Dr. Mandy Cohen explains why salons, barbershops won't open until Phase 2 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.

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



6:20 p.m.
Durham County is reporting 932 COVID-19 cases, up 18 from Tuesday.

Officials said there has been another death from the virus, for a total of 37 deaths within the county.

5:40 p.m.
Cumberland County officials said there are 425 reported coronavirus cases, up 26 since Tuesday. To date, 11 residents have died from the virus.

Halifax County has 105 reported cases of COVID-19 with 66 of those recovered. There has been one death.

Sampson County health officials are reporting 16 new cases, which brings the total to 193 positive cases. There has been only one county death to date.

Lee County said there are eight more COVID-19 cases Wednesday for a total of 290 county-wide. There have been three deaths throughout the county.

5 p.m.
In a message from the sheriff, the Johnston County Sheriff proclaimed that neither he nor his deputies would prevent people's rights to "assemble peaceably" during the coronavirus pandemic.

As businesses reopen during Phase 1, Johnson County Sheriff Steve Bizzell criticized Gov. Cooper's stay-at-home orders, demanding that churches have the opportunity to reopen with 'reasonable restrictions' like many retail businesses.

The sheriff argued that the governor's restrictions are inconsistent by pointing out that retail businesses operate daily under rules, while places of worship cannot operate once a week.

"Retail businesses are allowed to operate daily under rules; however, church folks can't even go to church once a week which is inconsistent and unfair, and quite frankly, morally wrong. All we're asking the Governor is to allow indoor worship services with reasonable restrictions, somewhat similar to local businesses.

Outlined in Gov. Cooper's plan to reopen the state, places of worship would be allowed to reopen at a reduced capacity during Phase 2.

In Bizzell's closing statement, he said that he would "lay down his badge and go home" before preventing people's rights to gather and freely worship.

Read the letter in its entirety:

"Our pastors and church leaders have been patient and have adhered to government authority thus far regarding the Governor's restrictions on holding indoor worship services.

Church families are law abiding citizens, salt of the earth people that should stand in unison to protect our First Amendment rights to "assemble peaceably" and to exercise our freedom to worship."Retail businesses are allowed to operate daily under rules; however, church folks can't even go to church once a week which is inconsistent and unfair, and quite frankly, morally wrong. All we're asking the Governor is to allow indoor worship services with reasonable restrictions, somewhat similar to local retail businesses.

If social distancing and other guidelines are good enough to allow big box stores to operate, why is it not good enough for in person church services? It's as though churches have been treated differently. For example, currently worship services are limited to 10 people, but 50 people can utilize the same space for a funeral.

I think our pastors and church leaders would be more inclined to implement safety guidelines for their brothers and sisters, even more so than businesses do for their customers. Why can't churches be trusted to open and take precautions to protect their people's health and well-being?

As Sheriff of Johnston County, the deputies and I took an oath that we would endeavor to support, maintain, and defend the Constitution for the people of this county. As long as I'm Sheriff, my deputies nor I will forego that oath and interfere or prevent church goers to peaceably assemble and exercise their constitutional right to freely worship. Before I would do that, I would lay down my badge and go home!

NOW, LET'S HAVE CHURCH!
"

4:40 p.m.
Durham mayor Steve Schewel told ABC11 on Wednesday that he would extend the city's stay-at-home order and added the order would be simplified.

"We're not adding requirements to the order that we have previously in place. We're not adding any new restrictions. We're gradually loosening our restrictions, just as the governor is, and I think that's the right way to go," the mayor said.

The decision comes on the heels of a Moody's Analytics report that pushes Durham near the top of the list for cities in the country that will recover well from Covid-19. The report attributes areas with large universities and low- density population as main reasons for outperforming other cities across the nation.

2 p.m.
At a media briefing, DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen urged patience in response to being asked about Senate Leader Phil Berger's call to reopen hair salons and barbershops.

Berger, R-Rockingham, noted in a release that 25 states, including nearly every state in the Southeast, have reopened hair salons and barbershops in some capacity, and three more have announced reopenings in the next few days.

"It's time to follow the lead of the majority of states in our region and the country. Hair salon owners and employees can't work and many of them still can't get unemployment assistance from the Cooper Administration," Berger said. "Gov. Cooper needs to provide counties with the flexibility to reopen hair salons and barbershops if they choose."

Up to now, Cooper's position has been to subject small business owners to fines and arrest. It's time to take a different approach and let these small business owners and employees return to work legally and safely, Berger said.

"The majority of states in our region and the country have reviewed the science, facts, and data and reached a different conclusion than Gov. Cooper's," Berger said. "What is his strategic endgame in choosing a different path based on similar facts and data? We need a view into his administration's goals and thinking."

Cohen said the governor's team wants to move through the phases of reopening in a measured way.

Not being stationary is an important factor in reducing risk of viral spread, Cohen said. Whereas in grocery stores or other businesses, people can circulate, maintain spacing and move freely, at hair salons, people are sitting for long periods of time and remaining stationary and in close proximity. That's one of the main reasons those businesses were not included in the Phase 1 reopening, Cohen explained.

As for Phase, 2, it's all about risk, Cohen said. Both salons and restaurants are sit-down businesses.

"We still see a lot of virus fear. We want to be sure we don't see a surge of cases," Cohen said.

She preached patience, and she noted that we are less than two weeks away from thinking about Phase 2, when barbershops and similar businesses can reopen.

"Hold on there, I know everyone wants a haircut, including me," Cohen said. "But hold on a bit longer as we watch our trends."

She stressed that people need to keep doing the three Ws -- wearing a face covering, waiting six feet apart and washing hands frequently.

"I do think that we will get there when we pull together as a state," Cohen said. "We are in this together, right? All of our actions influence everything that's going on, and I think if we can pull together as a state that we'll be back, getting haircuts, and at our favorite restaurant but in a different way. We'll have to protect ourselves in different ways than we have before, but we will get there."

2 p.m.
Starting today, families affected by school closings because of COVID-19 are beginning to receive additional food benefits as part of the new Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program announced by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

The program provides a food benefit on an EBT card to North Carolina families whose children have access to free and reduced lunch at school. Families will receive about $370 in P-EBT benefits per child, provided in two installments. Families can use the P-EBTbenefitto purchase food items at EBT authorized retailers, including most major grocery stores.

Most eligible families will automatically get the additional funds on their existing EBT cards, State Health Director Dr. Mandy Cohen said.

Read more about that here.

12 p.m.
Visit Raleigh released a report detailing COVID-19's impact on the tourism and hospitality industry in Wake County.

According to the report, hotel lodging tax collections were down 64.3 percent in March compared to 2019. Prepared food and beverage tax collections were down 39 percent in March, marking the lowest March collection since 2011.

Visit Raleigh and GRSA have booked 130 conventions, meetings and group sporting events throughout Wake County that have been canceled, totaling more than 143,000 attendees and resulting in more than $59.3 million in total lost economic impact.

You can read the full report here.

11 a.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 20 more deaths in the state in the last 24 hours. Since the start of the pandemic, 597 people have died from complications of the disease.

About 62 percent of the deaths in the state have been linked to congregate care facilities.

On Wednesday, 470 more cases were reported compared to the day before, bringing the total to 15,816.

Why you might see different numbers of COVID-19 cases depending where you look
NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said at a media briefing on Monday that an estimated 9,115 North Carolinians have recovered from the virus.

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 confirmed cases? Last week was up slightly but daily case count is much lower this week. 470 new cases added on Wednesday, the highest of the week but lower than last week.
Decrease in percent of positive tests? We have seen about 5 percent positive tests this week, which is lower than around 8 percent last week.
Hospitalizations decreasing? The number has been increasing all week with 46 more on Wednesday than the day before but the trends chart from NCDHHS shows this is about level.
Testing capacity? The state met its goal in the last 24 hours with 8,213 tests.
Contract tracers? Have not met this goal. The state still only has 250 and is working to double this workforce to 500.
PPE Supplies? The state does not have enough gowns to handle 30 days, however, the state now reports it does have enough N-95 masks.

10 a.m.
The NCDOTis suspending operations of the Piedmont passenger rail service until further notice due to COVID-19 impact on revenue.

Starting Monday May 18, people traveling between Raleigh and Charlotte will make trips on Carolinian trains 79 and 80.

6:45 a.m.
Starting Thursday, you can buy a beer and donate money to help people who have lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hi-Wire Brewing in Asheville is releasing a beer titled Donate To Service Industry Workers By Drinking This Beer. A portion of the proceeds from sales of the beer will be donated to North Carolina-based and national support groups helping bartenders, waitstaff and chefs.

WEDNESDAY MORNING STORYLINES

A Cary Whole Foods employee tested positive for COVID-19, according to our newsgathering partners at The News & Observer. The employee worked at the Alston Town Center store on NC Highway 55. Whole Foods is one of many stores to install plexiglass barriers at check out counters and require temperature checks and face masks for employees. ABC11 has reached out to Whole Foods for comment.

COVID-19 hospitalizations were under 500 for the third day in a row Tuesday in North Carolina; plus, the state again met its testing goal with more than 6,000 tests administered. The state's Department of Health and Human Services is reporting a total of 577 laboratory-confirmed deaths and at least 15,346 confirmed cases. The state's first death was reported on March 25.

SEE ALSO: Tracking COVID-19 in North Carolina

On Tuesday, Wake County identified two more outbreaks of COVID-19 at long-term care facilities Brookdale North Raleigh and Brookdale Wake Forest. Durham County identified an additional outbreak at Carver Rehabilitation and Living Center.

Gov. Roy Cooper broached the topic of Phase 2 during Tuesday's media briefing. Cooper believes the state is heading in the right direction, but needs more time to determine when Phase 2 can start.

"We need to look at all of our indicators and benchmarks over a 14-day period. We've talked about the fact that none of these indicators by themselves can give us the signal about when we need to move into Phase 2."

The earliest possible date the state could move into Phase 2 is May 22.

"I don't think it could happen any earlier because we need that whole period of time to determine how we're doing."

Wednesday is the fifth day of Phase 1 of reopening. Much of the Outer Banks will welcome back visitors this weekend. Starting Wednesday, ferry service between Hatteras and Ocracoke Island will increase to 15 departures per day. The state previously limited departures to seven per day during the pandemic.

With food insecurity a pressing issue during the pandemic, Wake County is adding several new sites to distribute food. The county added six new distribution sites and four bus routes to deliver food to specific areas with limited access to healthy food. A complete list of sites can be found here.

A new projection predicts 147,000 people will die from COVID-19 in the U.S. by August. Dr. Anthony Fauci warned legislators of reopening the country too soon, saying "the consequences could be really serious." The virus has now affected 4.2 million people worldwide and caused 290,000 deaths.

On Wednesday, two pediatric doctors in the UNC healthcare system are scheduled to talk about the impact of COVID-19 on kids as well as Pediatric Multi-Symptom Inflammatory Syndrome. At least 11 states are reporting cases of this syndrome.



TUESDAY
10 p.m.
ABC11 spoke to one of the local companies now pivoting to the creation of PPE for health care workers.

7 p.m.
Durham County is now reporting 914 COVID-19 cases, up 17 from Monday.

There has been one more Durham County resident death from the virus, bringing the total number of deaths to 36 county-wide.

Officials identified an additional outbreak at Carver Rehabilitation and Living Center. There are three cases.

6:15 p.m.

The Halifax County Health Department said there are 628 confirmed tests performed on residents, and there are 100 positive cases.

One person has died in the county, and 62 patients have recovered.

Bruce L. Robistow, county health director, said the majority of the positive cases are spread out across Halifax County and that there are no noted "hotspots" regarding the number of positive cases.

5:30 p.m.
A second Lee County resident has died as a result of COVID-19 related complications. The patient was hospitalized at Central Carolina Hospital in Sanford.

"This is heartbreaking news to report," said Heath Cain, LCG Health Department Director. "Please keep this individual and their family in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time."

The health department also announced five new cases of COVID-19. There are now 282 county residents that have tested positive for COVID-19.

4:40 p.m.
Wake County has identified two more outbreaks of COVID-19 at long-term care facilities.

Positive test results affected both residents and staff were reported at Brookdale North Raleigh and Brookdale Wake Forest.

Throughout Wake County, there are 1,076 cases of COVID. That's an increase of 21 since Monday.

There are a total of 25 deaths county-wide.

4:10 p.m.
State prison officials said Tuesday the majority of offenders who had tested positive for COVID-19 are now presumed to have recovered.

Of 642 people testing positive in 11 prison facilities, more than 500 are now recovered and have met NCDHHS and CDC criteria to be released from isolation.
"Staff have worked incredibly hard to contain this virus, to treat offenders who contracted it and to maintain order. I appreciate their hard work and am grateful that so many offenders have recovered," said Todd Ishee, Commissioner of Prisons.

427 inmates presumed to be recovered are housed Neuse Correctional Institution in Goldsboro, where 467 have tested positive for the virus. More than 90 percent of those cases were asymptomatic.

All the offenders at Bertie, Caledonia, and Pasquotank correctional institutions who tested positive for COVID-19 are now presumed to be recovered.

Of the 91 offenders who tested positive for COVID-19 at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women, more than 50 are now presumed recovered.

2:30 p.m.
Sampson County reported six new cases, which brings the county to a total of 177 positive cases of COVID-19.

2 p.m.
In a news conference, Gov. Roy Cooper highlighted several North Carolina companies that shifted their production lines to focus on creating personal protective equipment for health care workers and first responders.

"North Carolina has a long history as a leader in manufacturing and innovation, and I'm proud that our homegrown companies are leading the way in making critical supplies for our frontline workers," Cooper said.

Cooper highlighted two companies--Saab Barracuda of Lillington, N.C., annd Apple Rock of Greensboro, N.C.--that are currently producing surgical gowns, one of the hardest pieces of protective equipment for frontline workers to find. Three other companies--ASI Signage of Holly Springs, Gilero of Pittsboro and Bright View Technologies of Durham--are making face shields.

"Thank you to the men and women working at these North Carolina companies and the many others who are finding ways to pitch in, donate equipment or find another way for their workers to help in this fight," Cooper said. "This is exactly what I mean when I say that North Carolina will get through this pandemic by working together."

Cooper also highlighted the state's efforts to increase COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. While he commended the state for reaching its goal of doubling daily testing to 5,000 to 7,000 tests per day, he added that more testing would need to be done before the state could enter phase 2.

Cooper also highlighted several federally funded retail sites where North Carolinians can get tested for free, including several Walgreen's, Walmart and Harris Teeter locations.

Though North Carolina has seen a steady leveling of new cases and percent of positive tests since phase 1 of reopening started Friday, Cooper said the state would not move into phase 2 ahead of May 22.

"We need to look at all of our indicators and benchmarks over a 14-day period," Cooper said. "We're only four days into phase 1, so we have to make sure people continue to stay home as much as possible."

Senate Leader Phil Berger said more transparency was needed from the governor's office.

"Governor Cooper should explain what his administration's overarching strategy is. Is his strategic endgame to prevent much of the population from ever becoming infected? Does he believe that is possible?" Berger said in a release. ""Or is his strategic endgame to manage the virus as it naturally spreads through the population -- to protect the highest-risk groups while seeking herd immunity through the young and healthy first?

"We need a view into the administration's thinking," Berger added, "What goal is driving his policy decisions? What does he think is achievable?"

12:15 p.m.
Two cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at an Alamance County skilled nursing center. The county's health department said two staffers have tested positive at Peak Resources in Graham.

"We remain dedicated to the well-being and safety of our residents and employees," said Jeff Cochran, administrator at Peak Resources Alamance. "Protecting the health of those we care for and the community we service remains our highest priority. We are making every effort to ensure we stop the spread of the coronavirus within our facility. We are extremely proud of our staff members and their rapid and diligent response in handling a very unique and difficult situation."

Alamance County has 183 cases of COVID-19. There are 85 people in isolation, and 10 people are hospitalized. There was have eight COVID-19 related deaths.

12 p.m.
Cooper will address the state during a news conference at 2 p.m. Tuesday. He's expected to devote most of his time to the topics of testing and manufacturing.

Specifically, he's expected to share new information about North Carolina companies that have shifted production and are now making PPE for the state.

11 a.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Humans Services is reporting 27 more deaths in the state since Monday, bringing the total to 577.

In the last 24 hours, 301 more cases have been reported.

Sixty-two percent of the deaths in the state have been linked to congregate care facilities.

Why you might see different numbers of COVID-19 cases depending where you look
The total so far in North Carolina since the start of the pandemic is 15,346.

NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said at a media briefing on Monday that an estimated 9,115 North Carolinians have recovered from the virus.

The estimated median recovery time is 28 days from the date of specimen collection for hospitalized non-fatal COVID-19 cases. Doctors and scientists do not yet know if patients who have recovered are protected with natural immunity from getting COVID-19 again.

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 confirmed cases? Last week was up slightly but daily case count is much lower this week. 301 new cases added. 25 percent decrease since last Tuesday.
Decrease in percent of positive tests? 9 percent of the tests reported Friday were positive. That was the highest percent since April 30. That percentage fell back down to around 7 percent over the weekend.
Hospitalizations decreasing? We are level. The number increased by 22 Monday and 11 on Tuesday but Dr. Cohen has said we have been level on this metric.
Testing capacity? The state met its goal in the last 24 hours with 6,379 tests.
Contract tracers? Have not met this goal. The state still only has 250 and is working to double this workforce to 500.
PPE Supplies? The state does not have enough gowns to handle 30 days, however, the state now reports it does have enough N-95 masks.

9:45 a.m.
Campbell University will give all students living on campus next semester private rooms.

The school said the move is part of its plan to keep students safe from COVID-19.
"As we prepare to re-open campus this fall and welcome new and returning students, their health and safety is of the utmost importance," Dennis Bazemore, vice president for student life, said in a statement. "We believe providing private rooms for all residential students is one of the major steps to achieve that goal.

The university previously charged $800 to students who wanted private rooms. That fee will be waived in this instance.

7:45 a.m.
Burlington-based LabCorp's COVID-19 at-home test kit is now available throughout the country.

The test-kit is for people showing symptoms or who feel they might have been exposed to the virus. The test was initially just made available for healthcare workers and first responders. Tests can be obtained with no upfront out-of-pocket costs if users qualify after completing an online health screening questionnaire.

The kit, which allows the user to take a nasal swab sample for testing back at a lab, is authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. The lab can then test the sample for COVID-19.

TUESDAY MORNING STORYLINES

Another ReOpen NC protest is scheduled to begin around 11 a.m. Tuesday in Raleigh. The group believes the state's effort to reopen hasn't been urgent enough, gathering for weekly rallies and marches in the Capital City in recent weeks. They're hoping to get the attention of lawmakers with the state freshly in Phase 1 of its reopening plan.

Over the weekend, protests in Raleigh drew attention as armed citizens walked downtown streets, and were seen bringing artillery inside a local Subway restaurant.



Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown said state law prohibits people from carrying weapons during an organized protest but nothing stops them from carrying a gun on a city sidewalk. Raleigh police officers are now considering criminal charges, according to our newsgathering partners at The News & Observer.

More retailers--including bars and restaurants--will be able to reopen in phase 2 of North Carolina's plan, which could begin as early as May 22. ReOpen NC activists have protested at least once every week since April 21.

A counter-protest will be held as a Raleigh man, Todd Stiefel, is organizing a plane to fly above Raleigh with a banner that reads "fewer graves if we open in waves. #Sciencesaves"

Gov. Cooper will hold another media briefing Tuesday at 2 p.m. Cooper enacted Phase 1 of the state's reopening last week. ABC11 will air the briefing on-air and online.

The state believes more than 9,000 people have recovered from the coronavirus. North Carolina now has at least 15,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 550 deaths. Sixty-nine percent of the deaths are linked to congregate care facilities.
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