UNC-Chapel Hill 'cautiously optimistic' but preparing for normal return to classrooms in the Fall, chancellor says

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

Q&A: Will the AstraZeneca vaccine ever come to the U.S?
EMBED More News Videos

ABC News Medical Contributor Dr. Darien Sutton answers questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.



5:30 p.m.
With more than 1,200 students set to become alumni, Fayetteville State University plans to hold its spring 2021 commencement in person on May 8.

The event will be held at the Luther "Nick" Jeralds Stadium on FSU campus.

The university promises that COVID-19 protocols will be followed and commencement will be held rain or shine.

For more details on the spring 2021 commencement, check here.

4:38 p.m.
Granville Health System is offering a COVID-19 vaccination clinic Friday where first doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be given.

Everyone 16 years and older who wants a vaccine is eligible and the event will run from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. in the parking lot of Granville Primary Care & OB/GYN, 110 Professional Park Drive in Oxford on the campus of Granville Medical Center.

Appointments can be made by visiting this website and clicking at the red bar at the top of the page.

1 p.m.
In a call, UNC Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz said UNC-Chapel Hill is "cautiously optimistic" but is planning for a return for an on-campus working environment for staff by mid-summer.

"If we do this by mid-July it gives us a month out before students return to campus in mid-August for in-person classroom teaching and really to restore the on-campus residential environment that everyone has been craving," he said.

A decision has not been made yet on re-entry testing.

As far as the Fall goes?

"We should be and can be preparing a normal return to classroom environment with the likelihood of still wearing masks as an extra precaution," he said.

He added: "As of residential living, we are preparing to be close to normal capacity. We may keep at least one residence hall, maybe two available for isolation/quarantine."

12:30 p.m.
NCDHHS reported 2,087 new COVID-19 cases in the state, a jump of more than 700 from Wednesday's tally.

In all, 1,004 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in North Carolina. Wednesday marked the first time since March 16 that the state's daily hospitalizations topped 1,000.

The percent of positive tests is at 5.1 percent, a significant drop from 6.7% the previous day.

31.1 of the population of the state is partially vaccinated. 21.5 percent is fully vaccinated.

12:21 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department reports 15 new cases for a total of 5,298 positive COVID-19 cases. One additional death was added, bringing the county total to 106 -- 2% of cases.

12 p.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released findings from recent public opinion research on COVID-19 vaccine risks, rewards and vaccination motivations across the state.

1,290 NC residents were involved in the survey.

Nearly seven in ten North Carolinians surveyed either have gotten vaccinated, have an appointment, or say they definitely or probably will. Up from 60% in November.

Six in ten said they would advise their friends to get their COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is their turn - double the number from November.

Risk perceptions of the COVID-19 vaccine have dropped significantly since November 2020. Top concerns continue to be potentially harmful side effects and not wanting to be a test case to find out if the vaccine is ok for others.

Biggest concerns among the unvaccinated who have lower intent to get a COVID-19 vaccine are potential side effects, lack of sufficient testing and understanding of how it works.

11:05 a.m.
Students at Broughton High School were excited to get back into the classroom Thursday.

"I got my first vaccine already and I'm waiting on my second one. I think it's going to be a good rest of my senior year," Ryan Kilbride said.

For the first time in more than a year, these students were taking in lessons together in the same room with each other and their teachers.

"It was interesting to see the crowds come back in the room and the building," English teacher Bill Schmidt said. "There's really been very few people in the hallway and this morning was kind of like this is what school is supposed to feel like."

Obviously, health and safety measures remained in place--making the day not totally what students remember from the last time they were all in school.

For example, all of the tables in the cafeteria had been removed and replaced with desks. The desks made it so students would all be facing the same direction and not congregating in large groups during lunch--which is one of the few times they can remove their masks.

Despite the changes, the excitement was still clear. Students and teachers all seem ready to finish the school year strong.

9 a.m.
The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week to 744,000, signaling that many employers are still cutting jobs even as more people are vaccinated against COVID-19, consumers gain confidence and the government distributes aid throughout the economy.

The Labor Department said Thursday that applications increased by 16,000 from 728,000 a week earlier. Jobless claims have declined sharply since the virus slammed into the economy in March of last year. But they remain high by historical standards: Before the pandemic erupted, weekly applications typically remained below 220,000 a week.

THURSDAY MORNING HEADLINES
The majority of middle and high school students in Wake County are headed back to their classroom full-time starting today.

It's been more than a year since these students were inside a school building on a regular basis, and there will be some changes in store.

Social distancing is still encouraged but with larger numbers of students, it can be a challenge at times. Students will be required to wear a face covering at all times.

SEE ALSO | Children now playing 'huge role' in spread of COVID-19 variant, expert says

Students will not go through on-site COVID-19 screenings. School leaders ask parents to do those screenings at home and to not let children go to school if they are not feeling well or if they have been exposed to COVID-19 recently.

More students are returning to classrooms in Durham today also.

Middle and high school students at Durham Public Schools start a hybrid learning model where they will be in the classroom two days a week on a rotation.

In Cumberland County, public school students will begin (almost) full-time in person learning Monday. All students will be able to go to class every day except Wednesday.

Wednesday will remain an at-home learning day for all Cumberland County Schools students.

Meanwhile, the University of North Carolina will have a committee meeting Thursday morning to discuss plans for the fall semester.

WEDNESDAY
4:50 p.m.
El Futuro has partnered with Carolina Blue Pharmacy to begin offering COVID-19 vaccinations to members of the community.

The campaign will start with a small vaccine clinic Sunday, April 11 at 4 p.m. at El Futuro's Durham clinic, located at 2020 Chapel Hill Drive, Suite 23.

4:45 p.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper joined bipartisan legislative leaders to release a PSA urging North Carolinians to get COVID vaccines now that all adults are eligible for vaccinations. The Governor joined House Speaker Tim Moore, Rep. Robert Reives, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and Senator Dan Blue in advocating for vaccinations.



"North Carolina has a vaccine distribution plan that gets shots into arms quickly and equitably and we remain focused on continuing to slow the spread of the virus," Cooper said. "In order for our state to turn the corner on this pandemic, we must come together and ensure that every adult gets their COVID-19 vaccine."

2:45 p.m.
A variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain is now the most common strain circulating in the United States.

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, says the strain, formally known as B.1.1.7, is "now the most common lineage circulating in United States."

The strain has been shown to be more transmissible and infectious among younger Americans, which Walensky says contributed to rising case counts in recent weeks.

Walensky says new outbreaks have been tied to youth sports and day care centers. She particularly encouraged states with rising caseloads to curtail or suspend youth sport activities to slow the spread of the virus.

The U.S. leads the world with 30.8 million confirmed cases and more than 556,000 confirmed deaths.

2:38 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department reports six new cases for a total of 5,283 positive COVID 19 cases. In all, 105 people have died of COVID-19 complications in the county since the start of the pandemic.

2:30 p.m.
The U.S. government says more than a half million Americans have already taken advantage of the Biden administration's special health insurance sign-up window that's tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The numbers released Wednesday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show that 528,005 people newly signed up for government-sponsored private plans from Feb. 15 to Mar. 31.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates about 3 million people lost coverage because of the pandemic. Some experts estimate numbers in the range of 5 million to 10 million.

The government anticipates even more consumers will gain coverage in coming months. That's because millions of people recently became eligible for pumped-up taxpayer subsidies toward their premiums under President Joe Biden's coronavirus relief legislation.

Biden reopened the law's heath insurance markets as a backstop from job losses during the pandemic. The virus aid package helped delivered a health insurance price cut by making taxpayer subsidies more generous and allowed more people to qualify for financial assistance.

2 p.m.
Nearly half of new coronavirus infections nationwide are in just five states - a situation that is putting pressure on the federal government to consider changing how it distributes vaccines by sending more doses to hot spots.

New York, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey together reported 44% of the nation's new COVID-19 infections.

That's nearly 197,500 new cases in the latest available seven-day period. Total U.S. infections during the same week numbered more than 452,000. So far, the White House has shown no signs of shifting from its policy of dividing vaccine doses among states based on population.

1 p.m.
As many as one in three people infected with Covid-19 have longer term mental health or neurological symptoms, researchers reported Tuesday.

They found 34% of Covid-19 survivors received a diagnosis for a neurological or psychological condition within six months of their infection, according to the study published Tuesday in the journal Lancet Psychiatry.

12:10 p.m.
North Carolina health officials are reporting 1,380 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday morning.

The state is reporting a 6.7% positive test rate.

There are currently 1,025 COVID-19 patients throughout North Carolina hospitals. That is up 43 from Tuesday.

There have been 23 more deaths due to the virus. This brings the total number of COVID-19 deaths in North Carolina to 12,212.

According to NCDHHS, 38.9% of the state's adult population is at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19 and 26.6% of the adult population is fully vaccinated against the virus.

12 p.m.
Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Durham opened its doors to provide a safe and accessible place for people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Hundreds of people, many of whom just became eligible to receive the vaccine, arrived at the church Wednesday.

"I actually was tagged in a post that was shared on Instagram, so I just quickly hopped on it because it's very hard to find appointments in Durham actively," Sylvia Shackleford said. "I was like, 'If I don't have to drive an hour, and it's in a community I'm used to, why not?'"

Ian Meldrum is just 16 years old, but he was in line Wednesday morning ready to roll up his sleeve to get vaccinated.

"It makes me feel a little bit special, and getting the shot will be good," he said.

Mount Vernon Baptist Church Pastor Jerome Washington said he has registered people to vote at the church and taught people how to read at the church, so why not get them vaccinated there too?

11 a.m.
A new report released by the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices said North Carolina's work to reach underserved and historically marginalized populations to deliver equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines is a model approach for the country.

The report highlights promising actions states can take to promote equitable vaccination with historically marginalized communities and reduce systemic barriers to vaccine access.

North Carolina's approach has been called "fast and fair."

"Our commitment to equitable vaccine distribution is one piece of our continued work to address and dismantle systemic and structural barriers to health equity," said NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy K. Cohen. "By embedding equity into all aspects of our COVID-19 response and maximizing the speed and efficiency of vaccine distribution, we've consistently been a national leader in equitably getting shots into arms."

In the report, North Carolina is showcased for:

  • Increasing vaccine supply allotments for counties with larger populations from historically marginalized communities, particularly when the state was focused on vaccinating people 65 and older.

  • Prioritizing community-based vaccination approaches such as funding community health workers and enabling community-based organizations to host mass vaccine events, which builds trust in vaccines and increases access to them within historically marginalized communities.

  • Removing systematic barriers to vaccine access, such as transportation. North Carolina allocated $2.5 million to local transit authorities to offset public transportation costs for North Carolinians to get to and from their vaccine appointments.
    The CDC ranked North Carolina in the top 10 for equitable vaccine coverage.


8:30 a.m.
Just 20 minutes after opening, a vaccination clinic in Johnston County announced it was out of vaccine doses.

The clinic is located at North Johnston High School. It's unclear how many doses the clinic started with this morning. Still, the clinic organizers said they saw a dramatic increase in demand on the first day of all adults being eligible to receive the vaccine.

WEDNESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
All adults in North Carolina are now eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Nearly 39 percent of adults in the state are at least partially vaccinated. Nearly 26 percent are fully vaccinated.

The state announce it expects to receive more vaccine doses this week, which will be helpful as more people are likely to be looking for an appointment. The state expects to receive 600,000 new doses this week--including 150,000 of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

UNC Health's Dr. David Wohl said people seeking a vaccine may need perseverance--especially in the next couple weeks. Despite an increase in vaccine doses available, there still are not enough doses to go around for everybody.

Wohl said he suggests trying a few different organizations (for example: your local health department, your local pharmacy, etc.).

Wake County Public School System announced Tuesday it would no longer be doing on-site COVID-19 screenings. Instead, parents are asked to do the screenings at home.

This follows other North Carolina districts making the same change on the heels of new guidance from state health experts.

WCPSS is also making plans to extend the virtual academy option through next school year. Right now, the district is expected to make families who want to stay in virtual academy make a year long commitment.

"It would be easier if it's a semester commitment than a full year," school board member Dr. Jim Martin said. "We're giving parents a kind of no-win decision to make right now."

The registration window for next year's virtual academy will open at the end of April.

TUESDAY
10 p.m.
UNC Health said the Friday Center will administer 1,800 shots Wednesday.

Dr. Wohl continues to encourage persistence to those having issues getting a vaccination appointment.

"We need adults vaccinated by the end of May if not sooner," said UNC's Dr. David Wohl. "I feel for people: I'm frustrated people have to wait on phone lines for a long time, I wish we had a better system across the state."

Why doctors are encouraging younger people to get vaccinated as Group 5 begins in North Carolina

6:20 p.m.
The Wake County Public Schools System is making changes to on-site health screenings beginning this week.

This week, schools will begin placing signs at main entrances and other common gathering areas such as gyms and auditoriums, telling students, staff, and visitors to stay home if they suspect they may be infected or exposed to COVID-19.

There will also be reminders during daily announcements, in principals' messages to families, and during athletic and extracurricular activities.

Starting Wednesday, April 7, schools will no longer conduct on-site health screenings.

5:30 p.m.
The Wake School Board is meeting and planning a virtual academy in some form for the next school year.

There are no orders from Gov. Roy Cooper that any school districts must offer virtual options for the 2021-22 school year, but Wake County officials said they want to plan for such contingencies.

Wake County school officials will share more with families on April 9 addressing possible dates for a 2021-2022 virtual academy registration window.

While a registration window ending in early May will seem early for some families, school officials said information is needed to ensure schools have time to create master schedules and hire the appropriate staff.

Get more details in the video below:
EMBED More News Videos

The Wake School Board is meeting and planning a virtual academy in some form for the next school year.



2 p.m.
NCDHHS on Tuesday released its latest county alert system map. It was the first map with no red counties.

One county is in green for the first time, meaning low impact.

31 counties are in light yellow, meaning moderate impact.

1:30 p.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper gave an update Tuesday on the state's COVID-19 response.

Cooper started by noting that as of Tuesday, North Carolina has had 923,430 total cases with 870 new cases reported since Monday.

In all, 982 people are hospitalized -- 75 more than the previous day -- and 12,189 people have died in North Carolina, including 16 newly reported deaths.

Cooper said his focus continues to be getting North Carolinians vaccinated.

"The most common side effect is pure joy," Cooper said. "I've seen that relief and sparkle in people's eyes at every vaccination clinic I have visited."

At least 25.7% of NC adults are fully vaccinated, Cooper said. At least 38.4% of residents 18 and older are at least partially vaccinated.

"We are so close, and every day counts," the governor added. "Every time we wear a mask makes a difference. Every person who gets a shot makes our whole state safer and healthier and helps move our economy forward. If we all do our part, we can put this pandemic in the rearview mirror once and for all."

He also said he will be announcing soon what the state can expect this summer in terms of restrictions.

Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said the state's key COVID metrics have plateaued.

COVID syndromic cases seen in the emergency room are close to baseline, COVID cases since February have leveled, the percent of positive tests is level and so is the number of hospitalizations.

10:50 a.m.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded North Carolina more than $94 million.

The money is earmarked to help the state increase vaccine access--specifically by targeting programs that ensure greater equity and access to groups disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

The award is part of $3 billion in funding the CDC sent to different areas to increase distribution, access and acceptance of vaccines.

"We are doing everything we can to expand access to vaccinations," said CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH. "Millions of Americans are getting vaccinated every day, but we need to ensure that we are reaching those in the communities hit hardest by this pandemic. This investment will support state and local health departments and community-based organizations as they work on the frontlines to increase vaccine access, acceptance, and uptake."

10:15 a.m.
According to NCDHHS, this week North Carolina expects to receive 216,030 first doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine and 149,800 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine allocated to the state to be further allocated to providers. Allocations to federal programs are not included in that total.

The nearly 150,000 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson are a large increase from 58,000 the week before.

9:25 a.m.
Duke University said its COVID-19 positive rate is down to 0.14%.

The university tested nearly 19,000 faculty, staff and students between March 29 and April 4. Only 30 of those tests came back positive.

That's a steep decline from a few weeks ago when the university issued a stay-in-place order and reported 218 tests in one week

In addition, the university said all students, faculty and staff have been offered an opportunity to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

9:10 a.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper moved up his planned COVID-19 briefing Tuesday.

The governor will now start at 1:30 p.m. instead of 2 p.m. ABC11 will still broadcast his update on television and on our digital platforms.

9:05 a.m.
President Joe Biden is set to announce that he's shaving about two weeks off his May 1 deadline for states to make all adults eligible for coronavirus vaccines.

A White House official says Biden will make the announcement later Tuesday.

With states gradually expanding eligibility beyond such priority groups as seniors and essential, front-line workers, the president plans to announce that every adult in the U.S. will be eligible to be vaccinated by April 19. That's about two weeks earlier than Biden's original May 1 deadline. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Biden's plans before the formal announcement.

9 a.m.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on cleaning and disinfecting everyday household surfaces, saying that in "most situations" with no known coronavirus exposure, a thorough scrub with soap and water will suffice -- rather than disinfectant sprays and wipes -- to ward off COVID-19, ABC News reported.

TUESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Variants of COVID-19 are putting children at a higher risk of contracting and spreading the virus.

That comes as many schools in North Carolina are bringing more children back into the classroom. For example, Lee County Schools welcome back elementary students today; middle and high school students will return next Monday.

Health leaders are urging schools to stay on top of property safety measures, such as masks and social distancing--especially since most students are too young to get vaccinated.

However, students 16 or older will be eligible to get vaccinated starting tomorrow. Some county health departments and health care groups have already opened sign ups, so check with your local provider to see if you can get in line to be vaccinated.

WATCH | Vaccination eligibility opens up for those 16 and older in some North Carolina counties, but will they get it?
EMBED More News Videos

Doctor Brenda Weis, the Wayne County Health Director, said that this next stage of eligible people will be much more hesitant or just not interested in getting a vaccine.



A little more than 25 percent of adults in North Carolina are fully vaccinated, and more than 38 percent are partially vaccinated.

Initial research into the vaccines shows they are holding up well against many of the circulating variants of COVID-19. However, experts said vigilance is needed for a least a little while longer.

"We are not out of the woods yet, and there's a very real possibility or probability of a fourth surge if you will, that may be starting in the Midwest and parts of the country now and could come to North Carolina," Duke University Hospital President Dr. Thomas Owens warned.

Gov. Roy Cooper is scheduled to give a COVID-19 update at 2 p.m. You can watch him live on ABC11 and in the ABC11 North Carolina app on your smart television.

MONDAY
3:35 p.m.
Lee County officials said 61 more COVID-19 cases have been reported since last Monday. Since the pandemic began, 5,728 Lee County residents tested positive for the virus.

2:17 p.m.
Across UNC Health, clinics have received nearly 21,000 first doses to give out this week, including 8,900 at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill. Those totals are the highest weekly allocations since the system started providing vaccines in January.

There are still some available for this week.

UNC Health has now administered more than 300,000 doses across all clinics.

1:17 p.m.
The latest COVID-19 numbers by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services show 1,054 newly reported cases -- nearly half of Thursday's reported number of cases, but the 6.0% daily percent positive has increased.

There are 907 people hospitalized, that's 78 fewer people than Thursday, and 37 additional deaths were reported, bringing the death toll in North Carolina to 12,173.

The numbers show that 38.4% of adults in the state are at least partially vaccinated, and 25.2% are fully vaccinated.

1:10 p.m.
Across UNC Health, its clinics have received nearly 21,000 first doses to give out this week, including 8,900 at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill. Those totals are the highest weekly allocations since UNC Health started providing vaccines in January.

Appointments for Group 5 are opening starting Wednesday at YourShot.org. There are still some available this week as of 1 p.m.

UNC Health has administered more than 300,000 doses across all its clinics.

1:09 p..m.
Sampson County reports 46 new cases since April 1 for a total of 7,599 positive cases.

The death coll remains at 101 countywide.

The Sampson County Health Department has several vaccination opportunities scheduled for April. For each event, first-dose vaccinations are available for those 18 and older who have not had any vaccine within 14 days of the event.

There will be an event Wednesday from noon to 8 p.m. at the Sampson County Expo Center, 414 Warsaw Road, Clinton; an event April 14 from 8 a.m. to noon for first and second doses at Union High School, 1189 Kader Merritt Road, Rose Hill; and an event April 17 from 8 a.m. to noon at Royal Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, 7660 Ivanhoe Road, Ivanhoe.

12:33 p.m.
Rural Health Group at their Halifax Medical Specialists (HMS) location, 270 Smith Church Road in Roanoke Rapids, will offer first-dose Moderna vaccine to all groups every Monday and Tuesday during April. The vaccination is available to anyone 18 and older. Registration is required to ensure adequate seating and vaccine supply.

Click here to register,

Drugco Pharmacy will offer first and doses for all groups by online registration only. All its vaccine clinics will be held at Kirkwood Adams Community Center, 1100 Hamilton St., Roanoke Rapids.

To schedule a second-dose appointment with Drugco for Moderna vaccine for Monday-Wednesday, click here

To schedule a first-dose appointment with Drugco for the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday click here.

To schedule an appointment with Drugco for the Johnson and Johnson (J&J) vaccine for Friday, click here.

6:25 a.m.
Children are now getting and transmitting COVID-19 at a higher rate than previously thought.

That is being blamed on a spreading variant of the virus that was first identified in the United Kingdom.

The B.1.1.7 variant has already caused problems in schools in Minnesota and sent more children to the hospital in Michigan.

One epidemiologist said it's time to rethink previous guidance about children going back to school.

MONDAY MORNING HEADLINES

This is a big week in the push to return to normal after more than a year of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some Wake County students in 6-12th grades head back to classrooms full-time. On Thursday, all students on the traditional calendar return to the classroom.

This comes as North Carolina is set to make COVID-19 vaccines available to anybody over the age of 16. That is scheduled to happen Wednesday.

A brand new mass vaccination clinic opens in Northeast Raleigh today. Wake County Health Department is turning a location that has performed free COVID-19 testing into a place to administer COVID-19 vaccinations.

The location at 5809 Departure Drive has conducted more than 70,000 COVID-19 tests in the last five months. Now, it will pivot to vaccinating people against the virus it had been testing for.

The testing clinic will move across the street to the parking lot of Vision Church RDU

At the Fort Bragg Fairgrounds, anyone 16 or older will be able to get their shot starting Tuesday--one day earlier than the rest of North Carolina.

You still must make an appointment online to get vaccinated.

All of this comes as health experts across the country warn that America could be on the brink of a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases.

"If we don't control covid-19, that gives the virus opportunities for new mutations to arise," Dr. Douglas Golenbock said. "Now is not the time to let our guard down."

With increased travel and relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, many states are reporting an increase in cases and hospitalizations.

"We're just at the beginning of this surge. We haven't even begun to see it yet," epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm said.

LAST WEEK
The Lee County Government Health Department reported that a county resident has died of COVID-19 related complications. This raises the total number of COVID-19 deaths confirmed in Lee County to 75 since the first case was reported last March.

"Please keep the family and friends of the individual in your thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time and join us in offering our condolences for the loss of a loved one," said Heath Cain, Director of the Lee County Health Department. "This is a sad reminder that COVID-19 is a serious illness that causes a significant number of those infected to become seriously ill. We ask everyone to consider getting vaccinated to protect yourself against COVID-19."

Vaccinations remain the strongest defense against the virus and everyone who is eligible is strongly encouraged to get vaccinated. The Lee County Health Department is now accepting registrations for the COVID-19 vaccine from Groups 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the NCDHHS vaccine rollout plan. This means anyone 18 and older (16 and older for Pfizer) is eligible to register for the vaccine.

To register for the COVID-19 vaccine, people may call (919) 842-5744 or to register in Spanish, (919) 718-4640 option 8. Calls will be accepted Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. through 4:30 p.m.

3 p.m.
The General Assembly gave unanimous approval to the "Summer Learning Choice for Families", also known as House Bill 82, which would require school districts to offer six weeks of learning recovery and enrichment after the school year ends.

The bill aims to "mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on at-risk students and to require the implementation of innovative benchmark assessments.

For students in kindergarten through third grade, in-person instruction would focus on reading and math. There would be more focused science instruction for third-grade students. For students in fourth through eighth grade, in-person instruction would focus on reading, math and science as well as at least one enrichment activity.

The bill is now headed to Gov. Roy Cooper's desk.

1 p.m.
2,027 new COVID-19 cases were reported by NCDHHS on Thursday.

985 people are currently hospitalized in the state with COVID-19.

113 confirmed patients were admitted in the last 24 hours.

The percent of positive tests in North Carolina is at 4.4.

18.3 percent of the total population of the state is fully vaccinated.

5:10 a.m.
Cary's Koka Booth Amphitheatre is reopening.

Scheduled events at the entertainment venue start today with the WakeMed Movies by Moonlight.

Koka Booth Amphitheatre will open with reduced capacity and pod seating. You will also be required to wear a mask and remain socially distant from other groups.

Get more information here.

THURSDAY MORNING HEADLINES
The deadline to decide if students will return to class or remain in virtual academy has arrived in Wake County.

Some students have been coping with virtual learning for more than a year, but this month they will all have the opportunity to return to full classrooms.

Parents of students in Wake County Public School System have no more time to weigh the options. They can finish the year in virtual academy or slide back into daily in-person learning. WCPSS said classrooms should be opened by April 19.

RELATED | UNC psychiatrist provides tips on how to to reenter a post-COVID world

Meanwhile, this is the first week in over a year that all areas of state parks are open.

Many of the trails at state parks have been open, but now the full resources are available for use.

"It was a really difficult time because not only were we trying to protect visitors but we're also trying to protect staff," State Parks Superintendent Jay Greenwood said.

This comes as the vaccine rollout continues on. North Carolina expects to receive 547,000 COVID-19 doses this week. That includes 168,000 Pfizer first doses, 91,000 Moderna first doses, and 59,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson.
Copyright © 2021 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.