RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina, like many other states across the country, is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
At Tuesday's WCPSS board meeting, parents argued for and against a mask mandate for the upcoming school year.
Anna Watkins, a mother of two students at Farmington Woods Elementary School, wants a mask requirement until children can get vaccinated.
"COVID rates are rapidly rising thanks to a more contagious variant and the vaccine might not be eligible to elementary school students until winter," said Watkins. "Masks will result in fewer quarantines and more time in school with teachers: more time my kids desperately need."
Misty Clark argued against a mask requirement.
"As you all know with the pandemic from the very beginning the children have carried the burden," Clark said. "You have the power to give our kids their childhoods back."
Hours after the typical release time, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services updated the day's COVID-19 metrics late due to a "technical difficulty," the agency said in an email to ABC11.
The day's numbers revealed a high percentage of positive tests at 7.3%--the highest in nearly three months and the third straight day above 5%.
For the 10th day in a row, hospitalizations increased, rising to 672 people in the North Carolina hospitals with COVID-19.
The state reported 871 new cases, a more than 60% hike above last Tuesday's case increase.
The state reported 6 more deaths due to COVID-19.
Ahead of a Wake County Public School System board meeting, some parents rallied against masks in schools.
They held signs that said "free the smile."
The American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday recommended universal masking in schools for everyone older than the age of 2. That contradicted the CDC's recommendation that anyone fully vaccinated could go without a mask.
Wake County Schools said they will continue to follow state law, which requires masks in schools.
"Kids are wearing them for eight plus hours, school bus drivers are having to wear them. My oldest daughter is a teacher. She has to wear them," mother Julie Savage, who was at the rally, said.
NCDHHS told ABC11 via email that a technical glitch is preventing it from putting out updated COVID-19 numbers.
NCDHHS announced that it is partnering with Piedmont Triad Regional Council Area Agency on Aging (PTRC AAA) to provide free COVID-19 vaccinations to people with limited mobility who cannot leave their home. This new initiative expands PTRC AAA's local at-home vaccination program to communities across the state.
Caregivers, providers and individuals can schedule an at-home vaccination through the At-Home Vaccination Hotline at 1-866-303-0026. An online registration form is also available at www.ptrc.org/covid. A PTRC Vaccination Specialist will follow up to schedule an at-home vaccination.
Health officials say the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to surge and accounts for an estimated 83% of U.S. COVID-19 cases.
That's a dramatic increase from the week of July 3, when the variant accounted for about 50% of genetically sequenced coronavirus cases.
"The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 variants is to prevent the spread of disease, and vaccination is the most powerful tool we have," said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a U.S. Senate hearing Tuesday.
The delta variant is a mutated coronavirus that spreads more easily than other versions. It was first detected in India but now has been identified around the world.
The nation's top infectious disease expert is suggesting parents follow new COVID-19 guidance for mask-wearing issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The academy is recommending schools require face masks for children older than 2 and all adults - regardless of vaccination status. Dr. Anthony Fauci told "CBS This Morning" the academy wants to "go the extra mile" to make sure kids are protected at school because of the rise in cases blamed on the delta variant of the coronavirus.
That guidance is slightly different from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has advised mask-wearing in schools just for unvaccinated children and adults.
Fauci says the CDC is "carefully looking" at its COVID-19 school guidance.
NCDHHS announced that it will conduct the next random number generator drawings for the Summer Cash Drawing and Summer Cash 4 College Drawing on Wednesday, July 21 at 10 a.m.
Wake County tourism saw a 29 percent drop in visitors in 2020.
Visit Raleigh released new tourism numbers Tuesday showing that 12.9 million people visited Wake County in 2020.
Those visitors spent $1.7 billion in the area, which is a 43% drop from how much was spent in 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, was the main reason for the tourism decrease.
Last year's tourism dip was actually the first decline in visitors and spending in more than 10 years.
But so far in 2021, things are looking better.
"We've really seen an uptick as soon as the vaccine hit the market. In January we ran around 44 percent occupancy and we've seen a month to month increase," Visit Raleigh's Dennis Edwards said.
Click here for the full Visit Raleigh tourism report.
TUESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Parents are planning to protest ahead of a Wake County school board meeting.
The parents at the protest are upset with the district deciding that vaccinated students and teachers still need to wear masks.
It's a debate that is splitting the country--the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says vaccinated students don't have to wear masks, but a prominent pediatrician group says masks should still be required.
Q&A: Who's right when it comes to the school mask mandate conflict
The parents protesting Tuesday said masks are unnecessary and should not be required by district leaders.
This debate comes as COVID-19 cases are increasing in North Carolina and across the country.
Monday's metrics showed more than 700 new cases--a 37% increase from last Monday. The 5.8% positive rate is the state's highest in more than two months.
NCDHHS said unvaccinated people account for 99 percent of the state's COVID-19 cases since May.
For UNC Health's Dr. Dirk Dittmer and the Duke Human Vaccine Institute's Dr. Tom Denny, the objective is simple. Stop the spread of COVID-19.
"What do you want to do to try to minimize risks and reduce the chances of of significant illness or long-term complications," said Denny, who also serves as chief operating officer for DHVI. "Vaccination helps to reduce all that you may get infected but you have a much shorter course of, of a disease or process. So the key here is trying to get people to understand the importance of being vaccinated."
Dr. Denny's comments come at a time when just shy of 60% of North Carolina's adult population are vaccinated against COVID-19. And a slightly higher percentage of adults in the state have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
In a statement released to ABC11, a representative from NCDHHS wrote: "NCDHHS is very concerned by the recent increasing trends. We are particularly concerned for residents who are not yet vaccinated. During May and June, more than 99% of recent cases and more than 98% of recent hospitalizations and deaths were in people who were not fully vaccinated. Variants, including the new Delta variant, are a major concern for people who aren't vaccinated as many variants are more easily transmitted and some cause more severe disease."
Currently, more than 13,500 North Carolinians have died from the virus and the state boasts a percent-positive rate around 5%.
Denny told ABC11's DeJuan Hoggard the emphasis remains on getting more people vaccinated.
"Until we get to those high numbers, we're going to be chasing this game. The virus is here to stay, it's not going away. We'll be dealing with this for many, many years into the future," said Denny.
Across town at UNC Health, Dr. Dirk Dittmer is a professor in microbiology and immunology studying the Delta variant and other potential variants before they grip the state and the nation.
"We don't know when the Epsilon variant comes," said Dr. Dittmer. "We don't know what the next period will look like. And so part of why we invest so much in sequencing is to try and be ready for the next variant and the next virus."
Durham Public Schools welcomed year-round students back to school Monday.
"It was good to be back," said Eric Jackson, a sixth grader at Rogers-Herr Middle School. "I got to see my friends and stuff."
"It has been amazing being able to see the staff in person, being able to see the students' smiling faces," said Otis Maben, Rogers-Herr Middle School 8th Grade Assistant Principal. "They were so excited as they got off the bus and as I saw them get out of the cars this morning."
Maben said students went back to in-person instruction in March but there were only about 50 students per grade level at school each day.
Now, it's about 220 students per grade level at once, for a total of 670 students.
About 3,200 year-round students are attending schools in the district, with a more exact enrollment figure expected next month, according to a district spokesperson.
All students and staff are required to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.
The CDC recently recommended that fully vaccinated students, teachers and other staff don't have to wear masks in school next year.
The CDC is still calling for those who are unvaccinated to mask up.
The district Board of Education will revisit mask requirements next month.
"I'm not going to predict any action by our board but we know that masks work and masks make a lot of people more comfortable," said Chip Sudderth, Durham Public Schools Chief Communications Officer. "And so that's how we're going to start the school year."
Students have the option of attending the district's online academy, Ignite.
The traditional calendar starts August 24.
During the 2021-2022 school year, Durham Public Schools will have five days a week of in-person instruction for every student.
On Thursday, July 22, the Moore County Health Department will be offering COVID-19 vaccinations at Sandy Ramey Keith Park in Vass (3600 US Hwy 1). The event is open to any member of the general public who is eligible for the vaccine and is scheduled from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. with no appointment required. Staff will provide vaccinations adjacent to the playground, under the park's pavilion.
734 new COVID-19 cases were reported in North Carolina on Monday.
This comes after cases exceeded 1,000 over the weekend.
Hospitalizations also surpassed 600 -- with 612 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state.
86 confirmed COVID-19 patients were admitted to NC hospitals in the last 24 hours.
The percent of positive tests is at 5.8%.
59% of the adult population of North Carolina has at least one dose of the vaccine.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) wants all students and staff over the age of 2, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask in school this fall.
The AAP said it's taking this stance because there's no real way to monitor COVID-19 vaccine status at this time.
This recommendation is at odds with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said students and staff who were fully vaccinated could go without masks.
AAP's full statement:
"AAP recommends universal masking because a significant portion of the student population is not yet eligible for vaccines, and masking is proven to reduce transmission of the virus and to protect those who are not vaccinated. Many schools will not have a system to monitor vaccine status of students, teachers and staff, and some communities overall have low vaccination uptake where the virus may be circulating more prominently."
Wake County Public Health reminds citizens they can get a free at-home COVID-19 test.
Drive-thru testing continues across the county, but for people who don't or can't get to the drive-thru testing centers another option is available.
At-home testing will take just a few days. Click here for details on how it works and how you can request your test.
MONDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Students are returning to school for the 2021-2022 school year.
Year round schools in Durham resume classes in-person Monday. All students and staff are required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status. The school board is expected to revisit the mask requirement sometime next month.
Wake County's year round students went back to class earlier this month.
Thales Academy is also welcoming students back Monday.
Students and staff at the Triangle private school will not have to wear masks if they are fully vaccinated. That policy follows the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's most recent guidance.
In addition, fully vaccinated students and staff exposed to the virus will not have to quarantine.
Thales Academy also said it was eliminating social distance precautions for seating in the classrooms as well as eliminating virtual learning options, even for sick students.