The Waren County school board voted unanimously to require all employees and student-athletes to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and for student-athletes to be tested for COVID-19 at least once a week.
Employees and student-athletes have 30 days (until Oct. 9) to get their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine and 60 days (until Nov. 8) to get their second dose, if it's needed to be fully vaccinated.
If there is a medical or sincerely held religious reason why they cannot receive the COVID-19 vaccine, they may request an exemption to the vaccination requirement.
Exempted employees will be required to be tested once a week. Exemptions for student-athletes will require them to be tested twice a week, whereas vaccinated student-athletes are only required to be tested once a week.
As a further incentive to get vaccinated, student-athletes who are fully vaccinated and not showing any symptoms of illness will not be required to quarantine if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19. This provides the best chance for a team to complete its season without having to forfeit games because players are quarantined.
Gov. Roy Cooper begged for North Carolinians to step up and get vaccinated to end the COVID-19 pandemic during a news conference Thursday.
"How many people need to get sick and die because people don't get this miraculous vaccine?" Cooper said. "How many people need to witness the cruel death of a loved one?"
He added that the vast majority of hospitalizations are happening in people who are not vaccinated. "If you're hesitant, get off social media and get on the phone with your doctor," he added.
State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen echoed Cooper's sentiments, laying out the latest COVID-19 data for the state.
She pointed to the rapid rise in cases over the summer due to the Delta variant--the sharpest increase in cases the state has seen thus far during the pandemic. She added that the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 was extremely worrisome and that more than a third of people hospitalized were younger than 49.
While more than 59% of North Carolinians older than 12 have been vaccinated, just 35% of teenagers and 40% of young adults between 18 and 24 have gotten the vaccine. Cohen recommended that people add layers of protection, given the high rate of community spread, such as wearing a mask.
"We are 18 months into this pandemic and almost 9 months into the time that vaccines have come onto the scene," Cooper said. "The key to ending this pandemic of course is the vaccine. There's still time to protect yourself."
Cooper added that more than 96% of students in North Carolina schools are in districts where masks are required. Just three school districts are not requiring masks at this time.
"We know that keeping kids learning in the classroom is the most important thing for our students right now. Getting vaccinated, wearing a mask in public indoor settings and following the science is what we need to do," Cooper said. "The faster we put this pandemic behind us, the sooner we can all rest easy and stay healthy."
Thursday's briefing, meanwhile, comes ahead of another weekend of big outdoor events, including college football and kickoff to the NFL season. Asked if he would attend events like that, including the North Carolina State Fair, the governor said he would - because he's vaccinated.
"If I go, I am going to be careful and if I am around a lot of people outside, I am going to have a mask on," Cooper said. "I am not immunocompromised. Everyone should look at their own situation and make decisions for themselves, particularly for people who have not gotten a vaccination."
6,290 new COVID-19 cases were reported in North Carolina on Thursday.
The percent of positive tests in the state is 11.3%.
3,815 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in North Carolina.
That's 25 more people than Wednesday.
North Carolina surpassed 15,000 COVID-19 deaths on Thursday.
110 more people were reported from Wednesday.
There are currently 919 adult ICU COVID-19 patients.
456 COVID-19 patients were admitted in North Carolina hospitals in the last 24 hours.
A popular music festival in downtown Raleigh will be a completely outdoor event because of current COVID-19 metrics.
The Hopscotch Music Festival will have two main stages, more than 30 bands and more than 90 vendors.
The shows begin at 3:45 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and then at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
Festival officials said they expect the rain to slack off before the shows begin. Any possible delays or changes due to weather will be announced on the festival website and social media pages.
Click here for current weather updates
People who attend the festival will have to provide proof of vaccination or provide a negative COVID-19 test from the past 72 hours. Masks will be required in any indoor setting and are strongly encouraged regardless of vaccination status and seating location during the outdoor shows.
Last year, organizers canceled the event because of the pandemic.
If you already bought tickets but you do not want to attend because of the updated protocols, you can receive a refund or roll your tickets over to next year. For more information click here.
Some South Carolina cities are bringing back indoor mask requirements as the state's coronavirus outbreak rivals the height of the pandemic last winter before vaccines were widely available.
The cities of Columbia, West Columbia and Cayce in central South Carolina have all adopted requirements that people wear masks in indoor public places except while eating and a few other exceptions.
South Carolina has never had a statewide mask mandate but it allowed local governments to do so in 2020. Most of the mandates faded away after Gov. Henry McMaster ended a 14-month COVID-19 state of emergency in June when the state was seeing about 150 new cases a day.
Now, South Carolina is seeing about 5,400 new coronavirus cases a day, similar to the pandemic's peak in January.
President Joe Biden is toughening COVID-19 vaccine requirements for federal workers and contractors as he aims to boost vaccinations and curb the surging delta variant that is killing thousands each week and jeopardizing the nation's economy.
That's according to a person familiar with the plans, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Biden has signed a new executive order to require vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors that do business with the federal government. The step comes in advance of a speech Thursday afternoon outlining a six-pronged plan to address the latest rise in coronavirus cases and the stagnating pace of COVID-19 shots.
Biden has encouraged COVID-19 vaccine requirements in schools, workplaces and university campuses. The White House hopes the strengthened federal mandate will inspire more businesses to follow suit.
President Joe Biden will unveil a new strategy for battling the spread of COVID-19 today.
The plan will be centered around six points, including vaccinating the unvaccinated.
There will be a focus on furthering protection for those who are vaccinated, keeping schools open safely and stepping up requirements for COVID testing and the wearing of face masks.
Finally, the president will focus on protecting the country's economic recovery and improving care for those who have been infected with the virus.
United Airlines says more than half its workers who weren't vaccinated last month have gotten the shots since the airline announced it will require proof of vaccination.
The airline is detailing rules around its requirement that employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 by late September. United officials say employees with an exemption from vaccination because of medical conditions or religious beliefs will be placed on unpaid leave in early October. Those whose exemption requests are denied, and who still refuse to get the shots, will be fired.
United is citing "dire" statistics around the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States in explaining its new policy.
THURSDAY MORNING HEADLINES
One in four new COVID-19 cases are among children, according to new data from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
That new stat has Durham Public Schools considering taking classes outside.
The company Hobbs Architects proposed new outdoor learning spaces that could be built in a way to take more classes outside during the pandemic and long after.
The company said the proposed outside learning centers could be engineered in a way that protects the children from natural elements.
Durham students recently filed a petition for more virtual classes, due to the uptick in COVID-19 cases.
In Wake County, it will likely be another two weeks before the school board makes a decision about mandatory COVID-19 testing and vaccines.
Tuesday night's board meeting was emotionally charged and members said they have a lot to consider before casting their vote.
Meanwhile, at Appalachian State University in Boone, all unvaccinated students are now required to get weekly COVID-19 tests.
The university said 52 percent of students and 89 percent of employees are fully vaccinated. That means more than 9,000 students are unvaccinated.
Wake County Health officials are warning there has been a rise in COVID-19 cases among children.
Wake Epidemiology Director Dr. Nicole Mushonga says transmission remains high in the county.
"What we have seen, during our Delta surge, is that the number of cases for 5-9 (age group) has gone up significantly, ranging anywhere from 200 to over 360 cases per week," she said.
Strides are being made elsewhere.
"We've had a pretty good increase in our 12-17 population vaccinations," said Mushonga.
Raleigh mom Emily Rosar spent a portion of Wednesday afternoon in Moore Square entertaining her 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
"I was working this morning and then I took the half-day," said Rosar.
Her toddler, Ruth, is on a two-week hiatus from daycare. Her room closing after a classmate got COVID-19.
Rosar said she wishes she could take precautions to protect her little one from the virus.
"If I could get her vaccinated today, I absolutely would. She's getting vaccinated for everything else," she said.
Rosar said, for now, she can only manage expectations and see what this school year holds. She says the situation is worrisome to a degree.
"We're been doing it for a year and a half," said Rosar.
State and local leaders are continuing to urge kids 12 and older to get the vaccine.
Wake Health says it is also preparing to offer boosters shots to teachers and staff.
At least two children in South Carolina have died of COVID-19 this month as schools have reported thousands of cases among students and staff. The Aiken County coroner confirmed a 9-year-old and a 15-year-old died from the virus on Sept. 1. Aiken County Public Schools had previously announced the deaths of two students in fourth and tenth grade. The state's current coronavirus surge has continued to infect more children and younger people, and affect them more severely, than earlier in the pandemic. Health officials tracked more than 20,000 cases between Thursday and Sunday of Labor Day weekend.
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday that it is seeing a sharp increase in COVID clusters among school sports teams. From July 1 through Sept. 2, clusters among school sports teams accounted for 45% of all clusters in North Carolina middle and high schools.
NCDHHS also said children age 17 and younger made up 31% of the state's new COVID-19 cases for the week ending Sept. 4,
"We need everyone, including our student-athletes and their coaches, to increase layers of prevention to fight this more contagious Delta variant: Don't wait to vaccinate and urge others to do the same," NCDHHS Chief Medical Officer and State Health Director Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, M.D., MPH. "Tested, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are the best tool for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Student-athletes who are fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine after a close contact with someone with COVID-19."
4,752 new COVID-19 cases were reported in North Carolina on Wednesday.
The percent of positive tests in the state increased to 15.8%.
3,790 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. There are 928 adult ICU COVID-19 patients.
356 confirmed COVID-19 patients were admitted in the last 24 hours.
The head of the World Health Organization is calling on rich countries with large supplies of coronavirus vaccines to refrain from offering booster shots through the end of the year, expanding a call that has largely fallen on deaf ears. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said Wednesday that he was "appalled" at comments by pharmaceutical manufacturers who said vaccine supplies are high enough to allow for both booster shots and vaccinations in countries in dire need of jabs but facing shortages. The WHO chief says "I will not stay silent when companies and countries that control the global supply of vaccines think the world's poor should be satisfied with leftovers." The U.S. and other nations have already begun some vaccine booster shots for vulnerable people.
WEDNESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
North Carolina health officials on Tuesday released a report showing 170 ongoing COVID-19 clusters in K-12 schools or child-care settings.
While the state Department of Health and Human Services said it does not have data on the number of pupils quarantined statewide or the share of those forced to miss school without a remote learning option, districts without mask-wearing requirements are seeing substantially more spread of the virus and hours of lost learning among students.
Union County Public Schools, which voted down a proposal last month to require mask-wearing in the state's sixth-largest public school district, reported about one in 8 of the more than 41,000 students in the district were under quarantine, as of Friday. The more than 5,200 students were placed under quarantine after 337 pupils tested positive for the virus last week.
Meanwhile, the Wake County Public School System, which is four times larger than Union County Public Schools, has less than a fourth of the number of students quarantined. Data from the Wake County district shows less than 1,300 of its more than 161,000 pupils were quarantined last week.
WATCH: Wake Co parents debate best next COVID-19 steps for school district
In Durham County, where face coverings are also mandatory, the public school district with nearly 31,000 pupils learning in person reported 97 new cases among students last week.
The weekly report state health officials updated on Tuesday shows the Union Academy Charter School in Monroe has the worst cluster in North Carolina, with 111 positive cases, including 98 among children. This amounts to about one in 20 of the charter school's students being infected. Charter Day School in Brunswick County has the next highest cluster of 81 infected children, followed distantly by Emereau Charter School in Bladen County with 31 infections among students.
Education leaders, health experts and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper have all strongly encouraged districts to require mask-wearing, even as the governor has refused to require it statewide and instead chosen to leave the decision to local school boards.
Dozens of districts entered the school year with optional mask-wearing policies, and nearly all of them have reversed course over the past month as the spread of the more contagious delta variant has hit their communities.
But five of the state's 115 K-12 public school districts, which include the Avery, Onslow, Polk, Union and Yancey county school systems, are still holding out.
The five districts with about 75,000 total pupils represent 5% of the more than 1.4 million public school students in the state.