandemic should include a goal of six feet of social distancing. We need six feet, and anything less gives us concern for the safety of our students and educators.

"This guidance is also a clear statement that Governor Cooper should veto Senate Bill 37. This risky bill would allow North Carolina middle and high schools to fully reopen without six feet of social distancing to protect students from COVID-19. This bill flies in the face of this new CDC guidance. For all the politicians who have claimed to stand up for science, here is your chance. The science says schools can reopen safely during this pandemic when we use a host of safety measures -- including six feet of social distancing.

"NCAE has said all along that educators want to get back into classrooms for in-person instruction when schools can reopen safely with:

Access to vaccines for all school employees
Proper mitigation measures with hand washing, universal masking, and six feet of social distancing,
Inclusion of educators, staff, and community members in decisions on best ways to implement safety standards.

"The new CDC guidance is a good first step, but now is the time for action. If this road map is applied universally in every community and the resources are put in place equitably for all students, our school buildings can be safe for in-person learning. Members of NCAE are eager to roll up our sleeves, help implement this guidance, and welcome all of our students back to more in-person instruction as soon and safely as we can."


2:36 p.m.
The Moore County Health Department has been notified of the deaths of 16 residents whose deaths were determined to be related to COVID-19 infection.

The deaths occurred from Dec. 25 through Feb. 7.

Most of the COVID-19 victims were 75 or older except for four cases. Three people were in the 65-74 age category and one death was reported in the 25-49 age bracket.

Many of the individuals were residents of assisted living centers.

In all, 157 people have died from COVID-19 in Moore County since the beginning of the pandemic.

2 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department reports 26 new cases for a total of 4,833 positive COVID-19 cases. One additional death was reported, bringing the county total to 92.

12:45 p.m.
Friday's report from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services included 4,128 newly-reported COVID-19 cases.

The daily percent positive rate was 6.5% and there are a total of 2,151 hospitalizations.

The number of deaths reported since the start of the pandemic is 10,376.

12:20 p.m.
A new research study by the North Carolina Central University Advanced Center for COVID-19 Related Disparities' (ACCORD) shows 62% of people surveyed, most from historically marginalized communities, said they are now willing to take the vaccine, NCDHHS announced on Friday.

That's compared to August-October of last year when only 26.7% indicated willingness to take the vaccine when it becomes available.

However, confidence is still lower in certain historically marginalized groups with only 50% of American Indian respondents willing to take the vaccine, versus 58% of Latinos and 63% of African Americans. The hesitancy was lowest among white people, with 78% agreeing to take the vaccine.

The study also found differences by county. For example, Wake County respondents were more willing to take the vaccine, with 79% saying they would definitely or probably get vaccinated, versus only 52% of those in Durham County. Only 49% of Robeson County respondents indicated their willingness to take the vaccine.

11 a.m.
Dr. Anthony Fauci says people will need to wear masks "for several, several months" to avoid the coronavirus as vaccinations are rolled out.

The government's top infectious disease expert told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Friday by the time 75% to 80% of the population is vaccinated, "the level of virus in the community could be so low that you could start pulling back a bit on what are stringent public health measures."

But Fauci says any relaxing of safety measures needs to be done "prudently and gradually."

U.S. government researchers have found that two masks are better than one in slowing the spread of the coronavirus, but health officials have stopped short of recommending everyone double up.

Fauci says the U.S. has contracted for 600 million vaccine doses, enough to vaccinate everyone with two doses. He says as spring turns into summer, everyone should be eligible to receive a vaccine.

Fauci says, "As we go from April to May to June and then hopefully by July, we'll be at that point where we have enough vaccine for virtually everyone."

10:45 a.m.
A COVID-19 variant first identified in Southern California appears to have spread to at least 19 states and several other countries, a study published Thursday suggests.

The variant accounted for about 44% of Southern California cases as of late January, nearly double from a month earlier, the study said. It was first identified in a single case in July and reemerged during a holiday surge in cases in the Los Angeles area.

More research is needed to determine if the variant spreads more easily than other COVID-19 variants or causes more disease, said study co-author Jasmine Plummer, a Cedars-Sinai researcher.

The paper was published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, wrote in an accompanying editorial that new variants likely will continue to emerge until spread of the virus is reduced.

10:30 a.m.
Japan's health minister says the efficacy of Pfizer vaccine was endorsed by a ministry panel, paving the way for a final approval within days.

Health Minister Norihisa Tamura says a formal approval is expected Sunday. The vaccine is already administered in the U.S. and many other countries since December.

Vaccines are considered key to holding the delayed Olympics this summer. Japan is expected to receive 144 million doses from Pfizer, 120 million from AstraZeneca and about 50 million from Moderna before the end of this year, enough to cover its population.

Japan must rely on imports, many subject to the EU's export control, and a cause for concern about supplies. Vaccines developed by Japan are still in the early stages.

About 20,000 front-line medical workers at hospitals in Japan will get their first shots beginning the middle of next week. About 3 million other medical workers will be next, followed by elderly people getting their shots in April. By June, it's expected all others will be eligible.

FRIDAY MORNING HEADLINES
COVID-19 vaccinations will be given at Walgreens locations in North Carolina starting Friday.

The state is just one of 15 states where the national pharmacy will be distributing the vaccines.

Walgreens is following North Carolina guidelines for vaccine distribution--meaning you must be a healthcare worker or be over 65 years old to receive the vaccine at this point.

The pharmacy is also only doing vaccines by appointment. You can make an appointment and find out which location near you has vaccine supply.

The health department said the goal of allowing vaccines to be distributed through Walgreens is to help make sure people living in medically underserved areas have access to the vaccine.

State health officials confirmed Thursday that the COVID-19 variant first discovered in South Africa has now been confirmed in North Carolina.

North Carolina becomes the first state to report a confirmed case of the South African variant, which so far appears more contagious but not more severe.

All this comes as COVID-19 metrics appear to be improving. On Thursday, the state reported a daily COVID-19 percent positive rate below 6% for the first time since October.

New numbers are expected to be released around 12 p.m. today.

THURSDAY
7:50 p.m.
Fayetteville Area System of Transit (FAST) has suspended multiple bus routes after three employees tested positive for COVID-19.

The following bus routes are suspended due to the shortage of drivers:
  • Route 9 - Stacy Weaver Drive/Rosehill Road
  • Route 10 - Strickland Bridge Road
  • Route 11 - Country Club Drive/Pamalee Drive
  • Route 15 - Cape Fear Valley Medical Center/Cross Creek Mall
  • Route 19 - Yadkin Road
  • Route 31 - Owen Drive/Gillespie Street (includes Enterprise Avenue)


Route 7 - Raeford Road will operate on a reduced service schedule.

At least 30 other people are in quarantine following exposure. The initial employee tested positive for COVID-19 on Feb. 10. The City of Fayetteville Human Resource Development team is working on contact tracing

6:30 p.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported the first identification of the COVID-19 variant B.1.351, a variant first detected in South Africa, in a North Carolina resident.

The B.1.351 variant was detected in South Africa in October and in the United States in January.

The North Carolina B.1.351 variant case was identified in a sample from an adult in the central part of the state who had not recently traveled, according to NCDHHS.

The specimen was tested by LabCorp and selected for sequencing as part of a partnership with the CDC.

North Carolina is the fourth state to report an identified case of this variant. As of Feb. 9, nine cases of infection with the variant had been identified in residents of South Carolina, Maryland and Virginia.

Viruses change all the time, and NCDHHS said it expects to see new COVID-19 variants in the state as the pandemic continues.

Data suggest this variant may be more contagious than other variants but does not suggest that it causes more severe disease. Current COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be effective against this and other new variants.

"While we anticipated the arrival of the B.1.351 variant in NC, it's a reminder that the fight against COVID-19 is not over. The emergence of variants that are more infectious means it's more important than ever to do what we know works to slow the spread - wear a mask, wash your hands, wait 6 feet apart, and get vaccinated when it's your turn," said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D.

1:10 p.m.
The NC House has passed Senate Bill 37, which requires school districts to provide an in-person learning option for this school year.

The measure, which passed by a 74-44 vote, now goes back to the Senate for a concurrence vote.

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The NC House has passed Senate Bill 37, which requires school districts to provide an in-person learning option for this school year.



If it passes there, the bill will go to Gov. Roy Cooper's desk for approval or veto.

Senate Bill 37 does let students continue with remote learning if they choose.

Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes, a public school teacher and co-chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said the legislation provides families certainty in education and economic planning.

"Currently our students are subject to shifting executive orders and mixed messages from the administration which have created confusion and led to local delays, making it very difficult for parents to plan for their jobs and their child's education," Elmore said Thursday. "This legislation gives North Carolina families certainty and access to classrooms by combining over a billion dollars of new education funding with local decision-making to implement a return to in-person learning now."

House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said that current restrictions keeping students out of the classroom are forcing parents to miss work or seek education alternatives, and the legislation gives school systems flexibility to adjust student assignments for in-person learning.

"Closing schools has burdened North Carolina families economically while young people fall behind in their studies, producing a devastating impact on student achievement and exacerbating socieconomic disparities," Moore said Thursday. "We are listening to educators, healthcare experts, parents, and most importantly our students, who have a constitutional right to access education communities that serve their academic needs."

11:40 a.m.
The percent daily positive COVID-19 rate continued its precipitous drop with Thursday's updated metrics.

The rate had been in the teens as recently as last week, but Thursday's report showed the rate at 5.9%. The state goal, which it has not achieved since the fall of 2020 is to be below 5%.

The state's metrics showed another 113 new deaths from the virus, bring the total count to 10,294.

One hundred and six fewer people were reported to be hospitalized with the virus.

For a full breakdown of Thursday's metrics, you can click here.

THURSDAY MORNING HEADLINES
The parking lot at PNC Arena opens Thursday as the first COVID-19 mass vaccination site in Raleigh.

However, you will not be able to just show up and get vaccinated. Vaccine supply remains extremely limited; that's why you must have an appointment to get vaccinated at PNC Arena for now.

Slots are all full for today and Saturday. However, you can sign up for the waitlist--if you're a healthcare worker or over the age of 65. At this point, that waitlist reportedly has more than 90,000 people on it.

To do so, go to COVID19.wakegov.com or call 919-250-1515.

Officials said they hope to vaccinate 2,100 people at PNC Arena on Thursday. The goal for the site is to continue operating regularly, but of course that all depends on how many doses of the vaccine the area receives.

Tomorrow, Walgreens will join the race to vaccinate in North Carolina. The pharmacy is sending including 31,000 doses of the vaccine to 300 stores in North Carolina.

Walgreens is also not accepting walk-ins. You must make an appointment on its website.

You may also see reports that CVS is also opening bookings for COVID-19 vaccine appointments. However, CVS is not yet giving shots in North Carolina.
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