North Carolina reports sharp increase in COVID clusters among school sports teams

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- North Carolina, like many other states across the country, is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

5:20 p.m.

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.

3:40 p.m.
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.

1:25 p.m.

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 under 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."

12 p.m.
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.

11:20 a.m.
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 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
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"It is not your job to protect my child," one mother told the board before smearing her face covering over the podium to illustrate what she perceives as the ineffectiveness of the district's mask rules



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 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.

TUESDAY
5 p.m.
NCDHHS released its latest childcare and K-12 cluster report. The report shows a 71% increase in the past week in K-12 clusters. There were 125 in K-12 schools and 36 in childcare settings last week. Wake County had 15 clusters. Durham had 3 and Cumberland had 3.

4 p.m.
As millions of students had back to classrooms, the U.S. is facing arguably its most concerning surge yet, with hundreds of thousands of American children now testing positive for COVID-19 every week.

Last week, the U.S. reported nearly 252,000 child COVID-19 cases, marking the single largest number of pediatric cases in a week since the pandemic began, according to a newly released weekly report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children's Hospital Association (CHA).

Since the onset of the pandemic, more than 5 million children have tested positive for the virus, and in the last month alone, there have been over 750,000 confirmed pediatric cases.

3:30 p.m.
Wake County Health and Human Services has been awarded a $3.8 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

The grant is for a two-year project to address COVID-19 health disparities throughout the county.

Funds will be implemented as part of the Live Well Wake program, support The Health Impact Collaborative. and bring together community organizations and HBCUs.

This initiative is a natural extension of our ongoing work to improve equity and the overall health of Wake County through Live Well Wake," said Sig Hutchinson, a Wake County Board of Commissioners and Co-Chair of Live Well Wake. "This grant will significantly improve our ability to expand our support for COVID-19 prevention and provide access and critical services to our underserved communities."

3 p.m.
The resurgence of COVID-19 this summer and the national debate over vaccine requirements have created a fraught situation for the United States' first responders, who are dying in larger numbers but pushing back against mandates.

It's a stark contrast from the beginning of the vaccine rollout when first responders were prioritized for shots.

The mandates affect tens of thousands of police officers, firefighters and others on the front lines across the country, many of whom are spurning the vaccine. That is happening despite mandates' consequences that range from weekly testing to suspension to termination - even though the virus is now the leading cause of U.S. law enforcement line-of-duty deaths.

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, 132 members of law enforcement agencies are known to have died of COVID-19 in 2021. In Florida alone last month, six people affiliated with law enforcement died over a 10-day period.

Despite the deaths, police officers and other first responders are among those most hesitant to get the vaccine and their cases continue to grow. No national statistics show the vaccination rate for America's entire population of first responders but individual police and fire departments across the country report figures far below the national rate of 74% of adults who have had at least one dose.

2:30 p.m.
Seventy-five percent of U.S. adults have now had at least one vaccine dose, Cyrus Shahpar, the White House's COVID-19 data director, tweeted Tuesday. Sixty-four percent of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.

12:10 p.m.
North Carolina Central University will offer both first and second dose of Moderna and Pfizer, and single-dose Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccines available by walk-in or appointment on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 10 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. As an incentive, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services will provide a $100 gift card to the first 150 university and community members who receive their first vaccination at the NCCU COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic.

The COVID-19 vaccine clinic will offer the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson vaccines by walk-in or appointment. Individuals can sign up here.

12 p.m.
More than 25,000 new COVID-19 cases have been reported in North Carolina since last Friday.

8,515 were reported Saturday, 7,275 on Sunday, 5,274 on Monday and 4,124 on Tuesday. Several COVID-19 testing sites were closed for the holiday on Monday, so testing lines are expected to have longer lines today.

Nearly 6 times more cases were reported this Labor Day than last Labor Day.

The daily percent of positive tests in the state is at 13.7%.

3,779 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in North Carolina.

There are 927 adult ICU COVID-19 patients.

364 confirmed COVID-19 patients were admitted into hospitals in the last 24 hours.

Statewide, 17 percent of COVID-19 patients are on a ventilator.

More than 73,000 vaccines have been administered in the state since Friday.

TUESDAY MORNING HEADLINES


Long lines are expected for COVID-19 tests Tuesday.

Testing sites in Wake County closed Monday for the Labor Day holiday. With them reopening Tuesday, officials expect a high demand.

Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 or anyone with has had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 are encouraged to get tested.

You're also encouraged to get tested if you are unvaccinated and have taken part in activities that could expose you to COVID-19--such as travel, large gatherings or being indoors and unmasked with several people outside your home.

If you're interested in getting tested but don't want to go to or cannot get to a testing site, you can request an at-home testing kit here.

The need for COVID-19 testing is also higher this week due to the holiday weekend. Large holiday gatherings could lead to rapid spread of COVID-19, according to health experts.

"It's not the travel or the holiday that creates the increased risk, it's what you do when you get to the end of that travel...so if you get together with large groups of people indoors, particularly unmasked, when there's no physical distancing," UNC's Dr. David Weber said.

Weber said he expects COVID-19 cases to continue to increase in the coming weeks and months. He recommends everybody get vaccinated and wear a mask.

In schools, Wake County School Board is scheduled to meet today to talk about possibly revamping its COVID-19 protocols.

District leaders are expected to talk about adding new precautions, including mandatory testing for unvaccinated students and staff.

Mask mandates indoors, outdoors and during athletics will also be discussed.

In a virtual meeting Monday night, parents called on the district to check mask compliance daily, make lunch groups smaller and provide for more outside time during the school day.

Some parent groups are even fundraising for new air filtration systems and purifiers in classrooms for students with special needs.

"The problem here that we feel as a collective group is the inequity. It's not fair. I should not feel that my child is more safe at his school than your child is at their school," parent Kira Kroboth said.

Monday headlines


Labor Day COVID surge?
As Americans get ready to celebrate the end of summer, health officials are once again urging the public, particularly those who are still unvaccinated, to act responsibly during the Labor Day weekend, given the country's ongoing struggle with the virus.

"First and foremost, if you are unvaccinated, we would recommend not traveling," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House COVID-19 briefing Tuesday.

Holidays, which often entail traveling and large gatherings, have proven to be a catalyst of rapid COVID-19 spread across the country.

Last year, in the weeks prior to Labor Day, the country was experiencing a steady decline in COVID-19 cases, with the national daily case average falling to approximately 38,000.

However, the late summer holiday weekend set the stage for the country's most significant viral surge of the pandemic. Between mid-September and Thanksgiving, the nation's daily case average rose by more than 400%, followed by a record-setting influx of hospitalizations and deaths.
Testing sites closed
Wake County COVID-19 testing sites will be closed Monday to give staff Labor Day off. The sites will reopen at 7 a.m. on Tuesday. At that time, county officials anticipate longer lines. Wake County residents can also order a test to be shipped overnight to your home here.

The Durham County Department of Public Health is also following the Durham County Government Labor Day holiday schedule on September 6.

DCoPH clinics, including the walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinic, will re-open on Tuesday, September 7.

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Vaccine hesitancy eases in teeth of the delta surge: POLL
Vaccine hesitancy has subsided in the face of the delta surge, with the share of Americans who are disinclined to get a coronavirus shot now just half what it was last January. Support for mask mandates is broad and President Joe Biden's approval for handling the pandemic has dropped sharply.

Alongside the steep rise in cases, there's been a jump in perceived risk of catching the virus, from 29% in late June to 47% now, the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll finds. Yet worries about the consequences of infection are moderate, expressed by 39%, partly reflecting broad awareness of vaccine efficacy.
While 75% of adults have gotten a shot, per data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some hesitancy persists. Among unvaccinated adults, about 7 in 10 are skeptical of the vaccines' safety and effectiveness, 9 in 10 see vaccination as a personal choice rather than a broader responsibility and just 16% have been encouraged by someone close to them to get a shot. Each is an impediment to uptake.
Further, few unvaccinated Americans, 16%, say the FDA's approval of the Pfizer vaccine makes them more likely to get a shot; 82% say it makes no difference. And among those who work, again just 16% say they'd get a shot if their employer required it; many more say they'd quit.

The poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, finds approval of Biden's handling of the pandemic dropping steeply, from 62% in June to 52% now. Forty-one percent disapprove, with the rest undecided. (Biden's overall approval rating is just 44%, pulled down by criticism of his handling of the Afghanistan pullout, as reported Friday.)

Two anchors of COVID safety net ending, affecting millions
Labor Day 2021 represents a perilous crossroads for millions of Americans. Two primary anchors of the government's COVID protection package are ending or have recently ended. The $300 weekly jobless benefit boost will stop Monday, affecting an estimated 8.9 million people. A federal eviction moratorium already has expired.

Boosters could begin Sept. 20
The U.S. government's top infectious disease expert says he believes delivery of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots will be able to start Sept. 20 for Americans who received Pfizer doses, while Moderna's may end up rolling out a couple weeks later.
Dr. Anthony Fauci told CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday that it is still the Biden administration's plan "in some respects" to begin the third doses the week of Sept. 20, pending approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

The administration had hoped that both Pfizer and Moderna booster shots would be rolled out at that time. But Fauci said it is "conceivable" that for Moderna's, there might be "at most a couple of weeks, a few weeks delay, if any," while the company provides more data to the FDA on the booster's efficacy.

President Joe Biden on Aug. 18 touted boosters as a protection against the virus' more transmissible delta variant, and said Americans should consider getting a booster eight months after their second shot.

Ron Klain, Biden's chief of staff, said Sunday the administration had always made clear that Sept. 20 was a target date, and "No one's going to get boosters until the FDA says they're approved."

Klain told CNN: "We're ready to go once the science says go."

The Associated Press and ABC News contributed.
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