Record number of COVID-19 patients are on ventilator in North Carolina

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

North Carolina's Dr. Tilson says we haven't seen impact of Labor Day travel on COVID cases yet
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NCDHHS' Dr. Betsey Tilson busts myths about COVID-19.



12:40 p.m.
Pfizer released a 53-page document in which the company makes the case that the general public needs a booster 6 months after the 2nd Pfizer dose to "restore" protection to initial levels.

The FDA released its own 23-page analysis of the data presented by Pfizer. The FDA's analysis did not argue for or against boosters.

Rather, the FDA analysis emphasized that a Pfizer booster appears safe based on data from clinical trials. But the data on effectiveness relies more on real-world data, which could introduce "bias," mean it's not as rigorous as a well-designed randomized trial.

The FDA's advisors will be asked to discuss and vote Friday on whether Pfizer has presented sufficient evidence a Pfizer booster is safe and boosts immune response 6 months after the primary vaccination. From there, the decision will go to the FDA's desk.

12 p.m.
A second Charlotte-area school district is making face masks optional for students.

Lincoln County School District's board of education voted Tuesday night to relax its COVID-19 protocols.

The district said masks will become optional starting September 29. Plus, students are not excused from class unless they test positive for COVID-19, are symptomatic or have been given an official quarantine order from the health department.

Lincoln County joins nearby Union County in rolling back COVID-19 safety measures in school. Closer to the Triangle, Harnett County Schools also voted to make masks optional starting Oct. 5.

11:50 a.m.
7,277 new daily COVID-19 cases were reported in North Carolina on Wednesday.

The percent of positive tests is at 11.9%.

3,630 people are currently hospitalized in the state with COVID-19.

100 more deaths were reported Wednesday.

There are currently 946 adult ICU COVID-19 patients.

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

North Carolina is at an all-time pandemic high for the number of patients on a ventilator.

There are currently 689 COVID patients on a ventilator in the state. That's up four from Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the state saw the highest number of adult ICU patients in the pandemic.

This week, North Carolina surpassed 5 million people with both vaccine shots.

10:35 a.m.
Wake County reached a new COVID-19 milestone, according to Commission Chairman Matt Calabria.

Calabria said 80% of eligible adults in the county have received at least one dose of the vaccine.



According to NCDHHS, just 67% of adults are at least partially vaccinated in the entire state.

9:30 a.m.
The United States has reached another grim milestone in its fight against the devastating COVID-19 pandemic: 1 in 500 Americans have died from coronavirus since the nation's first reported infection.

As of Tuesday night, 663,913 people in the US have died of COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University data. According to the US Census Bureau, the US population as of April 2020 was 331.4 million.

9 a.m.
COVID-19 vaccines for children between the ages of 5 and 11 could get the green light from the US Food and Drug Administration sometime this fall, Dr. Anthony Fauci said.
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"If you go to the pediatric hospitals, particularly in the south where you are, you will see the pediatric hospitals are crowded with kids with COVID."



"If you look at the studies that we at the (National Institutes of Health) are doing in collaboration with the pharmaceutical companies, there will be enough data to apply for an emergency use authorization both by Pfizer, a little bit later by Moderna," Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN's Jake Tapper on Tuesday.

8:50 a.m.
Another staffing shortage is causing reduced hours at a local business.

The Chick-fil-A on North Harrison Avenue in Cary said it will close at 3 p.m. Wednesday and then be open from 7 a.m. - 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.



One of North Carolina's most popular grocery chains, Harris Teeter, just announced effective Sept. 15, all locations will have temporary hours of 6 a.m. through 9 p.m. until further notice.

In a statement sent to ABC11, Harris Teeter representatives said the reason for the reduction was: "We believe closing our stores earlier will allow our valued associates to: take their earned days off; efficiently process ExpressLane orders; manage labor in this difficult employment environment; ensure excellent closings to better prepare for the following day; and make certain that our stores are a clean, safe place to work and shop."

Recently, Publix stores around the Triangle have been announcing they will be closing early as well.

WEDNESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
The United States spent nearly $6 billion treating unvaccinated people in hospitals over the last three months, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

From June to August, approximately 287,000 unvaccinated adults were hospitalized for COVID-19. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated the cost of a preventable COVID-19 hospitalization was about $20,000.

UNC has bushed back its vaccine requirement deadline from Sept. 15 to Oct. 1. The university said it made that decision because it has seen an uptick in the number of faculty and staff attesting to being vaccinated.

Starting Oct. 1, unvaccinated faculty, staff and students will have to get tested once a week for COVID-19.

Active duty soldiers in the US Army must be fully vaccinated by mid-December. Reserve and National Guard units will have until the end of June 2022 to be fully vaccinated.

Soldiers who refuse full vaccinated could be subject to what the Army calls "career-ending reprisals."

The Carolina Hurricanes are setting an example for the community. The team announced that the entire team has now been fully vaccinated.

TUESDAY
WATCH: Dr. Jen Ashton on what schools must consider before rolling back COVID-19 protocols
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ABC News Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jen Ashton answers your COVID-19 questions.



9:20 p.m.
The Lee County school board voted to continue the mask requirement for all students and staff, per spokeswoman Sharon Spence.

4 p.m.
Wake County health officials confirmed a COVID outbreak at Raleigh Rehabilitation on 616 Wade Avenue. This is the facility's third outbreak, previous outbreaks occurred in June 2020 and December 2020.

3:20 p.m.
Active duty soldiers will be expected to be fully vaccinated by mid-December, the Army announced in a statement Tuesday. Reserve and National Guard units will have until the end of June 2022.

Last month Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued his guidance for mandatory vaccination for troops, directing service secretaries "to impose ambitious timelines for implementation."

"This is quite literally a matter of life and death for our Soldiers, their families and the communities in which we live," Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle, the U.S. Army Surgeon General, in the statement.

Despite the urgent language, the Army statement says soldiers can request exemption on religious grounds. Exemptions will also be considered for legitimate medical or administrative reasons.

Soldiers who refuse to receive full vaccination without receiving exemption could be subject to serious reprisals.

"Commanders will request a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand be initiated for any Soldier who refuses to be vaccinated and does not have a pending or approved exemption request. Such reprimands can be career ending," the statement said.

12:15 p.m.
North Carolina reported another 4,760 COVID-19 cases Tuesday.

The percent of positive tests increased to 13%.

3,690 people are currently hospitalized in the state with COVID-19.

There are 955 adult ICU COVID-19 patients.

348 confirmed COVID=19 patients were admitted into hospitals in the last 24 hours.

58 more deaths were reported on Tuesday.

11:30 a.m.
During an on-camera investor conference on Tuesday, Pfizer executive, Frank D'Amelio, discussed the company's plans expand the availability of its COVID-19 vaccine this fall, to include children that are 6 months to 11 years of age, and reiterated that at this time, the company still believes that booster shots would be beneficial, given waning immunity.

D'Amelio, Pfizer's Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President for Global Supply, reiterated that the company expects to have safety and efficacy data for children 5 to 11 years old "by the end of September," following data collection from the phase three studies currently underway in children between the ages of six months and 11-years-old.

Pfizer then expects to file the data with the FDA in "early October."

Notably, D'Amelio reported that in the weeks following the submission of the vaccine data for 5 to 11-year-olds, the company expects to file similar data for children between the ages of six months to five years old.

"We would expect to have similar data for children between the ages of six months and five years old, that we would file with the FDA, I'll call it, in the weeks shortly thereafter the filing of the data for the five to the 11-year-olds," D'Amelio said. "And then obviously, all of that depends on having a positive outcome on the data."

10:55 a.m.
The COVID-19 booster shot controversy continues as the White House battles mixed messaging with the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization.

"I would wish that the federal government could speak with one voice," said UCSF's Dr. George Rutherford.

A review published in a top medical journal "The Lancet" argues there isn't strong enough data to warrant booster shots are needed for the general population already vaccinated, citing the vaccine's efficacy is still high enough to prevent severe disease and death. The report has 18 co-authors, including two high-ranking FDA officials that resigned over the controversy.

8:15 a.m.
COVID-19 infections have risen "exponentially" among children in the US since July, according to data published Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The group reported 243,373 new cases among kids over the past week. While this is a decline from last week, when 251,781 cases were reported, it's about a 240% increase since early July, when kids accounted for 71,726 cases.

"After declining in early summer, child cases have increased exponentially with nearly 500,000 cases in the past two weeks," AAP said in a statement.

8:10 a.m.
The nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said he would support mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for air travel.

"I would support that," Dr. Fauci told The Skimm podcast. "If you want to get on a plane and travel with other people ... you should be vaccinated."

He did not specify in the podcast interview whether the vaccine mandate he supports would just be for travelers over the age of 12 or all travelers.

The U.S. Travel Association responded that while they support people getting vaccinated, they have "long maintained that there should be no mandatory vaccination requirement for domestic travel."

TUESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Some parents in Johnston County will meet ahead of Tuesday's school board meeting to call for the elimination of the district's COVID-19 mask mandate.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends students older than 2 wear masks in school to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, which is now infecting children at higher rates than ever before seen.

Why children under 12 are not yet eligible for COVID vaccines

Yesterday, parents who oppose mask mandates met ahead of the Harnett County School Board's meeting.

That board voted 3-2 to make masks optional starting October 5.

'The hospital is full:' COVID-19 cases still climbing in hospitals as emergency visits start to slow

The Orange County School Board also met Monday. However, it took more steps to limit the spread of COVID-19 among its students.

The district talked about shutting down some high school sports for a couple weeks, but ultimately did not move forward with that. Instead, it approved limitations on fans: each athlete can have 2 spectators and all fans must wear masks.

All athletes, regardless of vaccination status, must also wear masks on and off the field.

In addition, Orange County Schools is requiring all staff to be vaccinated by September 23.

MONDAY
11 p.m.
During a Monday meeting, the Orange County school board heard recommendations for its athletic programs amid the pandemic.

Recommendations included high risk programs being closed immediately following guidance from NCDHHS and the Orange County Health Department. The closure of these programs include those actively participating in-season and those offering off-season practices or workouts.

High risk programs include football, basketball, wrestling and competitive cheerleading. The closed period would last from Sept. 14 to 30.

All student-athletes in these programs who are eligible to be vaccinated must be fully vaccinated in order to participate when programs restart.

Cheerleading, softball, baseball, volleyball, soccer, tennis doubles and lacrosse are considered medium risk for transmission. Recommendations from the meeting included a face mask requirement for athletes on and off the field regardless of vaccination status.

Fans attending the programs must be masked indoors and outdoors. Attendance would be limited to parents or guardians (no more than two).

All athletes in the medium risk programs must be fully vaccinated or participate in a bi-weekly testing program.

Cross country, tennis singles and swimming programs are considered low risk. Masks will only be required when off the field of play. Athletes in these programs mus be vaccinated or participate in a required bi-weekly testing program.

The board did not vote on a pause for athletic programs Monday evening, but did vote on fan limitations and a mask requirement for athletes.

8:40 p.m.
The Harnett County School Board voted 3-2 Monday night to make face masks optional in schools starting Oct. 5.



6:20 p.m.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Harris Teeter announced new store hours.

Effective Wednesday, Sept. 15, until further notice, Harris Teeter's temporary Store Hours of Operations will be 6 a.m. - 9 p.m. Currently, many stores are open until 11 p.m.

Also effective Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, until further notice, the Fresh Foods Market Service Counter revised closing time will be 8 p.m. All amenities close at 7 p.m.

The Butchers & Fisherman's Market Service Counters revised closing time will be 8 p.m.

5:30 p.m.
At Duke University, for the week of Sept. 6-12, there were 37 positive tests -- 28 students and 9 faculty/staff -- on the university side.

The university announced that, because of the declining trend, effective immediately, masking is no longer required outdoors in most circumstances on the Duke campus.

Masks are still strongly recommended in outdoor settings with a gathering of people.

Masks will continue to be required for large outdoor events on campus and must still be used indoors in classrooms and public spaces.

The number of students and employees who tested positive peaked at 364 during the second week of fall classes. Afterward, Duke instituted new safety measures including masking indoors and outdoors, suspending indoor group dining and discouraging larger gatherings.

The university said that the vast majority of those who tested positive had no or very mild symptoms, and none required hospitalization, though the spike did require a rapid expansion of isolation space.

For the week ending Sept. 5, the total dropped to 126 - a 65 percent reduction from the previous week.

5:10 p.m.
Some parents and community members are urging the Harnett County School Board to drop its mask mandate. Several community members told ABC11's Elaina Athans they should have a choice in the matter.

"I don't want to be told what or what not to do with my children. These are my babies and I would like that choice and my choice is that I would like for my children not to have to wear bacteria filled cloth diaper on their face all day long, when they're telling me they cannot breathe. They're hot and they're miserable," said one mother of five.

A public meeting will be underway at 6 p.m.

5 p.m.
UNC Rex Hospital in Raleigh set up tents outside its Emergency Department.

Officials said the hospital is very busy, and the clinical teams in the Emergency Department are working hard to care for COVID and non-COVID patients.

The surge tents will allow UNC Rex to expand its Emergency waiting areas and treatment areas.

"The hospital is full," said Rex Director of Emergency Services Kim Boyder. "We are like 90% or greater capacity in the hospital. So that means we also get backed up in the ER. So that means we need additional space for not only the volume but some of the boarding."

4:20 p.m.
Wake County health officials confirmed a COVID-19 outbreak at a Cary assisted living facility. According to a news release from the health department, it is the third outbreak at The Templeton of Cary.

The previous outbreaks were in September and December 2020, before COVID-19 vaccines were widely available.

It is unclear at this time how many staff or residents have been infected as part of this outbreak.

2 p.m.
In the last two weeks alone, nearly half a million children have tested positive for COVID-19.

Last week, the U.S. reported more than 243,000 child COVID-19 cases, marking the second 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). (That total could be partially skewed by reporting delays over the holiday.)

Since the onset of the pandemic, nearly 5.3 million children have tested positive for the virus. COVID-19 cases among children have risen "exponentially," this summer, the organizations wrote, and in the last month alone, the U.S. has reported more than 1 million pediatric cases. Additionally, since the first children returned to school for the 2021-2022 school year, in late July, more than 1.2 million children have tested positive for the virus.

1 p.m.
Public health officials with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services are urging North Carolinians to vaccinated against Influenza as the state enters flu season while experiencing a surge of COVID-19 caused by the Delta variant.

"COVID-19 is still here, still sending North Carolinians to the hospital with severe illness and still causing deaths. As flu season begins, we all need to do what we can to be as healthy as possible," said Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, NCDHHS State Health Director and Chief Medical Officer. "It is critically important to get your flu vaccine and your COVID-19 vaccine. Flu can be a serious and sometimes deadly disease. Getting vaccinated can prevent you from getting ill and keep you from needing a hospital bed."

In North Carolina, flu infections are most common from late fall to early spring, with activity usually peaking in January or February.

12:30 p.m.
North Carolina surpassed 11,000 new daily COVID-19 cases on Saturday, a number that hasn't been seen since the peak of the pandemic in January and February.

A total of 23,890 cases were reported Saturday through Monday.

The percent of positive tests in the state is at 11.8%.

172 more deaths were reported on Monday.

3,514 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in North Carolina.

There are currently 894 adult ICU COVID-19 patients.

338 confirmed COVID-19 patients were admitted in the last 24 hours.

12 p.m.
UNC Rex Hospital in Raleigh is setting up tents outside its Emergency Department.

Officials said the hospital is very busy, and the clinical teams in the Emergency Department are working hard to care for COVID and non-COVID patients.

The surge tents will allow UNC Rex to expand its Emergency waiting areas and treatment areas.

The tents are scheduled to arrive around 1:30 p.m.

11:30 a.m.
The Chatham County Public Health Department has been working with multiple testing providers to offer new options across the county throughout the week. The department has partnered with Optum Health for two sites, one each in Pittsboro and Siler City, and StarMed Healthcare for three sites, one each in Pittsboro, Siler City and Goldston. Additionally, local urgent cares and pharmacies are also offering testing. Check the full list here.

The new Optum testing sites are:

Pittsboro:
Old Chatham County Agriculture Building (in front of Justice Center),
65 E. Chatham Street, Monday-Friday, 10 AM-6 PM
Siler City:
Chatham Hospital Medical Office Building (located behind Chatham Hospital),
163 Medical Park Drive, Monday-Friday, 5 PM-8 PM
Tests are free
Walk-ins welcome, or you can pre-register.

10:10 a.m.
One school board in North Carolina voted Monday morning to stop COVID-19 quarantines and contact tracing.

This is the school board in charge of Union County Public Schools, which is one of five public school districts in the state to not require masks for staff and students, according to local ABC affiliate WSOC.

As of Friday, 479 students and employees had tested positive for COVID-19. The district had 7,285 people in quarantine due to close contact with someone who had tested positive.

With the school board vote Monday morning, students and staff will now only be required to stay home if they test positive for the virus or have symptoms.

Union County Public Health Director Dennis Joyner recently sent a letter to the school district saying that since the school did not require masks, quarantining students and staff exposed to the virus was the "best option to provide for the protection of student, teachers, staff and members of the community."

Many parents in the district said they don't want the school to mandate masks or quarantines because they don't believe COVID-19 harms children.

UNC Children's Hospital Department of Pediatrics Vice Chair Dr. Benny Joyner said they are wrong.

"I would say they need to come into my ICU. I've got six, now five, critically ill pediatric COVID patients. Two of them have breathing tubes inserted to basically breathe for them. Two of them are infants," he told WSOC.

MONDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Parents in one North Carolina school district are planning to protest Monday against their children wearing masks in class.

Harnett County Schools Board of Education meets Monday afternoon, but it will not be alone. According to a flyer circulating online, a group of parents plans to be at the meeting.

Those parents will attempt to speak during the 6 p.m. meeting, voicing their disagreement with students having to wear masks--which health experts agree reduce the spread of COVID-19 when properly worn.

This comes as a record number of children are contracting the virus across the country.

"I haven't seen anything like this in the 22 years I've been a pediatrician," Dr. Bryan Kornreich said. "It's never been this crazy, never been this busy. It's exhausting all of us. And our biggest concern, of course, is that we're worried that kids aren't getting the care, sick kids aren't getting the care they need."

Children have largely been spared the worst of COVID-19 -- hospitalizations and deaths are more rare for children than for adults -- although children's hospitals are filling up in COVID-19 hotspots around the country.

Timeline for younger children's COVID-19 vaccines

Until the vaccine is approved for children, the vaccine chief for the Food and Drug Administration urged parents not to seek an adult vaccine for their children.

"My strongest advice is please don't do that. Please let us do the evaluation that we need to do to ensure that when you do vaccinate your child, you vaccinate the child with the right dose and in a manner that's safe," Dr. Peter Marks said. "If you want to do something now for your child, make sure that you're vaccinated, that your household is vaccinated, that all the people that come in contact with your children are vaccinated and that your child knows how to wear a mask."

FRIDAY
5:40 p.m.
Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Dr. Marvin Connelly, Jr. announced a teacher in the district died from COVID-19.

"We are deeply saddened by the recent passing of one of our teachers, due to complications from COVID-19," the statement said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the employee's family and loved ones. Schools are learning communities made up of employees, students and their families. Although the employee did not have the opportunity to teach this academic year, the school community is still feeling this loss. Please keep them in your thoughts as well."

4:15 p.m.

Wake County Public Health has confirmed an outbreak of COVID-19 at UNC REX Rehabilitation and Nursing Care Center at 4210 Lake Boone Trail in Raleigh.

This is the facility's fourth outbreak. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services defines an outbreak as two or more people - residents or employees - testing positive for the virus.

3:30 p.m.
The CDC is out with three new studies showing that overall, vaccines are still dramatically reducing the risk of being hospitalized or dying of COVID-19 during the current Delta surge, as they did during the pre-Delta era.

Across the studies, vaccines remained 86-87% effective against preventing hospitalizations.

However, across any metric, vaccine effectiveness has dropped more for people ages 65 and older in recent months compared to the pre-Delta era, likely because of a combination of vaccine effectiveness fading over time, and the slight impact of the Delta variant on vaccine efficacy.

And vaccines are losing some of their effectiveness when it comes to preventing mild infections among the vaccinated (breakthroughs).

This new data will factor into the FDA and CDC discussions around booster shots, and whether they are necessary for everyone now or should perhaps be administered to specific groups first, such as older adults.

ABC's Sasha Pezenik pressed the CDC director about this latest data at the White House COVID briefing and whether it accounts for the damage done by Delta.

Dr. Walensky said even accounting for Delta and other factors "it's still well over 90% of people who are in the hospital are unvaccinated."

She added there are "more than 10 times the number of people in the hospital who are unvaccinated compared to vaccinated."

And earlier in the briefing, she gave this statistic:

"Those who were unvaccinated were about four-and-a-half times more likely to get COVID-19, are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 11 times more likely to die."

2:45 p.m.
A vaccine and COVID testing event will be held at Wheels Fun Park Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The vaccination/testing event is being organized by several community organizations, with Duke Health being one of them.

1:30 p.m.
Next Sunday, September 19, the El Pueblo organization will hold an event at its offices located in Raleigh (2321 Crabtree Blvd.) that will include food distribution, COVID-19 testing and vaccines, and Zumba among other activities.

The outdoor event will be from 1 to 5 pm.

"We wanted to hold this fair because we know the more we take care of each other, the sooner we will get out of the pandemic together, without having to lose one more member of our community," said Iliana Santillán, executive director of El Pueblo. "Our commitment as an organization is to help our Latinx community to always be protected and empowered."

12 p.m.
5,877 new daily COVID-19 cases were reported in North Carolina on Friday.

The percent of positive tests in the state is at 12.1%.

3,756 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

There are 909 adult ICU COVID-19 patients.

There were 445 confirmed COVID-19 patients admitted into North Carolina hospitals in the last 24 hours.

11:45 a.m.
State data shows unvaccinated individuals are nearly 4 times more likely to get COVID-19 as vaccinated individuals.

Unvaccinated individuals are 13.6 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than vaccinated individuals, when adjusted for age.

6% of all cases between January and the end of August were in vaccinated people.

Of the more than 4.8 million North Carolinians who were vaccinated as of the end of August, 0.82% had gotten COVID and 0.005% had died from COVID.

WEDNESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Duke University will require face coverings at all Duke sporting events.

Indoor, outdoor, vaccinated, unvaccinated -- it doesn't matter. Facemask will be required at all home sporting events involving Duke University.

The policy change comes ahead of Duke's home football opener against North Carolina A&T, which is set to kick off at 8 p.m. Friday in Wallace Wade Stadium.

Meanwhile, UNC is set to host its first football game of the season Saturday. That's when the Tar Heels will take on Georgia State looking to rebound from their season opening loss against Virginia Tech.

Masks will be encouraged inside Kenan Stadium, but only required when fans are at indoor locations--such as the Blue Zone, bathrooms, etc.

Before the game, UNC will host a free COVID-19 vaccine clinic. Tents will be set up from 4 - 7 p.m. outside Kenan Stadium near Gates 5 and 6.

Anyone who receives a COVID-19 inoculation will also receive two free tickets to an upcoming home UNC football game.

Those plans come on the heels of President Joe Biden issuing his sternest COVID-19 warning to date. The president laid into the 80 million eligible Americans who are not yet vaccinated, saying their refusal to get the shot has cost the country dearly.

"We've been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us," he said. The unvaccinated minority "can cause a lot of damage, and they are."

Biden went on to expand vaccine rules effectively mandating the vaccine for as many as 100 million Americans or requiring them to be tested for the virus weekly.

THURSDAY
9:17 p.m.

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.

3 p.m.
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.

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Gov. Roy Cooper urges NC residents to get vaccinated.



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.

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Dr. Mandy Cohen talks COVID trends, thanks healthcare workers at a media briefing Thursday.



"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."

12:50 p.m.
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.

11:35 a.m.
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.

9:50 a.m.
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.

9:40 a.m.
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.

9:30 a.m.
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.

8 a.m.
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.
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