COVID-19 hospitalizations drop to lowest number in almost a year

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

12:45 p.m.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 1,020 new COVID-19 cases as the percent of positive tests remained low at 3.4%.

The state reported 30 fewer people were hospitalized with COVID-19, bringing the total number of hospitalizations statewide to 763. This is the lowest the metric has been since June 7, 2020, nearly a year ago.

Vaccinations continue to slow statewide, with approximately 119,000 more first doses given in the last week. As of Thursday evening, 52.2% of North Carolina adults have received at least one dose.

12:25 p.m.
A different type of COVID-19 vaccine clinic is going on this weekend at the Dorothea Dix campus in Raleigh.

The family-friendly "Bringing Back Summer Vaccine on the Green" is hosted by the North Carolina Department Health & Human Services. It features food trucks, music and activities.

"This is an opportunity for people to fit it into their schedule, to do something fun, to come when they're maybe on a lunch break, to grab a bite at the food truck, get a shot, go about their day or to come as a group and have a picnic," said Erin Fry Sosne, of the North Carolina Department of Health & Human Services.

Monserrat Contreras, 14, of Smithfield rolled up her sleeve for her Pfizer shot. Anyone 12 and older can get a free shot.

Arif Ansari works at the Dix campus and got his vaccine.

"When I saw this event was coming here, I thought let me just come here and get it done," Ansari said.

Some items are being given away to people getting vaccines, including Frisbees, blankets and sunglasses. Other events put on by the state are also offering incentives to people getting vaccinated.

If you get your shot at vaccination clinics at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro on Friday, Saturday or June 10-12, you get one free zoo ticket for a future zoo visit. It's a partnership between the state, zoo and other organizations.

The event at Dix Park continues through Sunday.

You don't need an appointment but you can sign up through WakeMed.

-- Reporting by Gloria Rodriguez, ABC11

11:40 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department will offer first doses of the Pfizer vaccine to anyone ages 12 years and older by online registration at the Halifax Community College, Building 700, at 100 College Drive in Weldon.

The vaccine clinic dates and times are as follow: May 25 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and June 1 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Halifax County Health Department will offer second doses of the Pfizer vaccine to anyone ages 12 years and older by online registration at the same place on June 8 from noon to 7 p.m.

Appointments are preferred however, walk-ups accepted.

To schedule a first dose appointment for the Pfizer vaccine on May 25, click here.

To schedule a first dose appointment for the Pfizer vaccine on June 1, click here.

To schedule a second dose appointment for the Pfizer vaccine on June 8, click here.

The Halifax County Health Department at 19 N. Dobbs Street in Halifax is also offering the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines every Thursday from 9 a.m. until 4 pm. To schedule an appointment, call (252) 583-5021.

The county also reports five new cases of COVID-19 for a total of 5,622 total cases. No new deaths were reported. The county toll remains at 112.

10:50 a.m.
Dating apps are launching new efforts to encourage COVID-19 vaccines.

Vaccinated users on Tinder, Hinge, OKCupid, BLK, Chispa, Plenty of Fish, Bumble, and Badoo will gain access to premium content "like boosts, super likes, and super swipes" with proof of vaccination, according to the White House.

"According to research from OKCupid, people who are vaccinated or plan to get vaccinated receive 14% more Matches than people who don't plan to get vaccinated," the White House told reporters in a fact sheet Thursday.

More about the push from the White House here.

10:10 a.m.
Where are you required to wear your mask and where can you take it off?

Vaccinated shoppers and workers can ditch their masks at Walmart, Target and Home Depot...but Gap, Ulta and others have kept the mask requirement in place.

The patchwork of policies, combined with various state and local requirements have left many Americans scratching their heads.

Here are some of the challenges making it harder than you might think for everybody to follow the same policy.

At Starbucks, CVS, Walgreens and Macy's, vaccinated customers no longer need to wear masks unless there are local mandates. But all employees will still need to mask up.

Friday morning headlines
Think of it as a vaccine celebration. Friday at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh there will be music, food trucks and lawn games--all as incentives to encourage people to get vaccinated.

The event starts at 10 a.m. and will run through 6 p.m. both Friday and Saturday. Then on Sunday the event runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The event is free and open to everyone. Vaccines will be available for anyone 12 and older with or without an appointment.

This comes as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shared new numbers showing the daily pace of vaccinations is down nearly 50 percent after peaking in April.

Last week, the US gave out about 1.8 million doses of the vaccine each day. About 38 percent of the US population is currently vaccinated--about 37 percent of the North Carolina population is vaccinated.

However, vaccination rates are actually on the rise for the US military.

The Pentagon led a massive effort to promote the safety and efficacy of the vaccine in March. Since then, there has been a 55 percent jump in the vaccination rate.

As of Friday morning, 58 percent of active duty service members have received their first dose of the vaccine.

Tickets go on sale today for North Carolina Symphony's Summerfest Series at Cary's Koka Booth Amphitheatre.

The event happens every Saturday in June. Click here for more information.

THURSDAY
4:11 p.m.
The Wayne County Health Department will be hosting a Pfizer vaccine clinic this Saturday for anyone needing a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The clinic will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Spring Creek Middle School, 3579 NC-111 in Seven Springs.

Make an appointment here. Walk-ups will also be accepted. The first 100 people to sign up for an appointment and receive their vaccine will receive a Walmart gift card. The Health Department will also be distributing Bring Back Summer goodie bags while supplies last.

If you are in need of a COVID-19 vaccine during the week, the Health Department has appointments available Monday through Friday. Register at the link above or call (919) 731-1000 and press No. 1.

12:41 p.m.
Wake County is holding free drive-thru testing today through Sunday. The event will be from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at several locations:
  • Fleming Loop Park, 501 Fleming Loop Road, Fuquay-Varina
  • Carolina Pines Park, 2305 Lake Wheeler Road, Raleigh
  • Avery Street Community Center, 125 Avery St., Garner
  • Fred G. Bond Metro Park, 801 High House Road, Cary (no testing on Saturday; 8:30-noon on Sunday)


12:27 p.m.
The news continues to get better in North Carolina as metrics are trending dramatically in the right direction.

NCDHHS said it has added 1,187 new cases for a total of 994,734 statewide since the start of the pandemic.

It's the highest case total of the week but lower in comparison to the past two Thursdays when 1,394 and 1,798 cases were added, respectively.

The daily percent positive dropped to 3.3% -- the lowest percent positivity rate since October -- and down a full percentage point from the previous day. The rate stood at 4% a week ago.

Twenty-seven fewer hospitalizations were reported from the previous day, with 793 patients. A week ago, that number was 925. It's the lowest since Sept. 7, when 765 were hospitalized.

Twelve additional deaths were reported. In all 12,950 people have died statewide.

NCDHHS said 37.3% of North Carolina's population is fully vaccinated and 47.2% of adults are as well.

12:24 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department reports six new cases for a total of 5,617 positive COVID-19 cases. The death toll remains at 112.

Thursday morning headlines
Gov. Roy Cooper said the state should use the federal COVID-19 funds it receives to directly help families make ends meet, upgrade infrastructure and help institutes of higher education better prepare the state's workforce for the future.

"This pandemic brought us a once-in-a-generation challenge. And these funds have brought us a once-in-a-generation opportunity," Cooper said.

Meanwhile, with COVID-19 metrics improving, outdoor summer festivals and events are returning.

Hopscotch will return to Raleigh from Sept. 9-11. IBMA Wide Open Bluegrass Festival will return to Raleigh from Sept. 28-Oct. 2.

Dreamville Festival and the Art of Cool Festival in Durham have not said if they will take place in 2021.

More North Carolinians are also heading out to eat at restaurants. So much so, that some restaurants are having a hard time meeting the demand.

"We've seen an almost overwhelming surge of customers, by far setting sales records on a week-to-week basis," said Justin Gallus, owner of Plates Neighborhood Kitchen in Glenwood South in Raleigh.

Those sales records are a good thing, but many of those restaurants are having to cut back on their hours because they have not been able to hire back enough staff.

Restaurant owners who spoke to ABC11 said many people in the restaurant industry found new careers during the pandemic, and despite raising base pay, the restaurants have not been able to lure those employees back.

WEDNESDAY
1:50 p.m.
The Kroger Family of Companies, which operates Harris Teeter, announced that it is changing its store mask policy.

Starting May 20, fully vaccinated customers and most fully vaccinated workers will no longer need to wear a mask, unless there is a state or local mandate. Non-vaccinated workers will be required to wear a mask.

Pharmacy and clinic workers will still be required to wear a mask.

The chain asks that non-vaccinated customers continue to wear masks.

12:50 p.m.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky further explained CDC's new masking guidance for fully vaccinated people in a hearing on the CDC budget.

"Last Thursday we released that demonstrated for an individual who is, who is fully vaccinated and not that they are able to safely unmask, with the exceptions, certainly exceptions of course in travel corridors healthcare settings, that if you are an individual, you can safely unmask if you're fully vaccinated, inside and out, inside and outside," she said.

She said the new guidance was prompted by data that demonstrated that, not only are the vaccines effective against the variants circulating in the U.S., but that even people with breakthrough infection can't pass the virus to anyone else.

12:40 p.m.
NCDHHS is reporting 969 new COVID-19 cases since Tuesday.

Throughout the state, 27 more people have died from the virus. The total number of COVID-19 patients being hospitalized in North Carolina remains the same at 820.

Officials are reporting a 4.3% positive test rate.

In total, 51.9% of North Carolina adults have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 47% of North Carolina adults are fully vaccinated against the virus.

12:35 p.m.

The Halifax County Health Department reports five new cases for a total of 5,611 positive COVID-19 cases. No new deaths were reported. The toll remains at 112.

10:20 a.m.
NCDHHS announced the expansion of the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program to give benefits to eligible children under age 6 starting this week.

The P-EBT program families whose access to meals has been impacted by the pandemic and provides an EBT card that can be used to buy food at most major grocery stores.

"Food insecurity for families has increased significantly during the pandemic. This program is one way that we can support young children and their families who have been particularly hard hit," said NCDHHS Chief Deputy Secretary for Opportunity and Well-Being Susan Gale Perry. "Having access to nutritious meals is vital to young children's healthy development and well-being."

There is no application to receive the benefits. Eligibility will be determined through the public schools in the county where the family lives.

6 a.m.
In-person events will return to Wake Forest for the first time in over a year.

The town announced it will hold its Fireworks Spectacular on July 3 and Friday Night on White featuring Crush on September 10. Events like Family Movie Nights at Joyner Park and a Halloween Boo Bash will also happen this year.

These announcements became possible after the state lifted all COVID-19 capacity limits, as well as mask and social distancing requirements.

"From the outset of the pandemic, we said that once state restrictions were lifted, we'd resume hosting in-person events," said Mayor Vivian Jones. "Following last week's announcement by Gov. Cooper, we're beyond thrilled that we can resume gathering in-person with our family and friends for so many of our favorite community events."



5:30 a.m.
North Carolina's governor is set to tell lawmakers how he wants them to spend the billions of additional dollars the federal government has allocated through another COVID-19 relief package.

Gov. Roy Cooper scheduled a Wednesday news conference to unveil his recommendations for North Carolina's share of American Rescue Plan funds.

The state learned last week its portion would be $5.4 billion, with half of the money made available immediately. And that doesn't include $6 billion that Congress already has told the state how it must be used. Over $3 billion more is also going to local governments.

The Democratic governor and Republican lawmakers worked in tandem last year when they agreed how to spend $3.6 billion in coronavirus relief funds.

The latest tranche from Washington comes as state government coffers are already flush with revenues collected during the economic recovery.

TUESDAY
4:45 p.m.
The US has reached a "landmark day" in the COVID-19 pandemic as 60% of American adults have gotten at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

In addition, more than 4.1 million young people ages 12 to 17 have received their first dose, Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

3:48 p.m.
Lee County has terminating its COVID-19 Pandemic State of Emergency, which had been in place since March 16, 2020.

The termination follows the lifting of most statewide pandemic restrictions by Gov. Roy Cooper.

With the end of the emergency declaration, Lee County Government no longer requests visitors to wear masks and physically distance while at public facilities, except where required under Executive Order 215.

2:30 p.m.
North Carolina's Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions (HOPE) Program has opened a second application period. The program provides rent and utility bill assistance to prevent evictions and utility disconnections during the pandemic.

"As we begin to turn the corner on the pandemic, many people are still struggling with rent and utility payments," said Governor Roy Cooper. "This effort will help tens of thousands of families stay in their homes with the lights on."

The application is available here.

1:09 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department reports no new cases. The case count remains at 5,606 positive COVID-19 cases. The death toll remains at 112 (1.99%) COVID-19 related deaths.

12:33 p.m.
NCDHHS reported 622 new cases of COVID-19, the lowest number since Oct. 4. In all, the state has had 992,678 cases.

The percent positive stands at 5%, a slight increase from Monday (4.7%) but still low.

Hospitalizations are trending down from the same time one week and two weeks ago. In all, 820 people were hospitalized compared to 968 a week ago and 1,050 during the same period two weeks ago.

Twenty deaths were added, giving the state a total of 12,911 attributed to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

NCDHHS said about 36.8% of the total population has been fully vaccinated.

12:30 p.m.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on Tuesday that the rates of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are now the lowest they've been since the start of the pandemic last spring.

CDC reported 17,724 new COVID-19 cases Monday, the lowest number since last June.

"The last time our seven-day average was this low was in March 2020, essentially since the pandemic began in large parts of the United States. The past week has been a big week with progress and milestones that set us on a path out of this pandemic. We should all have cautious optimism. Cases have continued to decrease and have not been this low since spring of last year," Walensky said. "Hospital admissions are down, deaths are down, and we are vaccinating between 1.5 million and 2 million people per day."

10:15 a.m.
The Movies by Moonlight Series sponsored by WakeMed will host a vaccination event on Friday at Koka Booth Amphitheatre.

The movie "Little" will play and nurses from WakeMed Cary Hospital will be on site administering the Pfizer vaccine.

Each person who gets a vaccine will get a free small popcorn and a drink.

10:00 a.m.
A COVID-19 vaccination event - Bringing Back Summer "Vaccine on the Green" - will be held on the Dorothea Dix Campus in Raleigh, Friday, May 21, through Sunday, May 23.

This event is open for anyone age 12 and older to receive a free COVID-19 vaccine. Appointments are not necessary but you may sign up for an appointment time through WakeMed if you choose to. The event will also feature music, food trucks and lawn games.

9:30 a.m.
Young drivers whose attempts to get their North Carolina provisional license were stymied by COVID-19 pandemic delays in the past year would get a timing break under legislation headed to Gov. Roy Cooper's desk.

The Senate agreed unanimously Monday evening to House changes to a bill that would cut the amount of time drivers must hold a learner's permit before seeking a license that lets them drive unsupervised. The time would be reduced from 12 months to six, but the shorter window would only last for those applying for the "Level 2" license through the end of the year. Bill supporters are seeking Cooper's signature to make it become law.

Original bill sponsor Sen. Vickie Sawyer of Iredell County said the measure still assists those teenagers that couldn't advance because driver's education classes were postponed as school activities were shuttered. The young motorists who benefit from the proposed change would still have to log 60 hours behind the wheel with a supervising parent, be at least 16 years old and pass a road test to qualify for the provisional license.

Earlier versions of the bill would have reduced permanently the wait time to either six or nine months.

TUESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday that his administration is acting prudently before recommending when and how state employees should return to their offices, after doing away with most COVID-19 face covering and capacity mandates last week.

Speaking to reporters at a bill-signing ceremony, Cooper again defended his decision on Friday to repeal a statewide mask mandate, even for the unvaccinated. He said guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made it plain "that vaccinated people had very little chance of contracting COVID and they had very little chance of transmitting it to someone else." Many other states have since dropped their mask mandates as well.

The CDC's research made it very difficult to justify keeping mandatory mask orders in place for everyone, but also emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated, the governor said. More than 51% of all adults have had at least one COVID-19 vaccination, according to state health data.

"It's important to know we are turning a corner. This research was significant," he said outside the Executive Mansion, but "we have a lot of work to do and where we all ought to concentrate our effort is vaccinations."

The state Department of Health and Human Services still recommends that people who aren't vaccinated wear a mask indoors as well as outside where there are crowds. Mask-wearing remains required for all within schools and on public transportation, and many retailers are still requiring patrons to wear them.

Cooper said DHHS was speaking with CDC officials on Monday before making decisions about how and when employees at state agencies working from home return to their office buildings. The department also could give advice to to other public and private employers. State agencies under Cooper's oversight will continue their current COVID-19 policies until then, he said.

On another topic, the Democratic governor suggested that the state Senate move forward with passing a two-year budget proposal without first agreeing with the House on how much money should be spent next year. Budget activities have idled for weeks among Republican lawmakers because the two chambers remain far apart on a spending cap figure. They ultimately will send a finalized budget to Cooper's desk, with a goal of getting it enacted by July 1.

Cooper said it makes little sense to settle on a dollar amount now when an updated revenue forecast will become available in June that incorporates May income tax collections. He anticipates the forecast will show even more funds for the state's already flush coffers.

"So I don't think it's absolutely necessary for the Senate and the House to reach any kind of limit," Cooper said.

Any spending cap reached soon by Republicans is likely to be lower than the governor's bottom line in his budget proposal from late March. Republican leaders and Cooper have expressed guarded optimism that the governor will sign a budget this year after a 2019 budget veto and negotiating stalemate never got fully resolved.

The Associated Press contributed.

Monday
4:58 p.m.
The Lee County Government Health Department confirmed 44 cases since Mya 10 for a total of 6,072 residents who have tested positive for COVID-19.

There have been 79 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Lee County. The latest death was a person hospitalized at Central Carolina Hospital in Sanford.

To register for the COVID-19 vaccine, people in Lee County may call (919) 842-5744 or to register in Spanish, (919) 718-4640 option 8.

4:20 p.m.
When Gov. Cooper lifted most of the state's mask mandate, it put the onus on businesses to decide and regulate mask requirements.

NCDHHS released the following statement to ABC11:

Businesses may choose to continue to require that their customers wear masks, particularly because it would be hard to know who is vaccinated and who is not. North Carolina does not have a vaccine passport. For people who get vaccinated at a state-supported provider, we will continue to work to make it is easy as possible for them to access their own vaccine record if they ask for it.

MORE: Target no longer requiring masks for fully vaccinated customers, workers | List of store policies

2 p.m.
President Joe Biden says the U.S. will share an additional 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines with the world in the coming six weeks. The move comes as domestic demand for shots drops and global disparities in distribution have grown more evident and will bring the total U.S. commitment to 80 million.

Biden said Monday from the White House that "we know America will never be fully safe until the pandemic that's raging globally is under control." The doses will come from existing U.S. production of Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine stocks. The administration previously committed to share about 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of June.

1:30 p.m.
The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is defending the decision to ease mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, stressing that increasing political pressure had nothing to do with the abrupt shift in guidelines. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told FOX News Sunday that she delivered the science as soon as it was available.

To date more than 156 million Americans, or more than 47% of the population, have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 121 million are fully vaccinated. Walensky cautioned that even with the new guidelines, it was still too early to declare victory, but added that she was cautiously optimistic about the pandemic.

1 p.m.
The Treasury Department said Monday that 39 million families are set to receive monthly child payments beginning on July 15.

The payments are part of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which expanded the child tax credit for one year and made it possible to pre-pay the benefits on a monthly basis. Nearly 88% of children are set to receive the benefits without their parents needing to take any additional action.

12:30 p.m.
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released updated COVID-19 metrics.

The state said it added just 688 newly reported cases to the database--a positivity rate of 4.7%.

Just over 900 people remain hospitalized with the virus.

Click here to take a look at the numbers for yourself.

12:21 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department reports 10 new cases since Friday for a total of 5,606 total COVID-19 cases. There have been 112 deaths countywide.

12 p.m.
People in Durham who planned to roll up their sleeves for COVID shots from the county health department have just three days to get it done this week.

Supply is not the issue, said deputy health director Kristen Patterson. In fact, she told ABC11, anybody and everybody is welcome to walk-in to get their vaccine--no appointment necessary.

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The vaccine site where many Durhamites are getting inoculated against COVID-19 now has shorter hours of operation.



"They can come in, either Monday, Wednesday or Friday," Patterson said.

In a statement, County health authorities cited the gas shortage as the reason for the reduced hours.

"We want to ensure that our nurses, other clinic staff, and guests are able to travel safely to and from our clinic," said Health Director Rod Jenkins. "Right now, gas shortages have impacted our clinic staff's ability to arrive and provide vaccinations, so we've made the decision to temporarily cut back on our clinic hours."

If you'd still like to make an appointment, you can learn how to do that here.

8:30 a.m.
The old state Capitol building in downtown Raleigh is reopening to the public after being closed for 15 months during the pandemic.

Starting Monday visitors can enter the 1840 Greek Revival-style building for self-guided tours on weekdays during normal business hours. There won't be guided tours for now, but docents will make presentations twice daily outside. A gift shop also will be open.

The Capitol once housed offices of the governor, the Supreme Court and the House and Senate chambers.

The General Assembly and the Supreme Court have their own buildings now. Many of the governor's offices remain inside, as well as a statue of George Washington and the old House and Senate chambers.

The Department of Natural and Cultural Resources announced the reopening before Gov. Roy Cooper repealed last Friday nearly all of the statewide mask-wearing mandates. The Capitol will provide protective barriers at information desks and hand sanitizer stations.

8 a.m.
The immunologist who leads the COVID-19 response in the United States says "the undeniable effects of racism" have led to unacceptable health disparities. Dr. Anthony Fauci says those especially hurt African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans during the pandemic. Fauci spoke Sunday by webcast from Washington, to a graduation ceremony for Emory University in Atlanta. He says many people in minority groups face obstacles starting at birth, including lack of an adequate diet and lack of access to health care. Fauci says correcting societal wrongs will take decades. He's urging the college graduates to be part of the solution.

FRIDAY
4:15 p.m.
Triangle YMCA said fully vaccinated people are no longer required to wear a mask inside YMCA facilities, at YMCA programs, as spectators, while working out, while on the pool deck or while taking an indoor group fitness class.

People who are not fully vaccinated are expected to follow NCDHHS' mask wearing requirements.

All staff, members, guests, etc. can continue wearing a mask if they want.

3:45 p.m.
Commissioner Que Tucker of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association issued the following statement on the removal of capacity limits in North Carolina:

"The NCHSAA is in the middle of Softball and Women's Soccer Championships for this weekend and actively working with our ticketing partners at GoFan to ensure that general admission ticketing is available for the general public for events tomorrow, particularly the softball series at Davie County and North Davidson. For games this evening there will be no changes to the planned ticketing process and procedure."

2 p.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper announced Friday that the state is completely lifting all mandatory capacity, gathering limits and physical distancing requirements, effective immediately.

Most mandatory mask mandates will also be lifted.

That means that in most settings, indoors or outdoors, the state will no longer require North Carolinians to wear a mask or be socially distant.

Cooper said the mask mandate will remain in effect on public transportation, in child care, in schools, in prisons and in certain public health settings.

1:56 p.m.
State Chief Justice Paul Newby issued a new order amending the order of May 10, 2021, citing revised guidance on face coverings from the CDC. The amendment eliminates the face coverings in court facilities directive and leaves decisions about face coverings in courtrooms to the discretion of local court officials.

1:49 p.m.
The Carolina Hurricanes released a statement reacting to Gov. Roy Cooper's announcement that he is lifting remaining physical distancing and capacity rules.

"Gov. Cooper has been consistent in his message that we would be allowed to host more fans as case levels dropped and vaccination rates increased," President and General Manager Don Waddell said in a statement. "We thank him and Dr. (Mandy Cohen for their diligence in keeping our state safe, and for now allowing more of our passionate fans into PNC Arena to provide to the legendary playoff home-ice advantage our Caniacs can create."

The Canes open the playoffs at home Monday night at 8 p.m. against the Nashville Predators.

1 p.m.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to ease several COVID-19-related restrictions on Friday, including physical distancing, mask and capacity rules, sources told ABC11.

It's unclear whether the governor will completely mirror the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidance or if some restrictions will remain.

Full details will be released during a news conference at 1:30 p.m.

Cooper previously announced that the state would likely back off of most COVID-19 restrictions on June 1, but expressed that he wanted 2/3 of adults to be vaccinated before he did so.

12:50 p.m.
White House reporters saw President Joe Biden at an unannounced appearance outside the West Wing, where he was posing for departure photos with Meredith Webster, Susan Rice's Chief of Staff at the Domestic Policy Council, and her family.

"Are you enjoying your first day without masks?" shouted CBS's Ed O'Keefe.

"Yes," replied the president, over his shoulder, as he walked back towards the West Wing lobby entrance.

12:41 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department reports six new cases for a total of 5,596 positive COVID-19 cases. In all, 112 people have died from COVID-19 complications in the county -- 2% of cases..

12:29 p.m.
The Hindu Society of North Carolina is hosting a COVID-19 vaccine clinic Saturday, offering Pfizer vaccines for anyone 12 years and older. It will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at HSNC, 309 Aviation Parkway in Morrisville. Click here for more information.

12:24 p.m.
NCDHHS said there are 1,501 new cases for a total of 989,338 statewide. The increase is 22% lower than last Friday (1,932 cases). The percent positive also declined to 3.8%, a slight decline from the previous day 4% and the lowest since March 11.

In all, 926 people were hospitalized in the latest report compared to 1,106 at the same time last week.

Nine additional deaths were reported, for a statewide total of 12,862.
Vaccinations continue to increase as 40.6% of North Carolina's population and 51.2% of adults have received at least one dose. In all, 36.2% of the state's population is fully vaccinated while 45.9% of adults are fully vaccinated.

12:19 p.m.
The Durham County Department of Public Health will temporarily reduce its vaccination clinic hours to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday during the week of May 17, 2021 because of concerns about the gas shortage.

Clinic hours are expected to return to normal the following week.

"We want to ensure that our nurses, other clinic staff, and guests are able to travel safely to and from our clinic," said Health Director Rod Jenkins. "Right now, gas shortages have impacted our clinic staff's ability to arrive and provide vaccinations, so we've made the decision to temporarily cut back on our clinic hours."

11:45 a.m.
Senate Leader Phil Berger is encouraging Gov. Cooper to drop the state's mask mandate.

"The CDC finally formalized what many Americans who think for themselves have been doing for months: Those who are vaccinated should resume their normal way of life, and without masks if they so choose," he said in a statement. "Imposing personal restrictions on those who pose no public health risk is senseless and will further undermine what trust remains in public health authorities."

9 a.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper will be joined by members of the state's Coronavirus Task Force to announce changes to the state's COVID-19 executive orders.

The group will speak at 1:30 p.m. ABC11 will broadcast the announcement live on television and in our streaming apps.

This announcement comes less than 24 hours after the CDC released new mask guidance that said fully vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask inside except in a few special cases.

WATCH: Don't relax your health & safety precautions too quickly, UNC doctor warns
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UNC Dr. Alexa Mieses-Malchuk answers your COVID-19 questions.



FRIDAY MORNING HEADLINES
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased mask-wearing guidelines for fully vaccinated people Thursday.

If you're fully vaccinated, you can essentially return to life as normal. In the majority of indoor settings, fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks.

EXPLAINER: What fully vaccinated people can, cannot do according to CDC's new mask guidelines

The guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but it will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools and other venues - even removing the need for social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated.

This guidance does not supersede state, local or business restrictions that may still be in place. At this time, North Carolina still requires masks be worn by everybody inside buildings.
Copyright © 2021 ABC11-WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved - The Associated Press contributed to this report.