We’re tracking the most up-to-date information about the coronavirus and vaccines in North Carolina. Check back for updates.
Death toll passes 11,000
At least 849,630 people in North Carolina have tested positive for the coronavirus and 11,074 have died since March, according to state health officials.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday reported 3,346 new COVID-19 cases, up from 1,514 reported the day before. Tuesday’s single-day total was the lowest reported in the state since Nov. 2.
On Wednesday, 109 deaths were reported. Deaths don’t all occur on the day the state reports them. The state health department revises its daily figures as information becomes available.
At least 1,530 people in North Carolina were reported hospitalized with the coronavirus as of Wednesday, down slightly from 1,567 on Tuesday.
As of Monday, the latest day for which data was available, 6% of COVID-19 tests came back positive. Health officials have said the goal is 5% or lower to control the spread of the virus.
Cooper eases COVID restrictions
Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday he is easing statewide coronavirus restrictions as case numbers drop and vaccinations climb.
Under the new order, which starts at 5 p.m. Friday, the curfew is lifted, bars can reopen indoors at 30% capacity, more people can gather together, and more sports fans can attend games.
“When it comes to easing some restrictions, we’re depending on people to be responsible,” Cooper said.
The order will remain in effect until March 26 and does not lift the statewide mask mandate. It also still requires businesses to operate at reduced capacity, but bars will now be able to serve alcohol until 11 p.m.
In Charlotte, some bar and restaurant owners said the later alcohol sales cutoff time offers new hope.
“It’s been really tough, and we depend on those late-night hours,” said Stephanie Andrews, who manages The Spindle Bar and Billy Sunday in Optimist Hall. “It’s a huge deal. It could turn it around for us.”
House backs plan for summer school
The N.C. House passed legislation Wednesday that would require school districts to create a summer school program for students who have fallen behind during the pandemic.
Under the “Summer Learning Choice for NC Families” bill, districts would have to offer at least 150 hours of in-person instruction over the summer as well as enrichment activities, The News & Observer reported.
“We all know right now the crisis that so many of our young people are dealing with by being out of school,” House Speaker Tim Moore, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said Wednesday. “For the most part, kids have been out of school for roughly a year.”
The bill will now go to the state Senate.
Agriculture commissioner wants state fair
N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler proclaimed “we’re gonna have us a State Fair this year” during a State of Agriculture address on Wednesday.
“A year without a State Fair is almost unendurable,” Troxler said. “So we’re working very hard to make this the best State Fair that anybody has ever seen, and with your help, it will be the biggest State Fair that we’ve ever seen.”
The announcement comes as the number of new coronavirus cases in North Carolina has declined in recent weeks and vaccinations continue.
Troxler also urged everyone to get vaccinated “so that we can have a safe State Fair and a record attendance,” The News & Observer reported.
The state fair is currently scheduled for Oct. 14-24.
Public health dashboard shows vaccine eligibility
The N.C. Institute for Public Health at UNC-Chapel Hill created a set of dashboards that estimate how many people in North Carolina qualify for each phase of the state’s vaccination process.
Matt Simon, the institute’s senior data and GIS analyst, told The News & Observer the goal is to show local public health officials how many people they should expect to vaccinate in the coming weeks.
“We have heard over and over about supply and demand,” Simon said. “And we know you can’t plan unless you can anticipate demand.”
The dashboard uses census data to lay out qualifying individuals statewide and in each of the 100 counties.
Johnson & Johnson vaccine could help NC fill demand
A possible third COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson could help North Carolina fill demand for vaccinations, according to health officials.
A U.S. Food and Drug Administration committee will meet this week to weigh emergency use authorization for the vaccine.
Compared to options from Pfizer and Moderna, the Johnson & Johnson version has less efficacy and only requires one dose. Also, it can be stored in refrigerators, which can help it reach rural places.
North Carolina had Johnson & Johnson in mind when it came up with its plan for vaccinating frontline essential workers, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. She said she hopes the vaccine is out by March 10, when those workers become eligible to receive vaccines.
“We’re hopeful that that timing will align, us getting more vaccine and moving on in the additional prioritization,” Cohen said.