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Coronavirus in NC: Live updates for May 21, 2020: Durham announces it won't open public pools this summer

Posted May 21, 2020 4:49 a.m. EDT
Updated May 22, 2020 12:00 p.m. EDT

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— Here are the latest updates on the coronavirus from North Carolina and across the globe showing the pandemic’s impact on health, jobs, schools and more:

At least 21,108 people in North Carolina have tested positive for the coronavirus, at least 743 people have died and another 580 or so remain in the hospital. State officials estimate that more than 11,600 people have recovered from COVID-19, the illness associated with the virus.

Latest updates

9 p.m.: Coronavirus has killed nearly 750 people in North Carolina in less than two months. Fifteen deaths were reported Wednesday, including two each in Wake and Orange counties and one each in Edgecombe, Wayne and Robeson counties.

6 p.m.: An employee at Ward's Produce at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh has tested positive for coronavirus. Officials said the worker "has not been in direct contact with food product being distributed."

Ward's hired a professional cleaning company to disinfect the site, and all employees in close contact with the infected worker are now in quarantine, officials said.

5:35 p.m.: The Transportation Security Administration has announced changes to its security and boarding process. To avoid cross-contamination, travelers are now asked to put their boarding passes on a reader instead of a TSA agent handling it; items like belts, wallets, keys and phones can be put into carry-on bags to reduce “touch points” for screeners; and people can pack a 12-ounce container of hand sanitizer in their carry-on bags.

5:30 p.m.: Orange County is amending its emergency order as the state continues to ease restrictions and resume business and social activities during the pandemic. Unlike the statewide order Gov. Roy Cooper issued Wednesday, Orange County officials said their order will recommending that all businesses require customers to cover their faces while inside the business and limit tables in restaurants to six people, unless it's a larger family.

5 p.m.: Beginning Friday, North Carolinians who have exhausted their state unemployment benefits can apply for an extension of benefits through the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.

PEUC provides up to 13 weeks of additional assistance for people who exhausted their 12 weeks of state unemployment on or after July 6, 2019. It is available for benefit weeks ending Saturdays from April 4 to Dec. 26, 2020.

People must file a separate application with the state Division of Employment Security to receive PEUC benefits. Benefits will be paid retroactively to the first week a person became eligible to receive those benefits

For weeks ending April 4 through July 25, people receiving PEUC will be paid an additional $600 each week in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which doesn't require a separate application.

4:40 p.m.: The State Board of Education has adopted a set of requirements North Carolina school districts and charter schools to meet in drafting remote instruction plans for the 2020-21 school years that are due this summer.

The state legislature required that the plans address a number of issues, ranging from parent involvement and effective instruction to equitable access and provisions for monitoring student attendance. The state board also added provisions to address the needs of students who are English-language learners, academically and intellectually gifted and those who are homeless, as well as a provision to address local limitations that districts and school confront in executing quality remote instruction, such as the availability of broadband and needed devices.

4:30 p.m.: Durham won't open city swimming pools this summer because of coronavirus concerns, city officials said.

"The logistical challenges of being able to provide these services safely would severely limit the number of our residents who would be able to access these services," Cynthia Booth, spokeswoman for Durham Parks & Recreation, said in an email. "While this was a difficult decision, we have determined that the challenges ... outweigh the benefit to the few that we would be able to safely serve."

The challenges included hiring and training enough lifeguards in a short time; adding staff for the extra cleaning and sanitizing of pool decks, other surfaces and locker rooms; limiting the number of people in smaller pool facilities; and requiring visitors and staff to maintain social distance and wear masks.

Other cities across the Triangle will operate their pools on a variety of schedules this summer.

4 p.m.: State Auditor Beth Wood has pledged to investigate allegations of fraud, waste and abuse of the billions of dollars in pandemic relief aid being distributed across the state. People who suspect wrongdoing can call the State Auditor's Office hotline toll-free at 800-730-TIPS.

"Concerned citizens often prove the front line in combating fraud, waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars. Their confidential information is invaluable to our investigations," Wood said in a statement.

2:55 p.m.: North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein is helping lead a 39-state coalition urging Congress to ensure that all Americans have the internet connectivity they need during the pandemic. Millions of people are now working from home, schools have shifted to remote learning and more doctor's appointments are being handled through telemedicine, and homes need to be able to get online to do it.

Unless Congress acts quickly, disparities in home internet access will worsen existing gaps in educational and health outcomes based on geography, economic resources and race, Stein and others said.

“This pandemic has demonstrated that broadband is absolutely essential for people to work, study and keep themselves and their loved ones safe and healthy at home," Stein said in a statement. "Congress must provide the funds necessary to ensure that all people and places can reliably access the internet."

2:30 p.m.: North Carolina is trying to move slowly toward resuming normal daily activities during the pandemic, so officials are trying to add higher-level-risk activities gradually instead of all at once, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services. That is why breweries and bars aren't allowed to reopen on Friday, while restaurants can resume dine-in service at half capacity, she said.

2:25 p.m.: Gyms represent a higher risk for coronavirus spread, according to Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, because most people won't be wearing masks while working out and they will be breathing more heavily, increasing the amount of virus in respiratory droplets in the air. That is why they were left out of the reopening plans that take effect on Friday, she said.

2 p.m.: People aren't required to cover their faces in public under Gov. Roy Cooper's new executive order, although workers in salons and other personal care businesses are required to wear them on the job, and customers are "highly encouraged" to wear them while in the business, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services.

1:40 p.m.: ReOpenNC plans Memorial Day marches in Raleigh, Charlotte, Asheville, Greensboro and Wilmington to raise public awareness and put pressure on cities across North Carolina to demand a quick resumption of business and social activities during the pandemic, ReOpenNC co-founder Ashley Smith says.

Gov. Roy Cooper's shift to the second stage of a three-part plan to return to normal daily life while keeping coronavirus in check allows restaurants, salons and barbershops to reopen at half capacity, starting Friday evening, but keeps bars, gyms and indoor entertainment venues closed for at least five more weeks.

"People have had enough," Smith said, adding that Cooper's new phase is filled with arbitrary rules with no data to back them up.

Businesses will continue to struggle if they aren't allowed to reopen and regulate themselves to ensure the safety of their customers and employees, she said.

The Memorial Day marches will be family-friendly and focused on veterans, Smith said.

1 p.m.: The first case of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C, associated with COVID-19 has been reported in North Carolina, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. No details were provided, but DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said the child was at home and doing well.

While children generally experience mild symptoms with COVID-19, recently a possible link has been found between COVID-19 and a serious inflammatory disease in some children and teenagers who have current or recent infections

MIS-C is a rare condition, but as COVID-19 cases increase, additional reports of MIS-C could follow, officials said. Symptoms include the following:

  • A fever lasting several days
  • Irritability or decreased activity
  • Abdominal pain without another explanation
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Rash
  • Conjunctivitis (red or pink eyes)
  • Poor eating
  • Red, cracked lips or red, bumpy tongue that looks like a strawberry
  • Swollen hands and feet, which might also be red

MIS-C is not contagious, but children with these symptoms could have COVID-19 or another infection that may be contagious, officials said.

Although DHHS didn't say where the child is from, UNC Health, Duke Health and WakeMed all said Thursday that they haven't treated any MIS-C cases to date.

12:45 p.m.: Mount Olive Pickle has reported a coronavirus outbreak at its Wayne County plant, but spokeswoman Lynn Williams declined to provide an exact figure.

One worker at the plant who had tested positive has died, Williams said, but she couldn't confirm COVID-19, the illness associated with the virus, as the cause of death. Other workers have recovered from the illness and have returned to work, she said.

11:55 a.m.: North Carolina recorded its second-highest number of new coronavirus cases on Wednesday. The 788 new infections trails only the 853 reported last Saturday.

The percentage of positive tests remains stable at 7.2 percent, so as testing increases – more than 23,000 were completed in last two days – so will case numbers. The rolling seven-day average of new infections is at an all-time high of 629 per day over the last week.

Mecklenburg County added 125 cases, while Forsyth and Duplin counties each added more than 50.

The rolling average of virus-related deaths is at 14 per day over the last week, which is the lowest level in a month.

11:45 a.m.: The U.S. Department of Agriculture is making available up to $1 billion in loan guarantees to help rural businesses meet their working capital needs during the coronavirus pandemic, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said. Also, agricultural producers that are not eligible for USDA Farm Service Agency loans may receive funding under USDA Business & Industry CARES Act Program provisions, he said.

11:40 a.m.: The state Division of Motor Vehicles has no timeline yet for resuming driving tests for people seeking new or renewed driver's licenses.

"We are working with health officials to determine when it would be safe to have a driver and examiner in the vehicle together," DMV officials said in an email. "We also have to determine what possible health-safety precautions may have to be in place when they do resume. We are optimistic that it may come in one of the upcoming phases as the state is slowly being reopened."

DMV officials said the test is required under state law, so no licenses can be given without a test unless lawmakers change the rules. Also, using a parking lot or closed test course where a driver could be alone in the car and observed by an examiner wouldn't work, they said, as the test measures how well a driver handles being in traffic.

11:15 a.m.: Classes – on campus – will resume Aug. 10 at North Carolina State University and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The chancellors of each university informed their students and staff of the start date via email Thursday morning.

The plan is for classes to resume earlier than originally scheduled. The fall semester would end by Nov. 24, with students leaving for Thanksgiving break and not returning until after New Year's Day.

11 a.m.: Raleigh-Durham International Airport has implemented changes to parking, check-in and gates to keep travelers apart, RDU CEO Michael Landguth said. The airport saw traffic drop 96 percent year-over-year in April as more people avoided crowds and obeyed stay-at-home orders.

The airport will implement enhanced cleaning in common areas, plastic shields at check-in and gate counters, add signs to remind people to maintain their distance and, where possible, allow only one-way traffic.

10:40 a.m.: Individual staff members at three North Carolina juvenile justice facilities tested positive for coronavirus over the past week, prompting tests for all juvenile residents who may have come in contact with those individuals.

At Chatham Youth Development Center in Siler City and Stonewall Jackson Youth Development Center in Concord, all youths tested came back negative for the virus.

At Edgecombe Youth Development Center in Rocky Mount, 19 youths were being tested on Thursday.

10:30 a.m.: North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley on Thursday pushed back the restart date for much of the state justice system. She ordered that no jury trials be scheduled before Aug. 1 and extended other deadlines for court matters.

10 a.m.: An alliance of Durham faith leaders held a press conference Thursday morning to explain why they would not encourage congregants to return to in-person, indoor worship services.

"Worship has never been confined to a building," one pastor said.

The speakers emphasized their duty to protect congregants, especially those who have medical frailties or other conditions that predispose them to suffer severe symptoms if infected with the novel coronavirus.

"We are protecting the interests of those in our congregations," one pastor said. "They have trusted us with leading them. We are going to lead them with information."

Another characterized the decision to keep churches closed as an act of love.

"We are here because we love our people, we love each other and we love the City of Durham."

9:45 a.m.: More than $2.3 billion has been paid out in unemployment benefits to North Carolinians since March 15. Through Wednesday, 565,970 people were receiving benefits out of 922,821 claims filed.

9:30 a.m.: While Gov. Roy Cooper announced the next phase of a statewide plan for a gradual return to public life, Durham will take a more cautious approach.

The biggest difference is that Durham won't allow restaurants, personal care services like salons and barbershops and swimming pools to open before June 1.

In an email to close advisers late Wednesday night, Mayor Steve Schewel outlined how he expected to keep tighter restrictions in the Bull City, including being slower to allow businesses to reopen and a continued requirement that face coverings be worn in public.

Durham has said the stay-at-home order for both city and county would remain in effect indefinitely, and the governor's executive order allows for stricter restrictions at a local level.

In his message, Schewel said Durham would move toward a "safer at home" order like the one Cooper outlined for the state "in the near future."

8:30 a.m.: More than 2.4 million people applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week in the latest wave of layoffs from the viral outbreak that triggered widespread business shutdowns two months ago and sent the economy into a deep recession.

Roughly 38.6 million people have filed for jobless aid since the coronavirus forced millions of businesses to close their doors and shrink their workforces, the Labor Department said Thursday.

An additional 2.2 million people sought aid under a new federal program for self-employed, contract and gig workers, who are now eligible for jobless aid for the first time. These figures aren’t adjusted for seasonal variations, so the government doesn’t include them in the overall number of applications

8 a.m.: Cloth face masks should be washed daily, Penni Watts of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Nursing says. It is best to clean your mask in a washing machine or with soap and hot water. The mask should be dried completely. Dry it in a hot dryer, if possible.

Watts recommends storing the clean mask in a new paper bag to prevent it from being touched.

The CDC recommends wearing a cloth mask made from cotton fabric when you are outside and unable to maintain social distancing from others.

7 a.m.: Most Americans think that life will return to "normal" in six months or more, according to a poll done by NPR, PBS News Hour and Marist University. Three-quarters of Americans thought there would be a second wave of coronavirus cases that would emerge. The poll also found that many Americans are wary of voting in person. Half responded and said they would vote by mail if allowed by their state.

6:30 a.m.: The Blood Connection Drive Donation Center on Glenwood Avenue in Raleigh is offering free antibody testing to all of its blood donors. The center has over 100 scheduled appointments for Thursday, according to its website.

The Blood Connection website says: "Please note, a positive COVID-19 Antibody Test does not mean that you are immune from COVID-19 or any other virus. However, it does mean that you may be eligible to donate convalescent plasma and help those who are still recovering from the virus."

6 a.m.: A petition has been started on change.org pushing the governor to reopen North Carolina's gyms and fitness centers, which can't reopen until late June. Almost 1,000 people have signed.

5:45 a.m.: The CDC is advising doctors to test all newborns delivered from women who may have COVID-19. The agency says babies are most likely exposed to coronavirus through respiratory droplets from their mothers or other caregivers. There have been reports of exposure during labor, but the data is still unclear. The CDC suggests testing in the first 24 hours after birth and again the next day if the results were negative.

5:15 a.m.: Jet Blue says it will block off middle seats to help fight the spread of coronavirus. The company says the policy will be extended through the July 4 holiday. One exception: families and groups traveling together will be allowed to use middle seats.

5 a.m.: Mountaire Farms is hosting another chicken sale at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Thursday. Customers pre-ordered their meat and signed up for a pick-up time. The chicken sale will be from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

House of Raeford will also host a chicken sale at 9 a.m. at Galot Motorsports Park in Dunn.

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