NC Health Secretary announces benchmark for ending indoor mask requirement

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

12:58 p.m.
The Durham County Department of Public Health will partner with White Rock Baptist Church to offer COVID-19 vaccines to the community on May 15. This event is free and no identification is required.

The event will be Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at White Rock Baptist Church; 3400 Fayetteville St. in Durham. Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be offered.

Appointments are optional. To schedule an appointment, call (919) 560-HELP (4357).

12:24 p.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reports 699 new cases and 968 people hospitalized for COVID-19.

The daily percent positive is at 5.5% and there have been 12,801 deaths reported since the start of the pandemic.

As for vaccinations, 50.7% of the state's adult population is at least partially vaccinated.

12 p.m.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens will reopen to the public on June 1 at limited capacity. Masks will be required in restrooms but not outside, except where social distancing isn't possible.

Group visits will not be allowed.

The garden will be open every day from 8 a.m. to dusk.

11:30 a.m.
Cape Fear Valley Health's vaccine clinics will start vaccinating children ages 12 and older on Tuesday.

Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine will be offered for children following the FDA's emergency use authorization.

"We anticipated and are prepared for the expansion of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for individuals aged 12 to 15", said Chris Tart, PharmD, Vice President of Professional Services. "We are glad to see access increased for the Pfizer vaccine to this age group, which is another step in getting the country to herd immunity and ending the pandemic."

The clinics are accepting walk-in patients until capacity is reached.

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UNC Dr. Alexa Mieses-Malchuk answers your questions about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.



11 a.m.
For the first time in more than a year, Museum Park Theater will host concerts filled with people.

North Carolina Museum of Art is partnering with Cat's Cradle to bring visitors back to the park for a pair of concerts, the first since the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 Amphitheater Concert Season.

"There is hardly a better feeling than a concert in the Museum Park Theater under the stars," said Valerie Hillings, Museum director. "We can't wait to safely welcome visitors back for a memorable concert season."

The concerts will be September 22 and October 31.

The September concert features Big Thief, and tickets go on sale May 13 for members and May 14 for non-members.

The October concert features Pink Martini and China Forbes. Tickets go on sale May 20 for members and May 21 for non-members.

Click here for more info.

9 a.m.
Colleges and universities across the nation can now start tapping into $36 billion in relief funding that Congress approved in March, the Biden administration announced Tuesday.

The U.S. Education Department said it's starting to steer the funding to more than 5,000 public and private colleges. The funding was included in a $1.9 trillion relief package that also included $123 billion for K-12 schools.

The higher education aid is being allocated to public and private institutions using a formula that factors in the share of low-income students they enroll. Colleges must spend at least half the funding on direct relief for students. The other half can be used on a variety of expenses related to the pandemic.

In a reversal from Trump's policy, the Biden administration said student grants can be given to international students and those who are in the U.S. illegally.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said the funding makes sure the hardest hit students "have the opportunity to enroll, continue their education, graduate and pursue their careers."

Broadly, the guidance says colleges should use the funding to support vulnerable students, reduce the spread of the coronavirus and retain students whose education was disrupted by the pandemic.

8 a.m.
Fewer Americans are reluctant to get a COVID-19 vaccine than just a few months ago, but questions about side effects and how the shots were tested still hold some people back. That's according to a new poll that highlights the challenges at a pivotal moment in the U.S. vaccination campaign.

The survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that just 11% of people who remain unvaccinated say they definitely will get the shot, while 34% say they definitely won't. That leaves a large swath of Americans in the middle who might still roll up their sleeves.

TUESDAY MORNING HEADLINES

North Carolina's Health Secretary said the state is still working toward a time when the indoor mask mandate can be lifted.

Dr. Mandy Cohen said the benchmark for eliminating that requirement is having at least 66 percent of adults in the state fully vaccinated. Right now, about half of adults are at least partially vaccinated.

"Before we get rid of that indoor mask mandate, which I know everyone wants to get rid of, we've got to work a little bit harder over the next couple of weeks and months to get more folks vaccinated and then hope to, again, put this pandemic in our rearview mirror," Cohen said.

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The May dates began May 9 and run until May 21. In June, the campaign is in effect from June 6-12 and again from June 20-26.



That update comes as the FDA authorized the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children as young as 12 years old.

Meanwhile, baseball is returning to Durham Bulls Athletic Park for the first time in more than a year.

The Durham Bulls will host Jacksonville starting tonight at 6:30. The teams will play six straight days in Durham.

Tickets are limited, as seating at the park is available in socially-distanced pods.

Baseball is also returning to Fayetteville, with the Woodpeckers set to play at their home park tonight for the first time in over a year.

First pitch at Segra Stadium is also scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

MONDAY
6 p.m.
The US Food and Drug Administration has expanded the emergency use authorization for Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine to include people ages 12 to 15.

This is the first COVID-19 vaccine in the United States authorized for use in younger teens and adolescents; the vaccine had previously been authorized for people age 16 and older. COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are authorized for use in people age 18 and older.

To support the extended use, the FDA reviewed data submitted by Pfizer. The company said at the end of March that a clinical trial involving 2,260 12-to-15-year-olds showed the vaccine's efficacy is 100% and it is well tolerated.

5:30 p.m.
NCCU is offering Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccines on Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the LeRoy T. Walker Physical Education Complex.

5:29 p.m.
States are pushing the unemployed to return to work to help businesses large and small find the workers they need to emerge from the COVID-19 recession. Some argue the generous unemployment benefits offered when the economy crashed are making it too easy for people to not return to work. Now some states are reinstating a requirement that anyone who collects unemployment must look for work. At least three states, Arkansas, Montana and South Carolina, are ending the $300 supplemental benefit that is on top of state benefits. Labor experts say the shortage is not just about the payment, with some people reluctant to look for work because they fear catching the virus. Others have found new jobs.

2:29 p.m.
The Lee County Government Health Department reports that a county resident has died of COVID-19 related complications. This raises the number of COVID-19 deaths confirmed in Lee County to 78 since the first case was reported in March 2020.

"We offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the individual who passed away and ask you to keep them in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time," said Heath Cain, Director of the Lee County Health Department. "The public is reminded that even as we ease restrictions related to COVID-19, the virus remains a threat to public health and safety. Please continue following the guidance of the CDC to help slow and prevent the spread of COVID-19 and if you have not already been vaccinated, please get vaccinated."

1:26 p.m.
Wake County Public Health has confirmed an outbreak of COVID-19 at HeartFields at Cary, an assisted living and memory care facility at 1050 Crescent Green Drive in Cary.

This is the third outbreak at this location. The previous outbreaks happened in June and November.

1:24 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department reports 17 new cases since Friday for a total of 5,575 positive COVID-19 cases. There have been 111 deaths countywide.

1:20 p.m.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about the U.S.' seven-day average vaccination rate dropping below 2 million for the first time since March.

"We knew we would be in this phase, and we knew we'd be in a phase where it would be more difficult because we need to increase access which we've been focused on doing from the beginning, and continue to increase confidence," she said.

She noted that "just several weeks ago... there was such a demand for the vaccine" that people "had vaccine t-shirts" and were taking selfies."

"We're now at the point," she said in response to the question, "which we always knew we would be at, where the supply has increased, has -- exceeded the demand. And it means we have to work extra hard to get into communities, to have partnerships with -- with local doctors, with primary care physicians to expand access, expand mobile units that are going into communities to get the supply out to people."

12:30 p.m.
North Carolina health officials are reporting 974 new COVID-19 cases. The state is reporting a 5.7% positive test rate.

There are currently 951 COVID-19 patients being hospitalized in the state.

As of Monday, 50.6% of the adult population in North Carolina is vaccinated with at least one dose.

In all, 12,790 people have died since the start of the pandemic.

12:20 p.m.
An inmate at the Central Prison in Raleigh, who tested positive for COVID-19, has died, the Commissioner of Prisons announced.

The man, who was in his mid-30s, tested positive on April 28. He was hospitalized on May 3. Authorities said his condition worsened and he died on May 7.

The Department of Public Safety said the initial review indicates COVID-19 was likely the cause or at least a contributing factor to his death.

11 a.m.
Fayetteville Technical Community College is hosting a COVID-19 vaccine clinic Monday.

It's happening from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in partnership with the Cumberland County Department of Public Health.

The one-dose J&J vaccine will be offered.

9:45 a.m.
Dr. Anthony Fauci says federal guidance on wearing face coverings indoors may change soon.

Sunday on ABC News, Fauci was asked whether it's time to start relaxing indoor masks requirements. Fauci replied, "I think so, and I think you're going to probably be seeing that as we go along, and as more people get vaccinated."

9:30 a.m.
Some states are making plans to spend billions of dollars from President Joe Biden's pandemic relief act, though the money has yet to arrive. A law signed by Biden earlier this year contains $350 billion of flexible aid for state and local governments.

Some states already are planning to use part of it to prop up their depleted unemployment accounts, expand high-speed internet or provide aid to schools and businesses. The first installment is expected to arrive soon. But some states are waiting to develop spending plans until the Treasury Department provides more guidance on using the money.

9 a.m.
This year's graduating class of college seniors is poised for better prospects than were the 2020 graduates, who had the misfortune to graduate in the depths of the disastrous coronavirus recession.

Though the competition will be stiff - this year's graduates will have to compete, in many cases, with 2020 graduates who are still seeking their first full-time job - employers are ramping up hiring. And many are desperate for workers. The pace of job openings in the United States is now far above pre-recession levels, including in professional occupations that college students are more likely to seek and that can typically be done from home.

8 a.m.
With experts saying the coronavirus is likely spreading in India's northeastern state of Assam faster than anywhere else in the country, authorities are preparing for a surge in infections by converting a massive stadium and a university into hospitals.

The official seven-day weekly average of new cases in the state on May 9 stood at more than 4,700 cases. But a model run by the University of Michigan - which predicts the current spread of cases before they are actually detected - says infections in Assam are likely occurring as fast as any other place in the country. Add to that recent elections in the state - and the huge political rallies that accompanied them - and experts fear the worst is to come.

MONDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Pfizer is seeking full FDA approval--as opposed to its current emergency use authorization--for its COVID-19 vaccine.

According to ABC News, Pfizer is the first COVID-19 vaccine maker to request full approval in the U.S., and it will likely take several months for the FDA to review additional data and make an approval decision.

Moderna said it plans to start that same process later in May.

Nearly 46 percent of the entire US population and 57 percent of those 18 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

This as children as young as 12 get closer to being eligible for the vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration could decide as soon as Monday to extend the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine to those teens.

If that authorization happens today, vaccines could begin later this month.

New vaccination clinics are opening in Wake County. Wake County Southern Regional Center in Fuquay-Varina opens today, and the Eastern Regional Center in Zebulon will open the week of May 24.

Click here for a full list of clinics available.

Meanwhile in the Sandhills, all of Cape Fear Valley Health's clinics will now accept walk-ins for the COVID-19 vaccine.

The clinics in Fayetteville, Elizabethtown and Raeford will all be giving out the Pfizer vaccine on a first-come first-served basis. The clinics will give out the shots until they run out of doses.
Copyright © 2021 ABC11-WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved - The Associated Press contributed to this report.