Wake County extends mask mandate, citing key COVID-19 metrics and CDC guidance

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Here's the latest news and information on COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines.

4:22 p.m.
Face coverings continue to be required in indoors across Cumberland County, including all municipalities -- Fayetteville, Hope Mills, Spring Lake, Wade, Eastover, Falcon, Godwin, Linden and Stedman.

"While trends are improving, Cumberland County remains in high transmission," said Dr. Jennifer Green, Cumberland County Public Health Director. "Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. Face coverings remain an important tool to protect children and keeping them safe inside of schools and childcare centers and as they gather with friends and family. We anticipate that children ages 5-11 will become eligible to get vaccinated in early November, helping to continue to improve our metrics."

However, Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin issued an order Friday rescinding the mask mandate within the city limits as of midnight Monday.

"I am grateful today to announce the rescinding of the city's mask mandates," Mayor Colvin said. "This is the result of the reductions we have experienced in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. We are very thankful and appreciative to all of you for your cooperation, patience and most of all for getting vaccinated. Let's continue this positive trend and keep each other safe as we work through this challenging time."

2:42 p.m .
The Town of Garner said it will join Wake County in the extension of an existing mask mandate for public places,

Knightdale, Morrisville, Rolesville and Zebulon decided to continue the current mask mandate, which requires residents to wear a face-covering while inside businesses or other public spaces.

Other Wake County municipalities, including Apex, Cary, Fuquay-Varina, Holly Springs, and Wake Forest, have decided mask mandates are no longer needed.

1:15 p.m.
The Wake County health department said it's still too soon to lift mask mandates. However, Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin decided the city's mask mandate would end at the end of October.

Wake County's mask mandate was set to expire Nov. 1, but Wake County Public Health explained its decision to extend the mandate by pointing to the county's level of transmission, which is tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CDC says Wake County's level of community transmission remains high, and thus the mask mandate should remain until transmission drops to moderate.

The community transmission rate is defined as the percent positivity and total number of new cases per 100,000 residents per day over a 7-day period. Wake County currently has 104 cases per 100,000 people. CDC defines "moderate" transmission as being fewer than 50 per 100,000.

Wake County's Chief Medical Officer shared that same data with all 12 municipalities earlier in the week. Garner, Knightdale, Morrisville, Rolesville and Zebulon are the only ones who agreed to keep requiring masks inside buildings, as suggested by the CDC.

Further south in Fayetteville, Mayor Colvin announced the city's mask mandate would expire at 12 a.m. November 1.

"I am grateful today to announce the rescinding of the city's mask mandates," Colvin said. "This is the result of the reductions we have experienced in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. We are very thankful and appreciative to all of you for your cooperation, patience and most of all for getting vaccinated. Let's continue this positive trend and keep each other safe as we work through this challenging time."

12:45 p.m.
This week, North Carolina averaged 2,089 new COVID-19 cases per day. That's down from 2,464 a day last week.

Two hundred eighty five more people died from the virus this week--down from 309 last week.

COVID-19 hospitalizations also continue to drop, reaching 1,335 patients in the hospital Friday.

FRIDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Face coverings are no longer mandated inside all buildings in Cary. Town leaders repealed the mask mandate effective at midnight Friday morning.

Now all eyes are on Wake County. The county's mask mandate is set to expire Nov. 1, but it's unclear if county leaders will allow that to happen or extend the mandate.

That decision is expected to be announced sometime Friday.

Meanwhile, Garner and Knightdale plan to follow along with what Wake County decides, Durham has issued no update to its mask mandate, Orange County said its mandate will remain in place for the foreseeable future, and Apex and Fuquay-Varina have not required masks inside since July.

THURSDAY
3:21 p.m.
Cary is dropping its indoor mask requirement amid improving COVID-19 trends.

Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said Thursday he is rescinding the town's indoor mask order effective at 12:01 a.m. Friday October 29.

The decision comes a day after Gov. Roy Cooper and his Coronavirus Taskforce touted the direction COVID trends are moving across North Carolina, but with a caveat that the vast majority of the state is still experiencing high or substantial transmission of the virus.

"That means everyone in North Carolina should be following the CDC guidance and wearing a mask in indoor public settings until viral transmission can decrease to moderate or low levels," said Dr. Mandy Cohen, State Health Secretary.

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The Town of Cary will no longer require masks in indoor public spaces as of 12:01 a.m. Friday.



The CDC defines moderate transmission as less than 50 new cases per 100,000 people over seven days. To achieve low transmission, that number needs to sit at less than 10 new cases per 100,000 people over seven days.

"The COVID impact is still taking a horrendous toll on Americans," said Dr. David Weber, UNC Pediatrics & Epidemiology Professor. "We should continue to stay masked until the rates have dropped at least into the CDC's lowest one to two categories in part because we need to protect the other people around us."

At BREW coffee in Cary, manager Tyler Montague said he is looking at what to do about the changed mask mandate to figure out what's best for him and his staff going forward

"The slow process of restarting back up and as people slowly got back out and it was one of those things where we had to start back over," Montague said. ""People didn't want to go out, people didn't want to sit in, people were concerned about certain things. We are very much a staff-first business, we care about everyone. We want to accommodate everyone as best as we can and make sure everyone is as comfortable as possible."



CJ Lefebvre, the assistant bar manager at Di Fara said he personally thinks the decision will make things easier for the service industry.

"It's one of those things where I'm here to serve people food and take care of them and not have to police them," Lefebvre said. "It's the hardest thing about it."



Lefebvre emphasized that he was not speaking on behalf of the business and opined that "if nobody is going to follow the mandate, then there's no point in having the mandate."

He said he supports mask mandates, "but at the same time, they are impossible to enforce for a small business owner and we've all seen the viral videos of people trying to enforce them."

Cary now joins other municipalities without a mask mandate: Apex, Fuquay-Varina, Holly Springs, and Wake Forest.

The chair of the Wake County school board told ABC11 on Thursday night that he hasn't checked with staff yet but as far as he knows, they will be wearing masks at Tuesday's meeting. This is what was planned for under the town's previous orders.

Knightdale and Zebulon just signed on to Wake County's mask mandate.

The City of Raleigh has not set an end date to its indoor mask requirement.

-- ABC11's Andrea Blanford and Josh Chapin contributed.

12:20 p.m.
The daily percent positive rate fell to 4.5% in the latest metrics from NCDHHS. That continues a pattern of improvement in COVID-19 statistics.

The total number of cases and hospitalizations also fell again, but another 42 people died from the virus raising the state's total death toll to 17,977.

Click here to view the data yourself.

Q&A: Do we need to be concerned about other COVID-19 variants?
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9:55 a.m.
A COVID-19 vaccine could be available for little kids soon, and public health leaders say vaccinating them could help end the pandemic -- but only if parents actually get them vaccinated.

A new survey suggests that's uncertain at best.

The majority of parents say they will not get their younger children vaccinated right away, according to the survey published Thursday from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

"Right away," could be as early as next week when vaccine advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are meeting to discuss if the agency should recommend the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds. Some 28 million children would be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and pediatricians and pharmacies are already preparing to administer their shots.

But the survey found that among parents of children ages 5 to 11, only 27% said they will vaccinate their children against the virus as soon as a vaccine becomes available.

6:35 a.m.
A cheap antidepressant reduced the need for hospitalization among high-risk adults with COVID-19 in a study hunting for existing drugs that could be repurposed to treat coronavirus.

Researchers tested the pill used for depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder because it was known to reduce inflammation and looked promising in smaller studies.

They've shared the results with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which publishes treatment guidelines, and they hope for a World Health Organization recommendation.

"If WHO recommends this, you will see it widely taken up," said study co-author Dr. Edward Mills of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, adding that many poor nations have the drug readily available. "We hope it will lead to a lot of lives saved."

The pill, called fluvoxamine, would cost $4 for a course of COVID-19 treatment. By comparison, antibody IV treatments cost about $2,000 and Merck's experimental antiviral pill for COVID-19 is about $700 per course. Some experts predict various treatments eventually will be used in combination to fight the coronavirus.

THURSDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Local school districts are taking steps to help alleviate some stress on students.

That comes as top pediatric organizations in the US declared a state of emergency surrounding the mental health of children.

Wake County is holding virtual and in-person wellness learning sessions. Johnston County is adding wellness days on Nov. 12, 23, and an optional teacher work day on the 22nd. Durham, Cumberland and Chatham will all give students and staff a mental health day on Nov. 12. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools announced students will get the entire week of Thanksgiving off.

Meanwhile, local leaders are re-evaluating mask mandates as COVID-19 metrics continue to improve.

Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht is expected to announce if the town's mask mandate will remain in place after Wake County's mask mandate expires Nov. 1.

Garner and Knightdale plan to adhere to Wake County's rules. Durham leaders said they will continue to monitor COVID-19 metrics. Orange County leaders said their mandate will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

The Pentagon said more than 86 percent of active duty US service members are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Navy reports 98 percent of active duty members are at least partially vaccinated. That number is 92 percent for the Marine Corps and 91 percent for the Army.

WEDNESDAY
5:30 p.m.
The Johnston County Board of Education on Wednesday voted to add two wellness days and an optional teacher work day to the district's November calendar.

November 12 will go from being an Instructional Day to a Wellness Day for all students and staff and the schools will be closed.

The Board also voted to change Monday, November 22 to an Optional Teacher Work Day and Tuesday, November 23 to a Wellness Day.

Both of those days were previously Instructional Days.

Schools will now be closed for students on Nov. 22 and closed for both students and staff on Nov. 23.

2:50 p.m.
NCDHHS updated its guidance this week to reflect when school districts may be able to drop their mask mandates.

The state still recommends that schools continue to implement a mask requirement if they are located in a county with high or substantial levels as defined by the CDC. Currently, all central North Carolina counties have high or substantial levels.

However, when community transmission levels decline to moderate or low levels for at least 7 consecutive days, school leaders can consider making face coverings optional for vaccinated people, NCDHHS says.

The state says masks in schools should continue to be required for all unvaccinated people until community transmission is at low levels, when mask could be optional for everyone.

Currently, only two counties in North Carolina, Hyde and Cherokee counties, have moderate levels of spread. Zero counties have low levels.

E.E. Smith High School parent Sherlon Teasley says masks are a must -- as she's witnessed the pain and devastation of friends losing family members to COVID-19.

"It's been friends that have lost people," said Teasley. "I have took my kids to get tested quite a lot because of that. It's like you were around that person the other week and come to find out, they have COVID-19."

Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen on Wednesday made it clear that the state still believes all school districts should keep their mask mandates for now.

"As school boards are re-evaluating if they should keep mask mandates, we say yes they should," she said. "Nearly all of our counties are either red or orange and, in that place, you should not be considering taking away masks."

"It is a good thing that we still have masking in schools where many school children under age 12 are eligible. It helps protect them because they haven't been vaccinated," said Cumberland County Health Director Dr. Jennifer Green.

According to Green, children ages 17 and up in Cumberland County make up about 17 percent of the population. She is urging parents to vaccinate 5 to 11 year olds.

"They make up a good bit of our residents and we won't be able to get numbers down until they are vaccinated," said Green.

2:20 p.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper and NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen praised results of the ongoing battle against COVID-19 but said there was still work to be done.

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"Right now, every unvaccinated person is another foothold allowing this virus to regain strength," Cooper said.



"It's good news. We're relieved to see fewer people requiring hospital care and ICU beds for COVID-19," Cooper said.

Cohen went over the most recent stats and showed significant drops in positive COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions of people with COVID-related symptoms. However, the rate of COVID-19 across the state remains in the CDC's red zone.

All but two of North Carolina's 100 counties have high or substantial community viral transmission. Cohen said that means it's important for everyone in those counties to continue wearing masks indoors.

Both Cooper and Cohen praised the effectiveness of all three authorized COVID-19 vaccines and urged everyone to get vaccinated.

"Right now, every unvaccinated person is another foothold allowing this virus to regain strength," Cooper said.

Cohen pointed out that the youngest eligible North Carolinians are a large portion of the unvaccinated population. Just 42 percent of people age 12-17 and just 46 percent of those age 18-24 are vaccinated.

Cohen said it's as vital for young North Carolinians to be vaccinated as older citizens.

Cohen said vaccines for kids 5-11, once approved, could be available as early as the end of next week. North Carolina has 750 locations where vaccines for that age group will be available.

State officials expect there to be about 400,000 doses by the end of next week in a variety of different locations.

12:30 p.m.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in North Carolina drop 38% in the last two weeks.

As of Wednesday, a total of 1,406 people were in the hospital with the virus.

Daily positive cases and daily positive rates have also continued to decrease over the past couple weeks.

10:30 a.m.
The spread of COVID-19 has dropped substantially in recent weeks, according to data released Tuesday by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

For the first time since mid-July, the state reported two consecutive days of new daily cases below 1,500. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has decreased by more than 35%. Hospitalizations, which have declined by 37% in the last 14 days, are at their lowest levels in nearly three months.

Health officials reported on Monday that K-12 schools, which host kids under 12 who cannot yet be vaccinated, have also seen a drop in cases associated with clusters for five straight weeks.

"North Carolina's key metrics show high but declining levels of COVID-19 spread," health officials wrote in the report.

The share of COVID-19 tests coming back positive over the past week has ranged from 4% to 6%, down substantially from the 8% to 10% daily positivity rate reported a month ago.

Spread of the more contagious variant along with low vaccination rates in many of North Carolina's 100 counties had fueled substantial spread from late July to mid-September.

State health officials continue to urge people to get vaccinated. On Monday, they touted the success small financial perks had in boosting vaccination numbers over the summer, though the state's cash card program is no longer available to residents who want to come in for a first shot.

Though more data is still coming in, only about 21,000 people came in for their first COVID-19 shot last week, which represents the lowest weekly count since the first week of a sluggish December 2020 vaccine roll-out.

North Carolina is in the middle of the pack in the nation on its share of vaccinated residents, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers show North Carolina with the 16th lowest share of residents 12 and older who have been fully vaccinated. Even so, the CDC ranks North Carolina with the 14th lowest death rate per 100,000 residents.

The state's latest COVID surveillance report notes unvaccinated North Carolinians are more than four times as likely get the virus and nearly 20 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than vaccinated people.

"If you aren't yet vaccinated, don't wait," NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said in a news release last week. "We are seeing this virus attack those who are unvaccinated at a much higher rate than those who are vaccinated."

Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 boosters are now available to more North Carolinians who have already been vaccinated.

North Carolina public health officials are also preparing distribute the first wave of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines once the federal government approves them for children aged 5 to 11. A panel of U.S. health advisers on Tuesday endorsed kid-size doses of the vaccine, moving North Carolina and other states one step closer to beginning vaccinations in younger children.

The state expects to receive 124,500 doses, which would then be made available to 231 providers across the state, though health officials noted vaccine distribution counts are subject to change and some providers may decline allocations.

The Mecklenburg County Health Department is expected to get the largest share of vaccines at 13,500, followed by 8,100 set to go to Wake County Human Services.

Roughly 900,000 North Carolinians fall within the qualifying age group, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(BRYAN ANDERSON
Associated Press/Report for America)


9:50 a.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper will give an update on the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday afternoon.

Cooper is scheduled to hold a press conference at 2 p.m. That event will be streamed live in the above video player.

Cooper will be joined by members of the state's Coronavirus Task Force. The specifics of what will be discussed at the press conference have not been released.

9:30 a.m.
Nearly 11 months into the nation's vaccine rollout, two-thirds of all Americans -- 220 million people -- have now been vaccinated against COVID-19 with at least one shot, a notable milestone in the U.S.' persistent efforts to get as many shots in arms as possible.

111 million Americans remain completely unvaccinated against COVID-19 - about 48 million of those people are children under the age of 12, who are not yet eligible to get the shot, though that could soon change if both the FDA and the CDC greenlight lower-dose shots for younger populations.

So far, more than 11.2 million adolescents between the ages of 12-17 have received at least one shot -- about 44% of the population. Children are still testing positive at significant rates. Although, similar to national metrics, pediatric cases and hospitalizations are falling, they still account for about a quarter of all new cases.

6:25 a.m.
Over the next week, pharmacies and pediatricians will be preparing to rollout the COVID-19 vaccine for kids 5 and older.

An FDA advisory panel recommended the emergency use authorization of the Pfizer vaccine. The full FDA must still officially sign off on it. Plus, a CDC panel will meet Tuesday to discuss the data, and then the CDC director must also sign off on authorization before any of that age group starts getting vaccinated.

Practically speaking, health experts expect children over the age of 5 to start getting vaccinated as early as the first week of November. That means they could be fully vaccinated by early December.

5:40 a.m.
Immunocompromised people may need a fourth dose of the vaccine, according to newly issued guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those patients may end up needing an additional shot six months after their third dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, the CDC said. The fourth dose can be of any of the three available vaccines, according to the agency.

This is in line with what the CDC has said before regarding immunocompromised adults. A third shot is considered necessary to establish vaccination for those patients and a boost would need to come six months later, according to the agency.

TUESDAY
4:25 p.m.
Vaccine advisers to the US Food and Drug Administration voted 17-0 with one abstention Tuesday to recommend Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine in children 5 to 11.

Members of the FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee agreed that the benefits of vaccinating younger children appeared to outweigh the risks, but some members appeared troubled about voting to vaccinate a large population of younger children based on studies of a few thousand.

1 p.m.
Raleigh Parks announced that it has decided to cancel Pullen Park's Holiday Express for 2021.

Parks officials called it a "difficult decision."

The city cited staffing levels for its decision, saying the event "requires an incredible number of staff and volunteers to run successfully" and it does not have enough staffing right now to put on an "exceptional experience."

1 p.m.
1,340 new daily COVID-19 cases were reported on Tuesday.

The daily percent of positive tests in the state is at 6%.

1,443 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. This marks the 10th straight day below 2,000.

There are 419 adult ICU COVID-19 patients. That's down 21 percent from last Tuesday.

21 more COVID-19 deaths were reported on Tuesday.

9:30 a.m.
ABC News reports that the states with low vaccination rates continue to bear the brunt of the country's coronavirus crisis. The five states with the highest death rates over the last week -- Wyoming, Montana, Alaska, West Virginia, and Idaho -- are also among the states with the lowest full vaccination rates.

People who have not been fully vaccinated are 6.1 times more likely to test positive with the virus and 11.3 times more likely to die from it, compared with people who are vaccinated, according to federal data.

More than 1,100 American lives are still being reported lost to the virus every day -- the vast majority of them unvaccinated individuals.

Tuesday morning headlines



An advisory panel for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will meet Tuesday to discuss whether Pfizer has presented enough evidence to show their COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective in children ages 5-11.
The highly anticipated meeting isn't the last step in authorization--the decision still needs to go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Emergency Use Authorization, if granted, is expected as early as November 3.

Still, states are planning for a rush of appointments as parents get their kids vaccinated in time for the holidays. States will get doses in three waves--in the first wave, North Carolina is expected to receive 124,500 doses.

Although the state is already placing orders, no vaccines will ship until the FDA grants authorization.

Durham County Health Department will also start offering more booster shots Tuesday--adding Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to the list.

Anyone eligible to receive a booster can choose to receive a vaccine brand different from what they first received. Appointments and walk-ins are both available--but a vaccination card is necessary.
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