RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Here's the latest news and information on COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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 ANDERSONAssociated Press/Report for America)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
1,340 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.
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.