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Coronavirus coverage in North Carolina, March 26, 2020: Wake County tops 100 mark for coronavirus cases

Posted March 26, 2020 4:20 a.m. EDT
Updated March 29, 2020 6:20 p.m. EDT

— Here are the latest updates on the impact of the coronavirus outbreak in North Carolina and across the globe:

What you need to know:

  • At least 693 people in North Carolina in 61 counties have tested positive for the coronavirus. Two North Carolina residents have died.
  • Wake and Orange counties, and the city of Durham have issued stay-at-home orders for their residents.
  • The U.S. Senate has passed a $2 trillion relief package that will send payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and help small businesses. The House is expected to pass the measure Friday.
  • All schools statewide are closed through May 15. Online learning and teaching is in place.
  • Gatherings of 50 or more people have been banned in North Carolina, effectively closing movie theaters, gyms and fitness clubs, bowling alleys and sweepstakes parlors. Barbershops, salons and some other businesses also are closed by executive order.
  • Businesses that remain open are encouraged to take the temperatures of all employees and customers before allowing them inside.
  • The State Department has warned all U.S. citizens not to travel internationally.
  • The Tokyo Olympics have been postponed one year, to summer 2021.
  • A toll-free Hope Line has been established for older adults experiencing isolation from social distancing. Call 1-866-578-4673 or 1-866-578-HOPE.

Important links:

Get details on NC cases:

Latest updates:

Thursday, March 26

11:50: GoRaleigh announced it will operate on a weekend schedule starting Monday. Routes serving hospitals and other essential facilities (2 Falls of Neuse, 4 Rex, 15 WakeMed, 19 Apollo Heights) will continue to operate with the same frequencies. Go to GoRaleigh.org for a listing of routes and more information.

7:20 p.m.: Wake County has reported 21 new coronavirus cases, pushing the county total past the 100 mark to 105.

6 p.m.: The U.S. now leads the world in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

5:45 p.m.: President Donald Trump said he wasn't surprised that 3.3 million people filed for unemployment benefits in the past week because of the pandemic.

"Our country has to go back to work," Trump said, saying that people will practice social distancing in doing so. "We've got to start the process pretty soon."

5:40 p.m.: A hospital ship will be headed to New York on Saturday to help that city's overwhelmed health care system handle COVID-19 patients, President Donald Trump said.

5:35 p.m.: President Donald Trump said G-7 officials discussed coronavirus response efforts on Thursday afternoon.

5:15 p.m.: Camp Lejeune has upgraded its health protection condition to HPCON Charlie because of the growing coronavirus outbreak.

Four virus cases have been reported in Onslow County, including one person at the Marine Corps base who has since recovered and been medically cleared, officials said.

4:35 p.m.: Cape Fear Valley Health has created a COVID-19 assessment bot to help screen people worried they may be suffering symptoms associated with the novel coronavirus. The bot quickly gauges a user’s risk factors and symptoms to determine the next appropriate step. It doesn't diagnose or offer treatment plans but acts as a general guide to help people to determine whether to seek medical guidance.

4:05 p.m.: A person who works at a Wells Fargo office in west Raleigh has tested positive for COVID-19, officials said. The employee "is not customer-facing and does not work in a branch," they said. The office has been cleaned and employees who were in close proximity with the person have been asked to quarantine themselves.

4 p.m.: Stocks surged again on Wall Street after the U.S. Senate passed a $2 trillion coronavirus aid bill. The S&P 500 index has jumped 17 percent since Monday.

3:45 p.m.: North Carolina has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for emergency mortuary assistance to handle deaths expected from coronavirus, according to CNBC. The request hasn't yet been approved.

Only two North Carolina residents have died of virus-related complications so far.

3:35 p.m.: Wake County officials have issued a stay-at-home order to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The order, which covers the entire county, including Raleigh and other municipalities, goes into effect at 5 p.m. Friday and runs through April 16.

"Across the county, we are united. This is necessary," county Board of Commissioners Chairman Greg Ford said.

3:20 p.m.: President Donald Trump says in a letter to U.S. governors that his administration will use "expanded testing capabilities" to help classify counties nationwide according to the ongoing risk they face from the coronavirus outbreak. This will allow the counties to increase, maintain or relax "social distancing" guidelines, including stay-at-home orders.

"With each passing day, our increasingly extensive testing capabilities are giving us a better understanding of the virus and its path," Trump wrote. "As testing gives us more information about who has been infected, we are tracking the virus and isolating it to prevent further spread. This new information will drive the next phase in our war against this invisible enemy."

2:20 p.m.: State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Tilson said half of the 10,000 hospital beds in North Carolina are empty and available to handle any surge in patients from the pandemic. Hospitals also are expected to provide more beds during a surge, she said.

Eighteen percent of the intensive care unit beds statewide are available, she said.

1:40 p.m.: A Harnett County resident has become the second North Carolinian to die from complications of the new coronavirus, according to a state website. The person was 30-plus years old and had an underlying medical condition, officials said.

A Cabarrus County resident became the first North Carolina death on Tuesday, and a Virginia resident passing through North Carolina also died here of virus complications.

1:35 p.m.: A staffer at Raleigh Orthopaedic Surgery Center has tested positive for the coronavirus, but CEO Brian Bizub called it "a very low-risk exposure." Still, the center is contacting all patients and other staff who had contact with the person, telling them to remain at home and check for any symptoms of illness.

The center also closed to undergo extensive cleaning, Bizub said.

1:20 p.m.: Italy reports 6,153 new coronavirus infections, taking the global total over 500,000.

12:10 p.m.: The North Carolina Oral Health Collaborative has released a statewide map of emergency oral health resources for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. The map can help patients with urgent oral health needs to find nearby federally qualified health centers, county health departments, free and charitable clinics and other safety net practices.

"Oral health issues won’t just disappear as we continue to navigate this crisis, but we must reduce strain on our emergency departments, which is just one benefit that we hope this resource will provide," collaborative program director Dr. Zachary Brian said in a statement.

11:45 a.m.: China says it is temporarily barring most foreigners from entering the country as it seeks to curb imported virus cases.

11:35 a.m.: The Durham Performing Arts Center is hosting a virtual food drive to benefit the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. Every dollar donated provides 2½ meals to people in need.

11:15 a.m.: U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says a $2.2 trillion coronavirus economic relief bill will pass House on Friday "with strong bipartisan support." The Senate passed the measure late Wednesday, and President Donald Trump said he would immediately sign it into law as soon as it clears the House.

10:45 a.m.: North Carolina now has at least 663 confirmed coronavirus cases, with a total of 12,910 tests conducted so far.

10:30 a.m.: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend anyone who thinks they might have COVID-19 and have mild symptoms to stay home and call their doctor for medical advice. They said most people who get COVID-19 will have mild illness and recover at home. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) has developed a new fact sheet to help North Carolinians know what to do if they are sick.

10 a.m.: Orange County has officially issued a "stay at home" order for all residents, starting Friday at 6 p.m. and remaining in effect until April 30.

  • All residents must stay at home, leaving only for essential reasons critical to health and safety
  • If leaving the home, residents must remain 6 feet from others, except those with whom they share a home
  • Residents must regularly and thoroughly wash hands when outside the home
  • All businesses and not-for-profit entities not expressly exempted must suspend all in-person operations
  • Operations that can be conducted online or by phone, or sales that can be facilitated with curbside pickup or delivery, may continue
  • Exempt business include, but aren't limited to, grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, fuel products, news media and maintenance of critical infrastructure.
  • Residents may go to the doctor or veterinarian, go grocery shopping, go to the pharmacy, exercise outdoors, pick up takeout food and go to care for family members or friends.

“This order is an unprecedented but necessary step for our community as we all work together to stop the further spread of this dangerous virus,” Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said in a statement. “Our residents always rise to the occasion during challenging times, and we are confident they will again as we face this global health crisis.”

9:30 a.m.: Shortages of safety gear and protective equipment in hospitals, especially in cities with the highest number of coronavirus cases, is leading to medical professionals being concerned for their safety. Some are even quitting their jobs.

9:00 a.m.: In New York City, which has become the epicenter of coronavirus in the U.S., police have been heavily impacted by the spreading illness. At least 236 New York Police Department employees have tested positive for the virus, including 197 police officers. An estimated 3,200 officers are out sick.

8:45 a.m.: As a result of the coronavirus' impact on the economy and layoffs, U.S. unemployment claims have soared to 3.3 million, quadrupling the record from 1982.

8 a.m.: Duke University Health System research and clinical teams have found a way to use existing technology to decontaminate critically needed N95 masks so they can be reused. The process uses specialized equipment to aerosolize hydrogen peroxide, which permeates the layers of the mask to kills germs, including viruses, without degrading the mask material.

"This is a decontamination technology and method we’ve used for years in our biocontainment laboratory,” Scott Alderman, associate director of the Duke Regional Biocontainment Laboratory, said in a statement.

"We had never considered needing it for something like face masks. But we’ve now proven that it works and will begin using the technology immediately in all three Duke Health hospitals,” Matthew Stiegel, director of the Occupational and Environmental Safety Office, said in a statement.

8:00 a.m.: A New Jersey nursing home was evacuated due to a spike in coronavirus cases.

7:30 a.m.: Elton John to host a virtual concert to raise money for front line health care workers and first responders. The IHeart Living Room Concert for America will air Sunday night at 9 p.m. on Fox50. It will feature Alicia Keys, Backstreet Boys, Mariah Carey and other artists, who will all perform from their own homes.

7:05 a.m.: More than 1000 people signed up to donate at a community blood drive at PNC Arena. The blood drive was planned to address the blood shortages happening as a result of coronavirus cancelations to many recent events. Organizers said they will still take donors for as long as they show up, but appointment slots are full.

7:00 a.m.: Travel restrictions are in place in some North Carolina cities and counties. Commercial travel is not restricted, however, permits may be required. All North Carolina Welcome Centers are closed. Rest Area facilities, including restrooms and vending, remain open.

6:30 a.m.: Mitchell County reported its first case of coronavirus.

6:05 a.m: In North Carolina, at least 589 people have tested positive for coronavirus. On Wednesday, for the second day in row, that number jumped by nearly 100 cases. Two people have died in North Carolina from virus-related complications. In the U.S., cases have topped 69,000, with more than 1,000 deaths. New York is the epicenter of the country’s outbreak, with known cases there doubling every three days.

6 a.m.: According to JoCo Report, the Grifols pharmaceutical plant in Clayton is collaborating with the federal government to work on a coronavirus vaccine. The plant is working with the Food and Drug Administration to collect plasma from COVID-19 patients to build the vaccine. Grifols is also working on a diagnostic procedure that can test for coronavirus with automatic instruments, allowing each unit to run more than 1,000 samples a day. The new test should be ready in a few weeks, Grifols said.

5:30 a.m.: A stay-at-home in order goes in effect at 6 p.m. in Durham County on Thursday, and Wake and Orange counties are about to issue similar measures.

Durham's order will allow people to get groceries, visit a health care provider or care for a person. Essential services like gas stations and banks are still open, and people can still exercise outside using social distancing. The orders issued for Wake and Orange counties will be largely the same.

Restaurants will still be able to provide drive-thru, takeout and other delivery options, but less people on the roads might affect their business.

5 a.m.: There is a great need for blood and blood donors during the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of blood drives have been canceled because people are staying home, and others are nervous to give blood at such a time. But organizers say giving blood is safe. People can donate all day Thursday in a community blood drive at PNC Arena. They'll get a $20 Visa gift card when they do.

4:30 a.m.: The Wake County Public School System's Health Services team is working with school bus drivers this week to collect personal protective equipment from nearly 200 schools to donate to emergency and health care workers.

On Wednesday, the group collected more than 1,000 boxes of gloves, approximately 2,500 masks with shields, about 250 gowns, more than 100 bottles of hand sanitizer, about 3,000 individual-use hand sanitizing wipes, about 350 containers of hand sanitizing wipes and more than 120 containers of surface disinfecting wipes.

Kelly Creech, director of Health Services for the district, said they hope to triple that donation by Friday.

4 a.m.: Krispy Kreme is showing its thanks to health care workers by offering them a free dozen each Monday. Everyone else will get a buy one-get one deal on Saturdays.

The 2020 Johnston County Youth Livestock Show and Sale, scheduled for April 13-15, has been canceled. Organizers said 129 children from across the county were signed up to sell the animals they worked hard to raise.

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