Coronavirus NC: Gov. Cooper creates group to increase COVID-19 testing, improve contact tracing

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Saturday, April 18, 2020
Coronavirus NC: Latest updates on COVID-19 in North Carolina
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Coronavirus NC: Latest updates on COVID-19 in North Carolina

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

9 p.m.

Johns Hopkins University said there are 699,706 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in the United States.

A total of 36,822 people have died and 58,587 are considered recovered.

8:45 p.m.

Wake County said it has 574 confirmed cases and three deaths attributed to COVID-19.

The average age of COVID-19 patients is 48 and 56 percent of those infected are female, the county said.

6:40 p.m.

Durham County reports 11 new positive cases of COVID-19 within the county, raising the total to 399.

The Durham County Department of Public Health has also confirmed the third COVID-19-related death within the county. Health officials said the resident was considered a 'high risk' individual since the person was over 65 years old and had multiple underlying health conditions.

The county continues to monitor outbreaks at three Durham long-term care facilities including 82 cases at Durham Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 11 at Treyburn Rehabilitation Center and four at Durham VA Healthcare System Community Nursing Home.

6:30 p.m.

The Durham City and County governments announced on Friday additional updates to the unified Durham Stay-At-Home Order.

The new guidelines require people to wear a clean face-covering any time they are or will be in contact with other people who are not household members in public or private spaces where it is not possible to maintain social distance such as grocery stores, pharmacies, business locations and public transit.

While face coverings are required, no one will be removed from or denied entry to public transit for failure to wear a face covering.

READ MORE: Face mask requirement among new guidelines announced for Durham County, City stay-at-home order

5:30 p.m.

At least 115 COVID-19 cases have been reported in Johnston County, officials said in a news release. Of those patients, seven are in the hospital and 99 are recovering at home. Nine people have died from complications associated with the virus.

The county is currently monitoring two outbreaks.

At the Springbrook Rehabilitation & Nursing Center, 43 current or former residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and seven have died from the virus. Twenty staff members have tested positive, including 13 who live in Johnston County and seven who live outside the county.

At the Johnston Correctional Institute, three inmates and three staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.

5:10 p.m.

Lee County saw its largest single-day increase in the number of COVID-19 cases.

On Friday afternoon, the county reported a nine case increase of COVID-19, raising the county total of positive cases to 30. Seven of the cases have since returned to normal activities.

5 p.m.

Two Robeson County residents have died due to coronavirus-related complications. Officials said the first person, a 70-year-old man died in the hospital. The second person, a 69-year-old man, died in the hospital after being diagnosed on March 28 after visiting family members in a highly impacted state.

There are a total of 20 positive cases of COVID-19 within the county. Officials identified the person as a 73-year-old woman who remains hospitalized.

4:25 p.m.

The Cumberland County Department of Health reports seven new COVID-19 cases within the county, raising the county total to 105.

Since Monday, Cumberland County has seen five COVID-19 related deaths and a case-growth count of 19.

"This week our community has been saddened by the loss of five of our fellow residents to this virus, and we are still seeing additional positive cases each day. We can't stress strongly enough the importance of following the stay-at-home order and only venturing out for essential needs like work or to buy food or medicine. If you do go out, we recommend you wear a facemask if social distancing isn't possible," Health Director Dr. Jennifer Green said in a news release.

4 p.m.

An inmate at Butner Federal Correctional Institution died from complications due to COVID-19 on Thursday, according to a release from the Bureau of Prisons.

Fabian Tinsley, 67, went into respiratory failure and was taken to the hospital on April 6, where he later died. The Bureau of Prisons said Tinsley tested postiive for COVID-19 and had long-term, preexisting medical conditions that put him at high risk for severe illness from the virus.

The Bureau of Prisons said Tinsley was sentenced in Washington, D.C. to a 23-year term for kidnapping and aggravated assault. He had been at Butner prison since November 2018.

Tinsley is the fifth inmate to die of COVID-19 at Butner Correctional Institution. Across the complex, at least 66 inmates and 25 staff members have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

WATCH: Gov. Cooper's daily news conference

3:15 p.m.

The Orange County Health Department said it has 161 cases of COVID-19. Two county residents have died.

2 p.m.

Gov. Roy Cooper provided further details about North Carolina's new Testing Surge Workgroup--a coalition of public, academic and private labs working to increase the state's testing capacity and address issues with testing supplies and availability of personal protective equipment.

"North Carolina has made great strides, but we have more work to do," Cooper said.

Cooper said he would like to implement widespread testing across the state, so every person who has COVID-19 symptoms can be tested for the virus.

CORONAVIRUS MAP: Tracking COVID-19 across North Carolina

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen elaborated that the workgroup is tasked with increasing transparency in the testing process so all of the labs can understand what each group is doing and what they have planned.

Cohen said the testing expansion will rely on creating more sample collection sites, bringing more supplies to doctors and clinicians and providing a pipeline through which labs can easily share results.

Cooper also said health officials are sending groups to hot spots for outbreaks like nursing homes and correctional facilities to find out where the virus is spreading and to warn those who may be at risk.

Department of Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks addressed the outbreak at Neuse Correctional Institution, saying that 98 percent of those who tested positive at the prison showed no symptoms of the virus.

When asked about reopening the state economy, Cooper said he has been in contact with small business owners to discuss how best to protect employees and customers when businesses reopen.

"We do want to open up North Carolina," Cooper said. "We want to open it up the right way with input from businesses."

1:30 p.m.

Surf City is lifting some of the restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Crew began removing barriers at all 36 public beach access points Friday. The beaches will be open Saturday, April 18.

Public parking and restrooms at the public beach access points will remain closed--as directed by the statewide Stay-at-Home order.

Anyone using the public beach access is encouraged to continue practicing social distance and proper health safety.

The Town of Surf City said short-term rentals at the beaches will remain suspended through May 15.

12:15 p.m.

Fort Bragg reported its first two COVID-19 deaths--a civilian employee at Fort Bragg and a contractor. Both were Cumberland County residents and in their 50s.

"We lost two valued members of our Fort Bragg community last night," said Lt. Gen. Michael E. Kurilla, commanding general of the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, in a written statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with their families in their time of loss."

Cumberland County officials said the county now has six deaths from COVID-19.

The civilian employee who died April 16 at Womack Army Medical Center had underlying medical conditions, Cumberland County health officials said.

"This is heartbreaking. Our sympathies go out to the family and friends," said Health Director Dr. Jennifer Green. "Our sadness is shared by everyone working to slow the spread of this virus in our community."

There are 98 positive cases in Cumberland County.

12:00 p.m.

Wayne County officials said 149 COVID-19 cases were identified at the state's Neuse Correctional Institution in Goldsboro. The county did not specify how many inmates and staff members tested positive, but did add that all 700 inmates will be tested for the novel coronavirus, as well as any staff members that would like to be tested.

"This strategy is the result of a strong collaborative and coordinated effort between the Prisons Incident Command Team, the Department of Health and Human Services, the State Laboratory for Public Health, LabCorp and the Wayne County Health Department," Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee said in a written statement. "The outbreak at Neuse CI is no doubt a cause for concern but not for panic. We have medical protocols in place to handle this and frankly it is better to know up front what we are facing so we can do what is necessary to stop the spread."

Wayne County has reported at least 246 COVID-19 cases.

11:35 a.m.

The Town of Cary has canceled all parks, recreation and cultural resources events through May 31. Full refunds will be issued for any registered camps, classes, facility reservations and ticketed events.

11:15 a.m.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is now reporting 5,859 cases. That's an increase of 394 from Thursday. Deaths from the disease also increased, up 21 from Thursday, bringing the total to 152 in the state.

COVID-19 has now killed 152 North Carolinians in 23 days.

The health department reports that 429 patients are currently hospitalized.

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

RELATED: No new flu deaths reported in NC last week as coronavirus deaths continue to climb

11:10 a.m.

The Division of Employment Security (DES) has paid out more than $385 million to more than 211,000 people in North Carolina since March 15.

The group said 636,894 people have filed for unemployment since March 15, when coronavirus layoffs began. DES identified 551,261 of those unemployment claims to be COVID-19 related.

The highest single day of claims came in mid-March when 34,706 people filed. On April 16, the most recent complete day of numbers, 29,011 people filed.

DES plans to more than triple its original staffing to help respond to the surge in unemployment claims.

DES expects to have more than 1,600 people working to process claims and issue payments by the end of next week. The group was previously staffed with approximately 500 people. Since the start of COVID-19 furloughs, the department has added more than 400 people.

The group is planning to add 600 call center agents and 100 Division of Workforce Solutions staff over the next few days.

"This will be the largest number of people working to provide unemployment benefits in North Carolina's history," said Lockhart Taylor, assistant secretary of the Division of Employment Security. "We are prepared to take whatever steps we need to take to deliver the help North Carolinians need during these difficult times."

Updates about eligibility and how to apply for these benefits can be found on

8:45 a.m.

Coronavirus travel restrictions in North Carolina are having an unintended consequence: seashells.

Beaches along the Outer Banks are seeing thousands of seashells wash ashore. Experts say the number of seashells arriving is not unusual, but without spring breakers there to pick them up and take them home, the shells are piling up.

Friday morning headlines

Gov. Roy Cooper is scheduled to give an update on the state's response at 2 p.m. You can watch on ABC11 and on the ABC11 website and Facebook page.

The U.S. has at least 671,425 diagnosed cases and at least 33,286 deaths, according to ABC News. More than 2.1 million people have been diagnosed worldwide.

Thursday, it was revealed that 5.2 million more people filed for unemployment amid mass layoffs from the virus. The North Carolina Department of Employment Security has paid more than $216 million in unemployment benefits to more than 185,000 North Carolinians.

RELATED | Garner small business owner eager to reopen after COVID-19 spoils grand opening

President Trump unveiled a three-step plan to reopen the economy but is directing state governors to decide when to reopen states. Gov. Cooper said the state still needs federal support for testing and personal protective equipment. The President's plan recommends the state see a two-week decline in cases before starting to ease the lockdowns.


7:25 p.m.

Twelve Durham County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in the county to 388.

The county continues to monitor virus outbreaks at three Durham long-term care facilities including 76 cases at Durham Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, nine at the Treybrun Rehabilitation Center Durham VA Health Care System Community Nursing Home and four at Durham VA Healthcare System Community Nursing Home.

5:50 p.m.

Two more people have died from complications related to COVID-19 in Wake County, bringing the county total to three.

In the span of a day, Wake County has also seen an increase of 8 positive cases within the county, raising the county total to 557.

5:45 p.m.

The Cumberland County Department of Health reports two more people have died from the coronavirus, raising the county total to five deaths.

Officials said one person, who was in their 70s was a resident of Village Green Health and Rehabilitation Center, died on Wednesday at the Cape Fear Valley Medical Center. The patient had underlying medical conditions.

The second person, who was in their 50s, died at home on Thursday.

"We offer our deepest condolences to these two families as they deal with the loss of their loved ones," Health Director Dr. Jennifer Green wrote in a news release.

In addition, the health department reports four new positive cases within the county, bringing the county total to 98.

5:40 p.m.

Johnston County reports a total of 113 confirmed COVID-19 cases within the county. Nine of the confirmed cases are currently hospitalized.

5:25 p.m.

Gov. Cooper released a statement regarding President Trump's call with the nation's governors today:

"Yesterday I laid out what's required for North Carolina's path to gradual re-opening, and it's good the White House has shared similar guidance, but we still need the federal government to help with testing and personal protective equipment. We will continue working with our federal and local partners to beat this virus, protect people's health and recover our economy."

5:20 p.m.

The Department of State Treasurer announced that North Carolina has received more than $2 billion from the federal government as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The CARES Act, as passed by Congress and signed by the President, will provide $150 billion for the Coronavirus Relief Fund including direct payments to states.

The money is the first disbursement from the federal government of more than $4 billion slated for North Carolina.

The North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) will decide how the state's money will be spent as part of legislation expected near the end of the month. Once an agreement has been reached, OSBM will distribute the funds.

5:00 p.m.

North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis was named to President Donald Trump's Congressional Economic Task Force, according to a news release from the senator's office.

The task force will provide advice on how and when to reopen the nation's economy, based on the White House's new guidelines.

Tillis released the following statement:

"I've talked to countless North Carolinians over the last several weeks and they're rightfully concerned about protecting the health of their loved ones and getting clarity on how and when we can safely re-open the economy. I strongly believe that data must drive this decision and we must properly time and implement a staggered re-opening based on the unique conditions on the ground in our states, cities, and towns. I'll continue to work with President Trump and Governor Cooper in the weeks ahead as North Carolinians keep doing their part to defeat this virus and get ready to begin our nation's economic recovery."

4:50 p.m.

Two new COVID-19 cases have been reported in Lee County, raising the county total to 21.

4:20 p.m.

New White House guidelines outline a phased approach to restoring normal commerce and services, but only for places with strong testing and seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases.

President Donald Trump unveiled his administration's plans to ease social distancing requirements on a call Thursday with the nation's governors.

The new guidelines are aimed at clearing the way for an easing of restrictions in areas with low transmission of the coronavirus, while keeping them in place in harder-hit places.

Places with declining infections and strong testing would begin a three-phased gradual reopening of businesses and schools, which each phase lasting at least 14 days, meant to ensure that the virus outbreak doesn't accelerate again.

Those most susceptible to the respiratory disease would be advised to remain sheltered in place until the final phase.

3 p.m.

In alignment with Wake County, the Town of Morrisville has signed a new proclamation extending the stay-at-home order until April 30.

There are several new additions to the updated order:

  • All retail businesses are allowed to operate if they provide delivery or curbside pickup options for customers.
  • Businesses designated as "essential" are required to comply with North Carolina Executive Order 131. The state order, which was signed on April 9, sets requirements for maximum occupancy, social distancing measures and cleaning protocols for retailers.
  • The proclamation reiterates the need for employers to conduct basic health screenings - including temperature checks, documenting changes in coughs or sore throats, and asking about shortness of breath - and sending workers home if they are ill.
  • Faith organizations are allowed to hold drive-in services, with specific requirements.
  • Funeral services with no more than 25 attendees are allowed.

"The good news is we're making progress toward flattening the curve," said Morrisville Mayor TJ Cawley. "However, we're not where we need to be to lift the stay-at-home restrictions."

Read the full Wake County proclamation here (.pdf)

2 p.m.

State Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen touted telehealth at a media briefing saying it's a way for people to continue to get the care they need.

"Staying home doesn't mean you have to ignore the things that need medical attention," Cohen said.

Cohen said the best way to save lives in most cases is to continue to stay home.

"As we look ahead to how we stay ahead of the curve, knowing that this virus is going to be with us for some time, we need to be sure that people can access the care that they need if they test positive for COVID-19 or if they have other health issues," Cohen said.

State officials Dr. mandy Cohen and Mike Sprayberry give latest update on COVID-19 efforts.

Recognizing that an improved testing protocol will be necessary to reopen the state, Cohen said North Carolina has made huge improvements to the number of tests it can process daily. However, supplies continue to be a limiting factor--not only in number of tests but in amount of available protective equipment for health care workers collecting those tests.

Cohen also said North Carolina health officials are working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a reliable, standardized metric for the number of "recovered" patients.

"We don't have that ability yet, but it's something we've asked our CDC partners," Cohen said.

Emergency Operations Center Director Mike Sprayberry said the center has been activated for 38 days, longer than the agency was activated for Hurricane Matthew or Hurricane Florence.

Sprayberry also said the agency is working to make sure people in need have food and has entered into partnerships with schools and other organizations to fill gaps in the food chain.

"Rest assured, we'll be here as long as it takes to make sure North Carolina is safe from COVID-19," Sprayberry said.

11:30 a.m.

Halifax County reported two more COVID-19 cases, bringing the county total to 31 cases. Of those people, 11 have recovered, county officials said. One person has died from complications related to the virus.

10:50 a.m.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is reporting 5,465 COVID-19 cases and 131 deaths in the state. That's up 342 cases and 14 deaths from Wednesday. According to the state, 452 people are currently hospitalized.

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

9:20 a.m.

Wake County has officially extended its stay-at-home order to protect citizens from COVID-19.

The previous stay-at-home order was set to expire Thursday. The extension pushes the regulations out through April 30.

"While we're making good progress to flatten the COVID-19 curve in our community, we haven't hit our peak caseload yet, so it's too early to lift our stay-at-home restrictions," Wake County Board of Commissioners Chairman Greg Ford said. "However, we understand how challenging this is - particularly for businesses - which is why this extension includes provisions to help the local economy while enabling us to save lives."

The updated order allows all retail businesses in the county and its 12 municipalities to stay open if they provide delivery or curbside pickup options.

Faith organizations are also allowed to hold drive-in services, according to the updated order.

"We know that in challenging times, religious and spiritual support is one way that people find strength and comfort," Ford said. "While these services are accessible online, we have extended the ability to allow drive-in services if churches and places of worship are able to follow certain social-distancing parameters."

The county says according to data from between March 17 and April 8, the doubling rate of COVID-19 cases has gone from about 3.5 days to about 8 days.

8:45 a.m.

5.2 more million people have filed for unemployment benefits in America, bringing the total for the last month to 22 million - a record stretch of job loss. Some economists say the unemployment rate could reach as high as 20% in April, which would be the highest rate since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

8:30 a.m.

Greg Ford, Chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, says that the county's stay-at-home order will be extended through April 30 with some changes based on positive trends stemming from social distancing measures. More details are expected to be unveiled today. Ford says all 15 mayors in Wake County approve of the plan.

7:20 a.m.

Wake County is expected to extend its stay-at-home order Thursday.

Wake County put a stay-at-home order into effect Friday, March 27 at 5 p.m. It is scheduled to expire automatically Thursday.

However, the county just reported its first death Wednesday to go along with 510 cases. With the county being one of the hardest hit in North Carolina, it is unlikely the stay-at-home order will be allowed to expire.

The News & Observer reports an announcement will be coming sometime Thursday to extend the order and possibly make some tweaks to it.

Even if no announcment comes, residents of the county would still be required to abide by the state's stay-at-home order, which Gov. Roy Cooper said was working and is not set to expire until April 29.

Thursday morning storylines

  • While addressing the state's need to reopen, Gov. Roy Cooper said he believes the current stay-at-home order has North Carolina well-positioned to handle the current number of COVID-19 cases statewide. The Governor feels the state needs to make progress in the areas of testing, contact tracing and spreading trends. President Trump is expected to release guidelines to show states how to reopen for business today at 5 p.m.
  • Lawmakers are supposed to continue negotiations today about more funding for the Paycheck Protection Program that's helping small businesses stay alive. President Trump has asked for $250 billion to supplement the program.
  • More than 136,000 people across the world have died from COVID-19 and earlier this week, Harvard researchers found social distancing practices may need to continue until 2022 to contain the spread of the virus.
  • More universities are dropping the SAT and ACT requirements for fall 2021 admissions in response to the pandemic. The companies behind both tests have canceled their testing until June. A home version of the SAT, that would require remote proctoring, is being prepared.