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Coronavirus coverage in North Carolina, March 31, 2020: Guilford resident becomes 10th NC person to die from virus

Posted March 31, 2020 4:04 a.m. EDT
Updated April 2, 2020 2:05 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:

Latest updates:

8:33 p.m.: Nash County is reporting two more COVID-19 cases, bringing its total to 11. That brings the overall total in North Carolina to 1,532.

7:30 p.m.: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, dismissed a new MIT study that said the droplets in sneezes that carry the coronavirus could travel up to 26 feet.

"That would have to be a very, very robust, vigorous ah-choo sneeze," Fauci said.

7:20 p.m.: Fort Bragg officials said they will start restricting visits to the post next week to limit the spread of the new coronavirus. The intent is to limit “out of area” visitors without affecting those on official Defense Department business or services. The restrictions will not affect service members or civilians who work on post, their dependents, military retirees or veterans who hold a Veterans Affairs-issued ID card, officials said.

Separately, Fort Bragg will stop public notifications of positive coronavirus cases on post. Any new cases will be included in counts issued by Cumberland County or surrounding areas where the infected person lives, and the Army will issue cumulative counts for the number of positive cases in the branch as a whole, officials said. The change is part of new DOD guidance to protect operational security.

6:20 p.m.: Orange County officials note that the county's stay-at-home order is stricter than the statewide order on at least two points: funerals are limited to 10 people (the statewide order allows up to 50 people) and all playgrounds are closed (the statewide order closes only public playgrounds). Gov. Roy Cooper has said that stricter guidelines take precedence any time local orders and his statewide order don't agree.

6:05 p.m.: The state Division of Employment Security has issued the first $3.4 million in unemployment checks to people who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus outbreak.

5:45 p.m.: Computer models predict 1.5 million to 2.2 million deaths in the U.S. from coronavirus-related complications without any effort to control the virus' spread, according to Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. But with "social distancing," frequent hand washing and other mitigation strategies, models show that death toll would drop to 100,000 to 200,000, she said.

"There's no magic bullet," Birx said. "It's individual actions."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the goal is to prevent the majority of states from seeing the spike in virus cases and deaths now seen in New York and some other states.

5:35 p.m.: President Donald Trump said the government is holding back needed medical supplies, including 10,000 ventilators, in anticipation of a surge of COVID-19 patients. He said the government needs to be able to ship that where needed, as needed.

5:30 p.m.: A Guilford County resident has become the 10th person in North Carolina to die of coronavirus-related complications. Two people from out of state also have died while traveling through North Carolina.

4:55 p.m.: Legislative leaders have signaled that they plan to defer interest on taxes paid after the April 15 deadline. Although teh state Department of revenue has pushed the deadline to file 2019 income taxes back to July 15, interest charged on late payments is set by state law.

The General Assembly is now expected to waive that interest obligation when lawmakers return to session at the end of April.

4:40 p.m.: Greg Ford, chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, singled out Hobby Lobby in a tweet responding to a question as to whether crafts stores are open under the county's stay-at-home order to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Gov. Roy Cooper said crafts stores aren't "essential businesses" that are exempt from a statewide stay-at-home order, but he noted that any business that can maintain "social distancing" can remain open.

4:25 p.m.: About 60,000 people have signed up for informational texts that state officials are providing regarding resources available during the pandemic, state Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said. Information can be obtained by dialing 211.

4:15 p.m.: The Wake County Sheriff's Office will resume processing pistol permit applications within seven days, spokesman Eric Curry said.

Sheriff Gerald Baker said last week that his office wouldn't accept any new applications through the end of April, noting a crush of applicants had overwhelmed the system and that his office was trying to maintain "social distancing" and limit public access to the office.

4:10 p.m.: North Carolina has received only 17.6 percent of the medical supplies state officials have requested from the strategic national stockpile, Gov. Roy Cooper said.

"That's not enough," Cooper said, adding that officials "will search high and low" for needed supplies from other sources.

4 p.m.: Stocks fell again Tuesday, with the Dow Jones average dropping by more than 400 points. The S&P 500 index ended the first quarter off by 20 percent, its worst quarterly performance since 2008.

3:45 p.m.: Two housing units at Maury Correctional Institution in Greene County have been placed on quarantine, and masks have been issued to staff who work in the units, according to a memo from Warden John Herring. He said no inmates have tested positive for the new coronavirus, but a staff member has.

Inmates in the quarantined housing units will also be given masks and must wear them whenever they are outside of their cells, Herring said in the memo.

3 p.m.: Kohl's stores will remain closed for the foreseeable future, and the company will add curbside pick-up for online orders at most stores, allowing people to get their purchases within two hours. The pick-up option will start Thursday and be available 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

2:40 p.m.: North Carolina strawberry farms, which rely heavily on pick-your-own operations, are making changes to their operations during the pandemic.

Farms are installing additional hand-washing stations, providing hand sanitizer for employees and customers and requiring employees to wear disposable gloves while handling produce. Several pick-your-own farms have encouraged social distancing by limiting the number of rows that can be picked and limiting the size of groups. Many growers are offering pre-orders with roadside pickup, allowing customers to stay in their car, while some farms are offering home delivery.

"None of our growers could have expected the impact of COVID-19 on the state," Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said in a statement. "It is encouraging to see how quickly growers have responded to the situation and what extra measures they have taken to ensure consumers have a safe supply of fresh strawberries this year."

2:35 p.m.: A Cherokee County resident has become the ninth North Carolinian to die of coronavirus-related complications. The person, who was 80-plus years old, died Tuesday.

2:10 p.m.: The state Department of Revenue won't impose penalties for late filing or payments of many tax types, including sales and use and withholding taxes, through July 15, Revenue Secretary Ronald Penny said. The department previously pushed back the April 15 deadline for 2019 income taxes to July 15.

"These measures will come as welcome tax relief for individuals and businesses across North Carolina," Penny said in a statement. "We are providing the maximum flexibility under existing state law."

But the department cannot waive interest that accrues after the normal deadline – 5 percent a year – as that is set in state law.

2 p.m.: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is easing some regulations to speed production of disinfectants during the pandemic.

"It is critical that the supply of EPA-registered disinfectants keep up with the demand for these products," Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said in a statement. "By taking this action, EPA is better protecting public health by assuring the availability of surface disinfectants to use against the novel coronavirus."

1:55 p.m.: The Country Music Association has canceled its annual CMA Fest, which had been scheduled for June in Nashville, Tenn., because of the coronavirus outbreak. All four-day passes already purchased will be honored at the 2021 CMA Fest, or people can obtain refunds, officials said.

1:50 p.m.: Walmart is sending infrared thermometers to all of its stores nationwide to take employees' temperatures as they report to work. The chain is also sending masks and gloves to its stores for employees to use. The masks and gloves will arrive in one to two weeks, while it could take up to three weeks to get the thermometers out, officials said.

1:05 p.m.: The Cary Town Council has canceled its April meeting, as well as all committee, town board and commission meetings scheduled for the month, because of the pandemic. All town facilities, aside from the Citizens Convenience Center waste site, will remain closed during the month.

12:45 p.m.: Following the lead of UNC Health and Duke University Health System hospitals, WakeMed has erected triage tents outside the emergency departments at its hospitals to keep coronavirus patients from others. WakeMed's main campus in east Raleigh and hospitals in Cary and north Raleigh each have three tents, while facilities in Apex, Garner and Raleigh's Briar Creek neighborhood may get one each, if needed.

"As we anticipate COVID-19 to become more widespread in our community, WakeMed is expanding its systemwide capacity, and this scalable system will allow us to care for up to 100 more patients a day at our hospitals and up to 40 additional patients at each of our Healthplexes – all while limiting potential exposure for patients, staff and visitors," spokeswoman Kristin Kelly said in an email.

12:30 p.m.: U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and 3rd District Congressman Greg Murphy are among dozens of members of COngress who sent a letter to the Trump administration, urging it to provide immediate assistance to rural hospitals and clinics fighting the coronavirus by using funds from the recently passed CARES Act.

"We are hearing from rural hospitals from across the country that have only days left of cash on hand – money needed for payroll and supplies,” the letter states. “[O]ur rural providers need your immediate assistance. Congress has provided you with the funding and flexibility. Now it is up to the administration to respond with rapid action to sustain rural providers."

11:50 a.m.: Gov. Roy Cooper told AARP members during a phone-in town hall-style meeting that he will sign an executive order Tuesday barring utilities from cutting off electricity or water service for non-payment for at least the next 60 days, as people deal with job losses related to the pandemic.

11:40 a.m.: CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, the brother of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has tested positive for the new coronavirus. Chris Cuomo said in a tweet that he will continue hosting his show from his basement while he is in isolation.

11:35 a.m.: An employee at Pfizer's drug plant in Rocky Mount and a contractor at the plant have tested positive for the coronavirus, company officials said.

"Neither had been at the site for the prior five days, and both are receiving appropriate care," a company spokeswoman said in an email. "The safety of our colleagues, our families, our community and the patients we serve are of the utmost importance to us, and we continue to apply preventative measures at the site, including limiting access to essential personnel, enhanced facility cleaning and social distancing."

11:15 a.m.: An Apex man who believes he has COVID-19 has self-quarantined for 13 days and shared his documented journey with WRAL News.

11 a.m.: Although it has been deemed by state officials as an "essential service," Caterpillar has temporarily shut its Sanford construction equipment and manufacturing plant, citing decrease in customer demand.

"Customers use our machines, engines, generator sets and parts to provide electric and stand-by power for hospitals, grocery stores and data centers," a spokesperson told WRAL News. "They transport food and critical supplies on the roads and rails; they mine essential commodities and extract the fuels to enable stable electricity, and much more."

10:45 a.m.: North Carolina has reached 1,501 confirmed coronavirus cases.

10:30 a.m.: The United States has seen its highest single-day death toll, which 575 deaths within 24 hours. New York, Louisiana and Michigan are the current hot spots.

10:15 a.m.: Grocery store workers across the nation are planning to call in sick as a form of protest. Whole Foods employees said they want double pay and sick leave for those who choose to self-quarantine. They are also asking for the immediate shutdown of any store where a worker has tested positive.

This comes after Amazon and Instacart workers also planned to strike.

10:10 a.m.: The American Dance Festival is canceling its 2020 season, including all performances and summer workshops, because of the pandemic.

"It is with incredible sadness that I share that we have made the important decision to cancel the 2020 ADF season," Jodee Nimerichter, ADF executive director, said in a statement. "In caring for the well-being of our community, it feels like the only option, and we need to do it now because of all of the implications of waiting longer. We are heartbroken for the lost opportunities for all of the artists, teachers, musicians, students, audiences, staff, interns and ADF fans."

9:45 a.m.: The United State's death toll is poised to overtake China's death toll of 3,300 lives. New York, epicenter of the virus in America, pleads for help, saying they need a million doctors to help cover the surge of patients.

9:30 a.m.: Wake Forest University will deliver all final exams virtually and not resume in-person classes this spring, and all classes will be delivered online, the school said in a letter. According to the letter, essential staff are still on campus delivering resources and support to approximately 400 students who, out of necessity, are still living on campus.

9:30 a.m.: The Thrive NC food festival, planned for May in downtown Raleigh, has been postponed until 2021, event organizers say.

9:15 a.m.: World of Bluegrass organizers have postponed ticket sales for the annual festival planned for this fall in downtown Raleigh. Tickets were set to go on sale April 7 for IBMA and PineCone members and on April 21 for the general public. Now, they won't go on sale until summer.

The event date, Sept. 29-Oct. 3, has not changed.

9 a.m.: Hotels and rental properties in Myrtle Beach are empty after vacationers packed up and were forced to leave the tourist town on Sunday. Horry County ordered the shutdown to help ease the threat of coronavirus. The ordinance will be in effect until at least April 30.

8:45 a.m.: Video conferencing platforms like Zoom have soared during the coronavirus outbreak, but now the FBI is warning users to watch out for a scam.

“Zoom-bombing" is when hijackers disrupt Zoom sessions with graphic images and profanity. The FBI says two schools in Massachusetts were “Zoom-bombed." One hijacker reportedly yelled profanity and another displayed swastika tattoos.

To avoid such incidents, the bureau recommends requiring a password or using Zoom’s waiting room feature to screen guests. Finally, never make teleconference links available on public social media posts.

8:30 a.m.: Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin is pushing to take North Carolina's stay-at-home order one step further, asking the city's legal staff to look into a nighttime curfew. The proposal would institute a curfew from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m.

8:00 a.m.: The Wake County Public School System is trying to make the stay-at-home order more bearable for teachers and students by handing out 4,000 laptops to teachers. The school district is also working to send out supplies to help families with remote learning.

Cumberland County Schools will give out laptops and internet access for students in third through eighth grades. The devices are for digital learning that starts this week.

As of right now, students will be out of the classroom through at least May 15.

7:30 a.m.: Taco Bell is giving out free tacos on Tuesday. Customers will receive a free seasoned beef Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Taco while supplies last at participating locations. No purchase is necessary, and the offer is only available through the drive-thru.

“For the past few weeks, we've been focused on making Taco Bell the safest place to work and eat, and now we're giving America free tacos as a small way of saying thank you for how everyone is showing up for their communities,” the company said in a statement.

7:00 a.m.: Latest North Carolina numbers: 1,336 confirmed cases, with 91 in hospitals and seven deaths.

6:15 a.m.: New York, the U.S. epicenter of the virus pandemic, is in crisis. After a big request for help from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Central Park field hospital will open next Monday at 10 a.m.

The hospital began setting up over the weekend. Mount Sinai Health System and Samaritan's Purse, which is headquartered in North Carolina, partnered together to set up the emergency medical tents.

Each tent will have 68 beds inside, including 10 ICU beds, to treat patients with coronavirus.

On Monday, Gov. Cuomo called on health care workers across the United States to travel to New York to help the state battle the worst coronavirus outbreak in the nation. One critical care nurse plans to drive to New York every weekend, on her own dime, to help with the pandemic response.

6 a.m.: Police departments in North Carolina are enforcing the statewide stay-at-home orders in different ways.

Fuquay-Varina police say they will give citations to repeat offenders gathering in groups, while Raleigh police say they are not stopping people just because they’re out of their homes but will respond to blatant disruptions.

Johnston County deputies said they will follow Raleigh's approach, and Durham police sent out a memo to their officers explaining that a person being out of the house does not create reasonable suspicion to stop them.

The State Highway Patrol and the Wake County Sheriff’s Office will also not stop people to enforce the stay-at-home order. No law enforcement agencies will be asking people for paperwork to prove they are "essential personnel."

5:30 a.m.: A Florida pastor has been arrested for continuing to hold large church services and violating federal and statewide social distancing orders. Deputies say Rodney Howard-Browne held two services, where police say up to 500 people attended. The pastor said in a Facebook post that the church is an essential service. He's charged with unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules.

5:15 a.m.: Tuesday is becoming a day to support restaurants. Last Tuesday, "The Great American Takeout Day" asked people to eat at least one delivery, drive-thru or takeout meal. People are encouraged to post photos of their meals on social media with the hashtag #TheGreatAmericanTakeout.

5 a.m.: Essential businesses like auto repair shops are staying open but limiting the contact mechanics have with customers.

At Swedish Performance and Parts in Garner, mechanics are picking up customers' cars and dropping them back off instead of the customer meeting them at the shop. It's called a "no contact appointment," and other car shops are doing the same. Owners Kevin and Jennifer Mulcahy say they have customers who are health care providers, and that’s why repair shops have to stay open.

If your registration is up for renewal during the pandemic, you still need to get your car inspected, officials say. If you’re at high risk for COVID-19, someone can drop it off for you if they have your current registration card.

Then, you can renew your tag online or by mail as usual.

4:30 a.m.: The U.S. death toll is poised to overtake China's toll of 3,300 deaths, with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo saying up to 1 million more health care workers were needed. “Please come help us,” he urged.

Hard-hit Italy and Spain have already overtaken China and now account for more than half of the nearly 38,000 COVID-19 deaths worldwide, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

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