570 workers test positive for COVID-19 at Wilkesboro Tyson Foods plant

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

What can we help you with? View our COVID-19 information and resources page here



9:20 p.m.
Tyson Foods announced of 2,244 team members and contractors tested at the Wilkesboro facility, 570 tested positive. The majority did not show symptoms.

6:10 p.m.
Durham County officials said there are 1,131 COVID-19 cases, up 26 from Tuesday. There were two more coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the total of deaths to 43 county-wide.

Lee County announced 20 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 343. The county has reported three total deaths county-wide.

5 p.m.
Governor Roy Cooper on Wednesday announced another step toward North Carolina's reopening plan and signed a new Executive Order easing on such businesses restrictions on restaurants and salons.

Read more about that here.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen explained that while North Carolina is in a good spot with many of its key indicators, the continued increase of daily cases is concerning.

"The virus is here in our communities across the state," Cohen said. "I would have liked to see this trend starting to level, but it has not done that."

More specifically, COVID-like syndromic ER visits--an early indicator of case load in the state--has been steadily decreasing. The percentage of positive tests out of total tests was decreasing and is now level. Though hospitalizations have spiked in the last two days, they are mostly level and Cohen said the state has the capacity to treat more patients should cases spike.

Cohen also commended the recent increases in number of tests completed each day and the 152 new contact tracers employed across the state. However, while Cohen said the indicators showed the state was ready to move to phase 2, the increased number of new cases shows the step must be more measured than previously expected.

Cooper and Cohen reminded local governments and business owners that the recommendations in phase 2 are minimum requirements--local governments and individual establishments can do more to protect their citizens.

Cooper also reminded North Carolinians that face coverings allow people to protect others if they have the virus and don't know it yet.

"A face covering signifies strength and compassion for others," Cooper said. "Wearing one shows you care about other people's health."

3:30 p.m.
The town of Garner canceled its in-person Independence Day celebration due to COVID-19 concerns, scheduling a virtual program instead.

Though the usual July 3 event features fireworks, food vendors, kids activites and performances by the North Carolina Symphony, this year, the town plans to work with Show N Tell Ministries to produce a television program featuring Broadway performers, the 82nd Airborne Band, a Salute to the Troops and speeches from Mayor Ken Marshburn and members of the town council. An airplane will also fly over the town in a loop displaying a banner with an Independence Day message.

Fireworks may be rescheduled for a later date.

Garner is the second municipality in Wake County to rethink its July 4 plans. Yesterday, the City of Raleigh canceled its celebration.

3:00 p.m.
Sampson County reported 35 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the county total to 302 positive tests.

Officials said the increased number of cases is due to a mass testing event held Saturday. Of 1,285 total tests performed in the county, 529 are still pending results. One person has died from COVID-19 in Sampson County.

Halifax County reported nine more COVID-19 cases, for a county total of 137 cases. One person has died from COVID-19 in Halifax County. Approximately 87 people are presumed to have recovered from the disease in the county.

Neither Halifax County nor Sampson County have permanent COVID-19 testing locations within the county, according to NCDHHS.



11 a.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is reporting 11 more deaths and 422 more cases since Tuesday. That brings the total number in the state to 20,122 cases and 702 deaths.

Hospitalizations, which had been higher than normal earlier in the week, decreased on Wednesday by 11. There are now 554 people currently hospitalized due to COVID-19.

RELATED: Why you might see different numbers of COVID-19 cases depending where you look

Other data was not immediately available because the NCDHHS rolled out a new dashboard that is not working properly.

HOW ARE WE DOING?
As the state looks to go through the phases of reopening, officials are looking to meet certain benchmarks.
Here's how we're doing on some of those:
Decrease in percent of positive tests? The percent of positive tests has remained roughly level over the past 7-days, though there have been spikes. Today, 6% of cases were positive, with an average of 8% over the last 7 and 14 days.
Hospitalizations decreasing? Hospitalizations hit their highest level since the outbreak began in March on Tuesday but decreased on Wednesday. The number of occupied beds out of total available beds remains roughly level, however, only 26% of inpatient beds and 19% of ICU beds are currently available.
Testing capacity? The state exceeded its testing goal Wednesday with 12,595 tests. The state goal is between 5,000 and 7,000 tests daily. The weekly average has been increasing over the last two weeks. There have only been three days in May where the state did not reach its testing goal.
Contract tracers? The state still only has 250 but has recently hired 152 more through the Carolina Community Tracing Collaborative.
PPE Supplies? The state is still trying to source surgical gowns.

WEDNESDAY MORNING STORYLINES

For the first time in months, North Carolinians may be able to eat at a restaurant or make a hair appointment this weekend. It's possible that the state will move into Phase 2 of the reopening process on Friday at 5 p.m. Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to announce details on starting Phase 2 Wednesday at 5 p.m. ABC11 will air a press briefing with Cooper and the state's Coronavirus Task Force on-air and online.

Under Phase 2, restaurants, bars, houses of worship and entertainment venues can open with reduced capacities and strict safety protocols. Gatherings of more than 10 people will be allowed. Restrictions on nursing homes and congregate living facilities are still in effect.

On Tuesday, the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association released a list of guidelines and recommendations that businesses will have to follow when the state moves into Phase 2. Gyms will also be allowed to open under restrictions.

Wake County will soon give parents a better idea on how to plan for the next school year. Proposed school calendars for the 2020-2021 traditional school year will add five school days to the calendar with an additional five remote learning days. The school board is expected to vote on the proposals on June 2.

A new program titled "Wake Forward" will provide loans of up to $50,000 to small businesses in Wake County that have up to 100 employees. The program begins Wednesday at noon as small business owners can apply for financial relief after COVID-19 devastated businesses.

Triangle Town Center will open Thursday at 11 a.m. The mall will be open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon until 6 p.m.

Wednesday afternoon, UNC-Chapel Hill professor Steven King will appear on the ABC News show "Pandemic: What you need to know." King will explain how he created a virtual reality experience to keep his students in classrooms as remote learning began. The program will air on ABC11 at 1 p.m.

TUESDAY
10 p.m.
Dan O'Neill, the Senior Director of Business Operations for the Houston Astros said even with revenue loss, the Fayetteville Woodpeckers should be able to weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're going to have Woodpecker baseball, as soon as it's allowed by the governor and Minor League Baseball," O'Neill said.

7:45 p.m.
The school calendar for Wake County Public School System affects approximately 162,000 students in the district. On Tuesday, parents received messages about possible calendar changes in light of COVID-19 for traditional and year-round schools.

7:30 p.m.
The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association provided an early release of guidelines for restaurants, dated May 22, the earliest date that North Carolina may move into Phase 2.

Restaurants receive guidelines to protect customers, employees from COVID-19 during Phase 2 of reopening

7:25 p.m.
Durham County officials said there are 1,105 COVID-19 cases, up 65 from Monday. The county also confirmed two more COVID-19 deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 41 county-wide.

7:08 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department is aware of 743 confirmed tests performed on Halifax County residents. Of those, there are 128 positive cases, which includes one death and 87 patients who have recovered.

5:20 p.m.

Cumberland County reports an additional 24 positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the county's total to 511.

The Health Department will begin offering drive-thru COVID-19 test collection on Tuesdays and Wednesdays starting May 20 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the parking lot of Manna Church at 5117 Cliffdale Road. Test collection will be conducted by appointment only. Walk-ins will not be accepted. An online self-assessment and appointment portal is posted on the Department's COVID-19 Testing and Collection webpage. Call the Health Department with questions at 910-433-3700.

3:30 p.m.

The Wake County Board of Commissioners voted today to allocate $5 million in federal funds to create a relief program called Wake Forward.

Wake Forward will provide loans of up to $50,000 to small businesses in Wake County that have up to 100 employees.

"As our community has banded together to slow the spread of COVID-19, some of the biggest sacrifices have come from our local businesses," Board Chairman Greg Ford said. "We're all looking forward to getting back to business as usual, and Wake Forward will help companies keep the lights on until that day comes."
3:15 p.m.
The City of Raleigh announced it would cancel its annual July 4 fireworks display.
2:45 p.m.
In a news conference, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said COVID-19 trends in North Carolina seem largely stable--an indication that the state could be ready to move into Phase 2 on Friday.
"They are largely stable, not perfect, but largely stable," Cohen said.

Though COVID-19 hospitalizations reached an all time high of 585 patients, Cohen explained in the larger context of available hospital beds, this number is still considered level with previous days. According to the NCDHHS dashboard, the state ciurrently has 719 available ICU beds out of 3,223 total beds and 5,913 available inpatient beds out of 19,305 total beds. Currently, 747 patients are on ventilators in hospitals, out of 3,464 available ventilators.

If the state moves into phase 2 of reopening, businesses designated as more "high-risk" for spreading the virus--including hair salons and restaurants--would be allowed to open. Cohen addressed several questions about both industries, urging business owners not to break Gov. Roy Cooper's stay-at-home order to reopen and potentially put customers at risk.

To the point of restaurants, Cohen added that restaurant patrons must remove their face coverings to eat or drink, putting them at increased risk of spreading the virus.

"We want folks to be making good decisions to protect not just themselves but their community," Cohen said. "The fact that you can transmit this virus and not even know about it is a really hard and challenging part of COVID-19."

Cohen also said the state is still working to hire more contact tracers, but commended those currently working to track down those who may have been exposed to COVID-19. She said local health departments are still working out what strategies work best to connect with people on the first try, allowing contact tracers to move more quickly.

"We want people to know these are trusted local health officials," Cohen said, encouraging North Carolinians to follow up with contact tracers.

While she could not specify how many more contact tracers the state would need, Cohen said local health departments are learning lessons from other states and their own processes as they move forward.

2:40 p.m.
The Sampson County Health Department reported 10 new cases, which brings the county total to 267 positive cases of COVID-19.

2 p.m.
Dr. Mandy Cohen on Tuesday clarified the new COVID-19 numbers for the state of North Carolina. The dashboard was not appropriately updated Tuesday morning and the website was not working properly at 11 a.m., when the numbers are normally released.

The total number of cases in the state is now 19,700. That's up 677 cases from Monday. The state is now reporting 691 deaths. That's up 30 from Monday.

12:30 p.m.
The Bureau of Prisons has confirmed an eighth inmate death from COVID-19 at Butner correctional institution. There have been 56 cases among the medium-security prison's inmates.

11 a.m.
At least 62 percent of the deaths in the state are associated with congregate care facilities.

Currently, 585 people are hospitalized with severe complications due to COVID-19, an increase of 74 people. This marks the highest number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 on any given day since March.

There are now 1,765 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 26 outbreaks at meat-processing plants in the following North Carolina counties: Bertie, Bladen, Burke, Chatham, Duplin, Hoke, Lee, Lenoir, Randolph, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson, Surry, Union, Wayne, Wilkes and Wilson.

Mecklenburg, Forsyth and Guilford counties have seen the most cases in the last two weeks. Orange(18), Henderson(17) and Durham(15) counties have seen the most new deaths in the last two weeks.

RELATED: Why you might see different numbers of COVID-19 cases depending where you look

HOW ARE WE DOING?
As the state looks to go through the phases of reopening, officials are looking to meet certain benchmarks.

Here's how we're doing on some of those:
Decrease in percent of positive tests? Of the tests and cases reported Tuesday, only 5% were positive, a decrease from 7% on Monday. The percent of positive tests has remained roughly level over the past 7-days, though there have been spikes.
Hospitalizations decreasing? Hospitalizations hit their highest level since the outbreak began in March Tuesday with 21 more than the day before. However, the number of occupied beds out of total available beds remains roughly level. State health leaders will need to watch these numbers for a spike.
Testing capacity? The state met its testing goal, with 9,253 more tests reported Tuesday. The state goal is between 5,000 and 7,000 tests daily. The weekly average has been increasing over the last two weeks.
Contract tracers? The state still only has 250 and is working to double this workforce to 500.
PPE Supplies? The state is still trying to source surgical gowns.

10:10 a.m.
More than 900,000 people in North Carolina have now filed for unemployment benefits in the 65 days since the COVID-19 outbreak started causing businesses to close.

Another 18,136 claims were filed Monday, bringing the total number of claims to 1,221,374. However, some of those claims are duplicates. The state said 907,257 people have filed for benefits.

The state has paid out $2,265,585,877 to 549,445 people. That's 60 percent of the people who have filed.

Department of Employment Security said it has seen a 5,000 percent surge in claims since the pandemic started. That has overwhelmed the department's resources, but here is how it is working to catch up.

10 a.m.
Lenoir County reports two more COVID-19 deaths.

The counties health department announced Monday morning that two people over the age of 65 with underlying medical conditions had died from the virus.

The deaths mark the sixth and seventh fatalities in Lenoir County from COVID-19.

"My thoughts and prayers are with the families dealing with these tragedies," LCHD Director Pamela Brown said.

7:45 a.m.
More details shed light on how NCDOT will move forward with furloughs.

The department said it has lost an estimated $300 million in revenue due to the coronavirus outbreak. To offset that revenue loss it will require all of its employees to temporarily reduce their hours.

The first phase of the furloughs began May 16. In that phase, executive leadership must reduce their schedule by 30 hours before June 26.

The second phase of the furloughs begins May 23. In that phase, senior leadership must reduce their schedule by 25 hours before June 26.

The third and final phase of the furloughs begins on May 30. In that phase, all employees must reduce their schedule by 20 hours before June 26.

Employees are not allowed to take more than 8 furlough hours in any one week. Managers are responsible for staggering the furloughs in a way that will allow NCDOT to continue to operate with as little interruptions as possible.

TUESDAY MORNING HEADLINES

All eyes are on Friday, May 22. That is the first day North Carolina is eligible to enter Phase 2 of its plan to reopen the state amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday he was "hopeful" the state would continue to meet public health goals so he could roll back some of the restrictions currently in place. However, he warned that public health would remain his top priority.

The state announced Monday that 2,522 more people recovered from COVID-19 last week. That brings the total number of recovered to 11,637. Meanwhile, the state has had 19,023 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases resulting in 661 deaths.

Two area hospitals are offering free COVID-19 antibody testing to volunteers who donate blood Thursday. More details here.

NC Department of Transportation will furlough nearly all of its employees in phases over the next several weeks. The department said the pandemic has cost the department $300 million in revenues. Because of that, the employees will be furloughed at different times from now through June.

President Donald Trump announced Monday he was taking the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine.

The drug has been used in an experimental fashion in hospitals on some patients with COVID-19. However, the FDA has warned that the drug has serious side effects and has not been proven to prevent COVID-19.

The president also took to Twitter on Monday to threaten the World Health Organization--an ongoing threat the president has turned to as part of his criticism of the international organization's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

WHO said later Monday that it would accept an independent investigation into its handling of the pandemic.
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