NCDHHS says COVID-19 numbers continue to improve as positive rate drops to 1.9%

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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12:30 p.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reports 362 new cases of COVID-19.

The percent positive stands at 1.9% as COVID-19 trends continue to improve in the state.

In all, 55% of adults in North Carolina are at least partially vaccinated.

There have been 13,320 deaths in the state since the start of the pandemic,

12:24 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department said that 12 new cases were reported since June 9 for a total of 5,677 total positive COVID-19 cases.

The county's death toll remains at 112 or 1.97% of cases.

11:19 a.m.
Starting Saturday, the federal agency in charge of leading the nation's pandemic response says it will stop screening its own employees and contractors for COVID-19 symptoms before entering its buildings.

The notice, obtained by ABC News, acknowledges that symptom screening isn't "completely effective" in containing the virus because of the number of people who don't exhibit symptoms even when infected.

"Effective June 19, 2021, HHS will discontinue temperature and COVID-19 symptom screening for those entering our facilities at the Hubert H. Humphrey Building, 5600 Fishers Lane and Perry Point," the Department of Health and Human Services said. "As we entered the pandemic, the purpose of the screening was to identify potential COVID-infected personnel in order to minimize the spread of this infectious disease. Individuals with a positive screen were permitted to enter the workplace facility once it was determined that their symptoms were not due to COVID 19 infection or other communicable diseases. CDC guidance identified screening as one of a number of strategies to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission. CDC acknowledged that performing symptom screening with or without temperature screening would not be completely effective because asymptomatic individuals or individuals with mild nonspecific symptoms who have COVID-19 may be undetected on screening. CDC also continues to emphasize that screening and health checks are not a replacement for other protective measures such as vaccination, social distancing, and wearing a mask."

WEDNESDAY

NCDDHS issued a warning about the Delta variant that is rapidly spreading in the United States, including in North Carolina.

The health department said the COVID-19 vaccines are the best protection against the virus and its variants.

"A study by FAIR Health found that 19% of asymptomatic COVID-19 patients develop long-term symptoms such as pain, breathing difficulties, fatigue and high blood pressure," NCDHHS said in a news release. "In addition, the study found that 27.5% of COVID-19 patients who were symptomatic but not hospitalized also developed lasting symptoms."

"While our COVID-19 trends are good, we are still seeing unvaccinated people hospitalized and dying from this virus, and many struggling with long-term effects like having difficulty breathing when doing simple activities. This is preventable if you get a vaccine to protect yourself and your community," said NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen.

NCDHHS also reminded residents about the current vaccine incentives: Four vaccinated North Carolinians 18 and older will win $1 million each and four North Carolinians ages 12 to 17 will win tuition for post-secondary education.

12:30 p.m.
333 new COVID-19 cases were reported in North Carolina on Wednesday.

The percent of positive tests in the state is at 2.3%.

495 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

55% of the adult population is vaccinated with at least one dose.

Data from NCDHHS shows that the state saw an increase in vaccinations from the week before for the first time in 8 weeks last week.

9:20 a.m.
NCDHHS announced the state is expanding availability of its at-home COVID-19 test collection. Any North Carolina resident can receive a Pixel by Labcorp COVID-19 PCR Test Home Collection Kit that is shipped overnight directly to their homes at no cost. Tests can be used on people age 2 and up.

Residents 18 and older can request a test collection kit for themselves online or through community partner organizations. Parents or guardians of people under 18 can request a test collection kit for those aged 2-17.

The kit includes test supplies (nasal swab, sample container, etc.), instructions and prepaid shipping materials. Results are typically provided within 24 to 48 hours after the lab receives the specimen. Once processed, test results are accessed via the Pixel by Labcorp website.

More information here.

9:15 a.m.
The N.C. Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions (HOPE) Program announced a change that will increase the number of applicants eligible for emergency rent and utility assistance.

When the second application period opened on May 17, the program prioritized applicants with an income of 50 percent of the area median income.

The program is now expanding the income limit to 80 percent of the area median income for the county where the applicant lives.

Applicants who received rent or utility assistance during the first phase of the HOPE Program are eligible to reapply for additional help.

8:05 a.m.
The COVID-19 pandemic did not lead to increased drug abuse among students.

That's according to a new study from the University of California-San Francisco.

Researchers there studied if the switch to remote learning resulted in an increase in drug use among high school students. They found no evidence that drug use shifted among those students during the pandemic.

However, the researchers did find that a large number of students stopped exercising during the pandemic.

The study recommends schools and parents encourage kids to stay active for at least five days per week, especially as the summer arrives.

8 a.m.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services will expand COVID-19 screening and testing at schools.

The updated program will launch in the fall and schools can register to participate in the program starting in July.

The program provides schools greater access to rapid COVID-19 tests and is funded through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

State officials said this sort of testing can help slow the spread of the virus--especially in students under 12 who cannot yet get vaccinated.

7:30 a.m.
Online services that interview job applicants remotely by webcam and use artificial intelligence to assess their skills mushroomed in popularity during the pandemic and into the subsequent economic recovery.

But the technology raises questions about whether computers can accurately and fairly judge a person's character traits and emotional cues. The dominant provider, HireVue, recently announced it would stop trying to read people's facial expressions, but it still makes assessments based on an analysis of their speech and the words they choose.

Some governments are pushing for more transparency to ensure the technology isn't discriminating based on race, gender, accents and other factors.

6 a.m.
The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 on Tuesday topped 600,000, even as the vaccination drive has slashed daily cases and deaths and allowed the country to emerge from the gloom. That's according to the toll recorded by Johns Hopkins University.

The number of lives lost is greater than the population of Baltimore or Milwaukee. It is about equal to the number of Americans who died of cancer in 2019.

5 a.m.
U.K. researchers say initial results from a large study show an antibody treatment reduces death in hospitalized COVID-19 patients who face the greatest risk from the coronavirus.

The drug combination from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals cut patient deaths from 30% to 24% among those who hadn't already developed an immune response against COVID-19. Regeneron's drug and similar treatments supply lab-made versions of antibodies that can help fight the virus.

Smaller studies previously showed that the drug helped reduce the risk of hospitalization and death when given to patients with earlier, milder cases of COVID-19.

The 10,000-patient study led by Oxford University also found the drug shortened hospitalization times and reduced the chances of needing a ventilator in the same group of patients. Among patients with natural antibodies against COVID-19, adding the drug had no significant benefit on survival.

Regeneron's two-antibody combo is currently available for patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in the U.S. and Europe. It is not authorized in the U.K.
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