NC COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations, case rate all set new records 10 months into the pandemic

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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4:36 p.m.
The Lee County Government Health Department reports that a county resident has died as a result of COVID-19 related complications -- the 37th COVID-19-related death in Lee County.

The patient was hospitalized at Central Carolina Hospital in Sanford.

"A thirty-seventh county resident has died of COVID-19," said Heath Cain, Director of the Lee County Health Department. "Please keep the family and friends of the individual in your thoughts and prayers and join us in offering our sincere condolences. As new cases continue to climb across the county and state, we are renewing our calls to follow the three W's - wear, wait, and wash; wear a face mask when in public, wait six feet or more away from others, and wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. It takes the community working together to help slow the spread of this virus."

Residents are reminded that if they are feeling sick, they should stay home and away from others. Contact your health care provider for additional guidance about symptoms, testing, and treatment.

3 p.m.
The Atlantic Coast Conference announced that the Duke at NC State women's basketball game has been postponed. The game was scheduled to be played on Sunday, Dec. 20.

The postponement follows positive tests, subsequent quarantining and contract tracing within the Duke women's basketball program.

2:39 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department reports 39 new cases for a total of 2,401 total positive COVID 19 cases.

One additional death was reported for a total of 43 countywide since the pandemic began.

11:50 a.m.
North Carolina's latest COVID-19 report carried several concerning figures on Wednesday.

The state hit another record high in COVID-19 hospitalizations as 2,811 people are currently hospitalized with 97% of the state's hospitals reporting. That's an increase of 76 from Tuesday.

The daily percent positive rate jumped to 12.5%, the highest since the start of the pandemic. The rate had dipped to 10.9% on Tuesday, which was a decrease from Monday's 11.6%. The state has a goal of 5%.

There were 5,273 newly-reported positive COVID-19 cases, which is consistent with the number of new cases reported over the last week. There have now been 451,874 total cases in the state since March.

Another 98 people have died from COVID-19, bringing the total to 5,979 in North Carolina. That's the highest single-day reported deaths total of the pandemic.

For complete coronavirus-related data, check out the state's COVID-19 dashboard.

11 a.m.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport expects Christmas week to bring a small uptick in travelers, but traffic will remain well below holiday weeks in previous years.

RDU expects over 100,000 passengers from Dec. 21 to Dec. 27 this year. On Christmas week in 2019 RDU handled 289,000 passengers, so the change would be a decrease of 64 percent.

For New Year's week, RDU is expecting similar numbers, which would be about a 60 percent decrease.

Overall in 2019, RDU had 14.2 million people travel through the airport. In 2020, the total number of travelers is expected to be around 5 million.

The Sundays after Christmas and New Years' (December 27 and January 3) are expected to be the busiest travel days of the year with between 18,000-19,000 passengers each day.

Airport officials said COVID-19 health and safety measures will continue to be enforced. They say those measures are working.

"Travelers who choose to fly over the holidays can fly with confidence knowing that airports and airlines follow stringent health and safety measures," said Michael Landguth, President & CEO of the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority. "Studies show the risk of viral spread is extremely low when our protocols are followed. We are asking the flying public to travel smart. From the moment you leave your house until you return home - wear your mask, wait six feet apart and wash your hands frequently."

WEDNESDAY MORNING STORYLINES



With less than 10 days until Christmas, Gov. Roy Cooper is advising North Carolinians to celebrate the holidays virtually to fight the spread of COVID-19.

"The safest option is to connect online or by phone," Cooper said. "If you have to gather in person, try to get tested first, do it outdoors, limit the number of people and wear a mask."

Tuesday, the state reported another 182 people are in the hospital with COVID-19. That brings the state to a record high of 2,735 with 96% of the state's hospitals reporting.

Raleigh-Durham International Airport officials will talk about its holiday travel outlook today at 10 a.m. to give people tips on how to stay safe at airports in the coming weeks.

In college basketball, Saint Louis and N.C. State have agreed to meet Thursday in St. Louis as part of a two-game men's basketball series. This will be the Wolfpack's first game in two weeks. N.C. State last played December 3 by beating Massachusetts-Lowell in "Bubbleville" in Uncasville, Connecticut, but a game two days later against Connecticut was canceled because of a positive COVID-19 test within the Wolfpack's program.

TUESDAY


3 p.m.
Fort Bragg received its first shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at 10:30 a.m. and administered the first shot at 1 p.m.

Roni Paul, an emergency room nurse at Womack Army Medical Center, was the first person at the base to receive the vaccine.

Paul is a former Army medic who has worked on Fort Bragg since 1994.

"This is a milestone moment for us here on Fort Bragg," said Lt. Gen. Michael "Erik" Kurilla, commander of XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg. "We would not have arrived at this moment without our first responders, medics, health care workers, and the incredible staff of the Womack Army Medical Center."

2:15 p.m.
Governor Roy Cooper and Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen on Tuesday praised the implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination plan but warned North Carolinians that there will still be quite a bit of time before the vaccine has an impact on COVID-19 metrics in the state.

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Governor Roy Cooper praised the implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination plan but warned that there will still be quite a bit of time before the vaccine has an impact on COVID-19 metrics in the state.



"We are experiencing a staggering increase in our pandemic trends, and I am particularly worried about our hospital capacity," Dr. Cohen said.

"Our numbers are still too high, and the vaccine can't yet have a significant effect," Cooper said. "We must get these trends turned around. Seeing vaccinations underway gives us hope at the end of a hard year. But this virus continues to be extremely contagious and deadly."

Cooper said he, along with NCDPS Secretary Erik Hooks and Dr. Cohen, sent a letter to local government officials last week encouraging enforcement of COVID-19 safety protocols.

He said governments can enforce safety protocols with civil penalties for violations instead of criminal charges "which we believe can be more effective."

"Our aim is not to get people in trouble," Cooper said. "It is to get people to do the right things to slow the spread of this virus and keep it from overwhelming our hospital systems. I'm grateful to the many local governments already taking action to keep their communities safe."

Late last week, North Carolina started to see the impacts of Thanksgiving gatherings on COVID-19 metrics, with case counts surging over 7,500.

Cooper said Tuesday that he expects the Christmas holiday to be worse.

He encouraged people to have virtual or outdoor gatherings.

"And remember, a negative test doesn't give you a free pass, it just makes it safer," he said. "You still need to wear a mask, stay outdoors and practice social distancing in case you contracted the virus after you got tested."

2 p.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced that it will offer more than 300 no-cost, walk-up or drive-through COVID-19 testing events over the next two weeks ahead of and during the holidays. This includes testing in partnership with new retailers in seven counties across the state.

In addition to existing testing events throughout North Carolina, retailers in Buncombe, Durham, Harnett, Iredell, Lee, Mecklenburg and Wake counties are offering testing December 18-20 and December 26-27 in the parking lots of select Agri Supply, Carlie C's IGA, Home Depot, Piggly Wiggly and Wegman's stores.

Find all testing events throughout the state here.

12 p.m.
Another 182 people are in the hospital with COVID-19 in North Carolina. That brings the state to a record high of 2,735 with 96% of the state's hospitals reporting.

There were 5,236 newly-reported positive COVID-19 cases, which is in line with the number of new cases reported every day over the last week.

The daily percent positive rate dipped to 10.9%, a decrease from Monday's 11.6% but still above the state's goal of 5%. There have now been 446,601 total cases in the state since March.

Another 26 people have died from COVID-19, bringing the total to 5,881 in North Carolina.

For complete coronavirus-related data, check out the state's COVID-19 dashboard.

11:24 a.m.
UNC Medical Center received its first vaccines this morning; 2,925 doses. They plan to begin vaccinating some employees at UNC Medical Center and its Hillsborough hospital Tuesday afternoon.

10:45 a.m.
UNC Medical Center expects to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine today and begin administering it to front line workers.

UNC's main hospital is ready to receive just under 3,000 doses Tuesday.

Employees who care for COVID-19 patients will be the first ones to receive the vaccine.

TUESDAY MORNING STORYLINES



More local hospitals expect to receive their COVID-19 vaccine shipments Tuesday. Hospitals in the Triangle will get more than 85,000 doses this week. WakeMed is expected to get its first shipment in the coming days. Cape Fear Valley Medical Center could receive its first round of vaccinations on Tuesday.

"We need a critical mass of people to be immune to this virus for this to really change," said Dr. David Wohl with UNC Health. "Hopefully, this vaccine will do that." Wohl will be one of the first to have access to the vaccine.

Gov. Roy Cooper will give an update at 2 p.m. on the state's response to COVID-19. The briefing will be carried live on ABC11 and abc11.com. This will be Cooper's first remarks since the vaccine was shipped. Cooper called Monday's arrival of the vaccine "a remarkable achievement for science and health."

Meanwhile, Wake County Public School System is expected to vote Tuesday on pausing in-person classes. The school board met Monday to talk about increased cases among students and staff members.

The proposed plan would move students back to remote learning from Jan. 4 to Jan. 15.

MONDAY


4:52 p.m.
Sampson County reports 81 new cases since Friday.

In all, 12,257 tests have been performed since the start of the pandemic and Sampson County has had 4,362 positive cases.

A total of 54 people have died from COVID-19 issues countywide.

4:35 p.m.
Durham VA Health Care System announced that it has been selected as one of 37 VA sites to receive initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

DVAHCS was selected for its ability to vaccinate large numbers of people and store the vaccines at extremely cold temperatures.

"We are very excited to provide a vaccine that has the potential to help get COVID-19 under control when used alongside public health measures such as masking, physical distancing and frequent handwashing," said Mr. Paul Crews, Durham VA Health Care System Executive Director.

Veterans seeking additional information can visit the VA Coronavirus FAQs webpage or contact their primary care team.

4:10 p.m.
Lee County said it has 159 new cases of COVID-19 since Thursday for a total of 2,922 cases.

In Lee County, 2,542 people have recovered. Since the pandemic began, 36 people in the county have died from COVID-19, including a new death reported Monday of a patient who had been hospitalized at Central Carolina Hospital in Sanford.

"We offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends who have lost their loved one to COVID-19 and ask the community to keep them in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time," said Heath Cain, Director of the Health Department. "We know the holiday season is typically a time of togetherness, but with new cases of COVID-19 surging across the state, we want to stress the importance of following the guidance of the CDC during this critical time. Please follow the 3 W's - wear a mask, watch your distance, and wash your hands and when possible, avoid indoor gatherings with individuals outside of your immediate household. These actions will help to keep your family, friends and neighbors safe."

4 p.m.
All Cape Fear Valley Health System locations, including hospitals and outpatient clinics, will be closed completely to visitors until further notice with the following exceptions: Laboring mothers may have one support person/coach, pediatric patients, patients who need a healthcare decision-maker or require communication assistance and end-of-life patients.

3:47 p.m.
The United States crossed the 300,000 deaths threshold on the same it day it launched the biggest vaccination campaign in American history, with health care workers rolling up their sleeves for COVID-19 shots Monday.

The U.S. accounts for nearly 1 out of 5 confirmed virus deaths worldwide, far more than any other country despite its wealth and medical resources.

3:34 p.m.
The Orange County Health Department will be hosting various free COVID-19 testing events during the week. Find a location and get the latest information here.

3:10 p.m.
Moore County health officials are reporting five deaths related to COVID-19. Three deaths were residents of St. Joseph of the Pines.

The Moore County Health Department has been notified of five Moore County residents whose deaths were determined to be related to COVID-19 infection. Three of the individuals were residents of St. Joseph of the Pines

12:40 p.m.
Atrium Health in Charlotte has started vaccinating front line workers against COVID-19.

The hospital group said Dr. Katie Passaretti was the first person in North Carolina to receive the Pfizer vaccine since the FDA authorized it Friday.

"I couldn't be more excited. I feel perfectly fine; I've had no issues with the vaccine," Passaretti said.

12:57 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department reports 87 new cases and one additional death.

In all, there have been 2,350 total positive COVID 19 cases and 41 deaths in the county.

11:55 a.m.
After the first decline in weeks, COVID-19 hospitalizations ticked back up to near-record highs with 2,553 people currently battling the virus under the care of hospital staff.

292 patients with confirmed COVID-19 cases were admitted in the last 24 hours. 257 suspected COVID-19 patients were admitted in the same time frame.

The latest numbers from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services show another 32 people have died from the virus, increasing its death toll to 5,855 since the start of the pandemic.

The percent of tests coming back positive remained at 11.6% and 4,770 new cases were reported. That's a drop from previous days but that lower case number is typical on Monday; the percent positive is what state officials will be worried about, as their goal has always been to keep that number under 5%.

The turnaround time for testing is at 3.3 days and is steadily increasing.

You can look at the numbers for yourself at NCDHHS's website.

11:15 a.m.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen released a video message on Twitter, supporting the state's effort to get as many people vaccinated against COVID-19 as possible.

"There's good news in the fight against COVID," Dr. Cohen says in the video. "Tested, safe and effective vaccines will be available to all, starting with those most vulnerable to the virus. Rest assured, you have a spot and you'll be able to take your best shot against COVID."

A website was launched with more information about the state's COVID-19 vaccination plan.


9:55 a.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper confirms the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have landed in North Carolina, calling it "a remarkable achievement for science and health."



9:15 a.m.
UNC Health does not expect to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine until Tuesday.

Thousands of doses of the newly authorized vaccine began shipping out across the country Monday.

However, UNC Health tells ABC11 its main campus is not expecting to receive any doses until Tuesday. Other campuses in the system expect to receive shipments later in the week.

UNC Health statement:
"UNC Health officials were notified by NC DHHS late Sunday that UNC Medical Center is expected to receive vaccines on Tuesday. Other hospitals in our system, including UNC REX, are expected to get vaccines later in the week. We continue to work on preparations so that we can begin inoculating our frontline staff as soon as possible once the vaccines arrive."
Copyright © 2021 ABC11-WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved - The Associated Press contributed to this report.