North Carolina issues warning about COVID-19 Delta variant, encourages vaccinations

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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2:30 p.m.
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.

TUESDAY
5:35 p.m.
The Orange County Mobile Vaccine Team will vaccinate people who are homebound or are otherwise unable to travel to a vaccine clinic.

"Orange County may lead the state in vaccinations with over 60% of community members fully vaccinated, but we will not rest until everyone is able to get a vaccine if they want one," said Orange County Health Director Quintana Stewart.

They report that the most challenging part of the program has been identifying those in need. They encourage all community members to make referrals for individuals who may be encountering challenges getting vaccinated here or by calling 919-245-6127.

12:36 p.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 272 new cases of COVID-19. The percent positive remains low at 2.7% and just 510 people are hospitalized.

The state has had 13,296 deaths attributed to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Fifty-one percent of the state's adult population is now fully vaccinated.

10:50 a.m.
A new analysis of blood samples from 24,000 Americans taken early last year is the latest and largest study to suggest that the new coronavirus popped up in the U.S. in December 2019 - weeks before cases were first recognized by health officials. The analysis is not definitive, and some experts remain skeptical, but federal health officials are increasingly accepting a timeline in which small numbers of COVID-19 infections may have occurred in the U.S. before the world ever became aware of a dangerous new virus erupting in China. The study study was published Tuesday online by the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

10:40 a.m.
NCDHHS announced that it is launching an expanded COVID-19 screening testing program for public, charter and private K-12 schools.

The program will launch in fall 2021 and will provide participating schools with access to COVID-19 rapid tests and other testing options. Schools can register to participate beginning in early July.

NCDHHS said it will pilot the expanded COVID-19 screening testing program in several summer school programs this summer.

10:30 a.m.
Mexico received 1.35 million doses of Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccines donated by the United States on Tuesday.

The U.S. shipment will be used to vaccinate anyone over 18 in four cities along the U.S. border: Tijuana, Mexicali, Ciudad Juárez and Reynosa. Mexico has said the goal is to boost vaccination rates there to levels similar to the U.S. cities they adjoin.

Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, who was meeting with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in Mexico City, says after the vaccinations "there will be no public health arguments for keeping the border closed."

The U.S. and Mexico have restricted border crossings to essential travel since early in the pandemic.

Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell says the expanded vaccinations in border cities could begin Wednesday. Mexico is seeking to acquire more of the vaccine to inoculate all border residents.

10 a.m.
U.S. President Joe Biden wants to imbue America's Independence Day with new meaning this year by encouraging nationwide celebrations to mark the country's effective return to normalcy after 16 months of coronavirus pandemic disruption.

Even as the U.S. is set to record Tuesday its 600,000th death in the pandemic, the White House is expressing growing certainty that July 4th will serve as a breakthrough moment in the nation's recovery. That's even though the U.S. is not expected to quite reach its goal of having 70% of adults vaccinated by the holiday.

As COVID-19 case rates and deaths drop to levels not seen since the first days of the outbreak, Biden is proclaiming "a summer of freedom" to celebrate Americans resuming their pre-pandemic lives.

The holiday will see the largest event yet of Biden's presidency: He plans to host first responders, essential workers and military servicemembers and their families on the South Lawn for a cookout and to watch the fireworks over the National Mall. Well more than 1,000 guests are expected, officials said, with final arrangements still to be sorted out.

Just three months ago cautiously, the president cautiously held out hope that people might be able to hold small cookouts by the Fourth of July.

5:45 a.m.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to adapt--not just their hours and cleaning processes, but often their physical spaces.

In downtown Raleigh, you'll see some of those physical changes while walking down the street.

Will those changes stick around as the virus is brought under control and things get back to normal? That's the question Downtown Raleigh Alliance (DRA) wants to answer.

The DRA conducted a public study evaluating how to integrate those temporary pandemic changes to a more permanent state.

The DRA will report its findings--such as the use of extended sidewalk space, permanent parklets for outdoor dining, curbside pickup zones for take-out, and a strategy to re-energize customers to return--to the Raleigh City Council on Tuesday.

MONDAY
Q&A with Duke pediatrician: How long will kids have to wear masks at school?
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Duke pediatrician Dr. Michael Smith answers questions about how long children will need to wear masks at school.



1 p.m.
284 new COVID-19 cases were reported in North Carolina on Monday.

The percent positive in the state is at 2.4%.

480 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

50% of the adult population in the state is fully vaccinated.

9 a.m.
NCCU will offer both first and second doses of Moderna and Pfizer, and single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines, at walk-in visits and appointments from 10 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., on the following dates in June and July: Tuesday, June 15; Thursday, June 17; Tuesday, June 29; Tuesday, July 13; Tuesday, July 20; and Tuesday, July 27.

8:30 a.m.
New COVID-19 cases are declining across most of the country, even in some states with vaccine-hesitant populations. But almost all states bucking that trend have lower-than-average vaccination rates. Case totals nationally have declined in a week from a seven-day average of nearly 21,000 on May 29 to around 14,000 on Saturday. Experts said some states are seeing increased immunity because there were high rates of natural spread of the disease. But Dr. Leana Wen is concerned that the natural immunity of those who have been exposed to coronavirus may soon wane.

8 a.m.
The American biotechnology company Novavax announced on Monday that its coronavirus vaccine candidate was found to have an overall efficacy of 90.4% in a Phase 3 trial conducted across the United States and Mexico.

Additional analyses of the trial are ongoing, according to the company, and will be submitted to peer-reviewed journals for publication.

Read more about that here.

7:30 a.m.
With COVID-19 cases declining and vaccinations increasing, governors across the U.S. are wrestling with when to issue an end to the emergency declarations.

More than a half-dozen states already have ended their coronavirus emergencies. That includes South Carolina and New Hampshire, where Republican governors ended their emergency orders this past week. More states could join that list soon.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, says his emergency declaration will end Tuesday. The state had an indefinite state of emergency for 15 months. He credited the state's high vaccination rate with helping turn the tide in the fight against the coronavirus.

In many states, emergency declarations have been routinely extended by governors every few weeks or months since the start of the pandemic. Republicans generally are leading the push to end emergency orders, but some Democrats also are supporting such moves.

7:20 a.m.
Wake County is holding a COVID-19 vaccine boot camp.

The event is designed to help people learn how to talk to their friends and families about COVID-19 vaccines.

The boot camp is free, and there will be several online sessions available for anyone to attend.

Below are the date and time for planned boot camp sessions:

  • June 15 and 17: 10 a.m. to Noon
  • June 29 and July 1: 6 - 8 p.m.
  • July 13 and July 15: 10 a.m. to Noon
  • July 27 and July 29: 6 - 8 p.m.
  • August 10 and August 12: 10 a.m. to Noon
  • August 24 and August 26: 6 - 8 p.m.


Click here to register for one of the sessions.

Monday morning headlines
The United States is inching closer to President Joe Biden's goal to have 70 percent of all adults at least partially vaccinated by the Fourth of July.

More than 165 million Americans over 18 years old have received at least one dose--that's roughly 64 percent of the population.

To try and keep encouraging more Americans to get the shot, Vice president kamala Harris will be in Greenville, South Carolina, on Monday. She's visiting two vaccination sites in the area.

On Tuesday, the United States Environmental Protection Agency administrator and Goldsboro native Michael Regan is set to make stops in Raleigh and Charlotte. That, like Harris' visits, is part of the White House's month of action to increase vaccination rates.

Later this week the Center for Disease Control and Prevention will meet to discuss a possible link between the COVID-19 vaccine and rare cases of heart inflammation.

The agency said it has received a total of 226 cases of the condition--all in people under the age of 30 who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

Meanwhile, the Town of Cary is reopening most parks, recreation and cultural resource facilities on Monday.

Those centers have been closed since March 2020.

The centers will predominantly operate with limited summer hours, and more facilities are set to reopen in July.

FRIDAY
4:23 p.m.

Cumberland County officials say the county continues to see a downward trend of critical statistics.

Through the last several weeks, Cumberland County has seen fewer COVID-19 cases and an overall downward trend in positive cases. More than 27% of the county population has received at least a partial vaccination and 24% are fully vaccinated. These figures do not reflect Fort Bragg, Indian Health Service, or the Veterans Affairs numbers.

The Health Department also reports that eight Cumberland County residents have died of COVID-19 since May 27, bringing the total to 317 deaths. There have been 29,950 cases in Cumberland County reported since the onset of the pandemic.

Cumberland County's COVID-19 positive test rate is at 5.2%.

All people ages 12 and older may schedule appointments on the county's COVID-19 vaccine page.

4 p.m.
The U.S. is confronted with an ever-growing surplus of COVID-19 vaccines, looming expiration dates and stubbornly lagging demand at a time when the developing world is clamoring for doses to stem a rise in infections. Million-dollar prizes, free beer and marijuana, raffled-off hunting rifles and countless other giveaways around the country have failed to significantly move the needle on vaccine hesitancy, raising the specter of new outbreaks. The stockpiles are becoming more daunting each week, with states halting new orders and giving millions of doses back to the federal government. The nation seems likely to fall short of President Joe Biden's goal of dispensing at least one shot to 70% of the nation's adults by July 4.

3 p.m.
Legislation that includes more than $2 billion in tax reductions over the next two years and the phaseout of North Carolina's corporate income tax by 2028 received bipartisan approval again in the Senate on Thursday.

The Republican-authored measure, which also would send up to $1 billion in federal COVID-19 recovery aid to hundreds of thousands businesses and nonprofits, already received the Senate's initial OK on Wednesday. Seven Democrats joined all Republicans present in voting 34-13 for the bill on Thursday.

The bill now heads to the House, where action isn't expected. Rather, the Senate will insert the package in its state government budget plan later this month and negotiate it with the House after that chamber approves a competing tax and spending proposal.

The Senate plan would reduce the individual income tax rate of 5.25% to 4.99% next year, and increase the amount of income not subject to taxes for all filers by increasing the standard and per-child deductions. The corporate rate - currently the lowest among those states that have such a tax at 2.5% - would start falling in 2024.

Democrats opposing the bill say it would give tax breaks to out-of-state corporations and high wage-earners that don't need them.

2:15 p.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper announced a new executive order that will be in effect until July 30.

Some pandemic restrictions have been lifted but the State of Emergency remains in place.

Cooper announced on Friday that the following measures will also remain for now:
  • State Evictions Prohibitions
  • Face covering requirements in certain settings such as public transportation, schools, health care and childcare facilities, in accordance with CDC guidance
  • Unemployment Insurance flexibility


"We are seeing tremendous improvement with fewer cases, hospitalizations, deaths and safety restrictions, but this is no time to hang up a "Mission Accomplished" banner in our fight against the pandemic," said Cooper said in a statement. "We are laser focused on getting more shots in arms, boosting our economy and protecting unvaccinated people from the virus and this Executive Order is essential for those efforts."

12:20 p.m.

425 new COVID-19 cases were reported in North Carolina on Friday.

The percent of positive tests in the state is at 1.6%.

535 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

19 more deaths were reported Friday.

9:30 a.m.
Leaders from the Group of Seven industrialized nations meet to commit to share at least 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses with struggling countries.

Half of those 1 billion will come from the U.S. with another 100 million from the U.K.

U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are leading the push.

6:30 a.m.
The NC Hops Festival returns to the NC State Fairgrounds this weekend.

The festival features craft drinks from North Carolina vendors, live music, food trucks and local artisans.

A ticket for a 4-hour tasting session costs $45; designated drivers can get in for $10.

Tickets can be purchased here.

Friday morning headlines
A new executive order is expected to come from Gov. Roy Cooper's office sometime today.

Cooper hinted that his updated executive order will have to do with his state of emergency declaration. That state of emergency allows North Carolina to use federal money and get vaccine doses more quickly.

That comes a day after the governor announced a vaccine lottery which will pay out $1 million to four vaccinated North Carolina adults and four $125,000 college scholarships to teens.

"This is your shot at a million. Regardless of who wins, there's no way to lose," Cooper said. "A chance at a million dollars is pretty good motivation. But even if your name isn't drawn, the worst you'll do is get strong protection from a deadly virus."

WATCH: Duke professor explains why cash incentives for vaccinations work
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North Carolina's financial incentive plan is similar to the one in Ohio, which led to a large increase in vaccinations.

Copyright © 2021 ABC11-WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved - The Associated Press contributed to this report.