Daily Update: COVID-19 In The Cape Fear Region

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Daily Updates from WHQR on closures, local, state and federal efforts and other developments in  the coronavirus battle.

Friday, May 29

Mass COVID-19 testing is happening at a second North Carolina state prison. The Department of Public Safety said testing began Friday for all inmates at the medium-security Caswell Correctional Institution, with results expected next week. The department says testing is occurring there because close to 40 prisoners or staff have tested positive since mid-April. A similar mass testing occurred last month at the dormitory-style Neuse Correctional Institution in Goldsboro, where over 450 prisoners tested positive. The number of overall COVID-19 cases statewide is now almost 26,500 overall. Nursing home residents account for more than half of the state's 860 deaths. 

It looks increasingly likely many South Carolina public school students will return to real classrooms at the end of the summer. But the details on what those classrooms will look like next school year in the COVID-19 world and even how often students might be inside school buildings is still quite uncertain. Individual decisions, like whether to split classes into smaller groups so not all students are in the classroom each day, will be left to districts. South Carolina reported a record 331 coronavirus cases Friday and a record 20 deaths Wednesday. Health officials say they are looking for but haven't found a pattern.

North Carolina’s top health official has asked for more details on how GOP leaders will protect attendees of a Republican National Convention this summer during the COVID-19 pandemic. President Donald Trump has threatened to move his formal renomination elsewhere if he doesn't soon get guarantees of being able to hold a large-scale event. State Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen sought more specifics Friday beyond the safety protocols the GOP leaders said want approved for the August event in Charlotte. She particularly wants to know whether Trump wants to hold his nomination event on the convention’s final night in a crowd-like setting and without social distancing or masks.

Thursday, May 28

At least 827 people in North Carolina have died due to COVID-19, according to the state’s Department Health and Human Services as of May 28.

There have been 25,412 lab-confirmed cases in the state.

The breakdown for our region:

New Hanover County - 171 

Brunswick County - 81 

Columbus County - 323 

Pender County - 74 

Bladen County - 92 

At least 35 deaths related to COVID-19 have been reported in the area:

Columbus County - 26

New Hanover County - 4

Brunswick County - 2

Pender County - 1

Bladen County - 2

Governor Cooper announced this week that the new NC Pandemic Recovery office, a temporary office that coordinates and oversees federal and state funds for COVID-19 recovery legislation, has issued payments to 59 counties from the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF). This week, $85.4 million will be paid to counties that have completed their certification. The money can be used for medical and public health expenses related to virus response, such as testing, personal protective equipment, cleaning costs and overtime pay. “This money is crucial for local governments to help pay for health and public safety officials, telemedicine, personal protective equipment, and more,” said Governor Cooper.

Lawmakers in North Carolina are advancing legislation that would allow voters to have more options in requesting absentee ballots this November and would give officials funds to keep precincts clean and staffed. The measure that cleared two House committees on Wednesday prepares for November’s high-stakes election to occur amid the pandemic. The bill would expand the options to seek and return absentee ballot forms. The number of required witnesses on the ballot envelope would decrease from two to one. The bill heading to the House floor Thursday also distributes money to help with election security, equipment and poll-worker recruitment.

Monday, May 25

President Donald Trump is threatening to pull the Republican National Convention out of North Carolina if the state’s Democratic governor doesn’t immediately sign off on allowing a full-capacity gathering in August despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Trump’s tweets Monday about the RNC planned for Charlotte come just two days after the state recorded its largest daily increase in positive cases yet. Gov. Roy Cooper's office responded with a brief statement that state officials are working with the GOP on convention decisions. Cooper allowed the state to enter a second phase of gradual reopening Friday with some further loosening of restrictions on hair salons, barbers and restaurants.

Sunday, May 24

High school graduation season is getting ready to start in South Carolina and a quite a few students will be able to get their diplomas in their caps and gowns together and in person. In recent weeks, a number of districts said enough progress had been made fighting the COVID-19 pandemic to allow ceremonies with plenty of sanitizer, protective equipment and graduates and their two or four guests socially distant. Some districts aren’t ready to bring everyone together, showing videos or having students come to school individually with their families by appointment to walk across the stage.

Saturday, May 23

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper clarified the provisions of Phase 2 of the state’s re-opening plan, which went into effect at 5 p.m. Friday.  Under the revised order, breweries, wineries and distilleries will be permitted to re-open, provided they comply with reduced capacity and social distancing requirements.

A lawsuit filed by voting rights advocates claims North Carolina has failed to change its election laws to ensure that voters can safely cast ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic. The nonprofit Democracy North Carolina and the League of Women Voters of North Carolina sued Friday on behalf of several elderly or disabled residents whose medical conditions make them more vulnerable to coronavirus. The federal lawsuit alleges that several aspects of North Carolina’s absentee vote-by-mail requirements are unconstitutional because voters will have to risk exposure to COVID-19 to successfully vote.

Coronavirus outbreaks at meat processing plants are forcing North Carolina farmers to euthanize 1.5 million chickens, according to a state official. Assistant Agriculture Commissioner Joe Reardon told The News & Observer on Friday that this is the first time during the pandemic that North Carolina farmers have had to euthanize their animals. Reardon said roughly a third of the 1.5 million chickens already had been killed. Agriculture officials said Thursday that 2,006 workers in 26 processing plants across the state have tested positive for coronavirus.

Friday, May 22

Today, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo announced changes to the local COVID-19 emergency restrictions will go into effect 5 p.m. Friday, May 22, consistent with Gov. Roy Cooper’s Phase 2 restrictions. All statewide restrictions also apply in the city. The below bullets highlight areas where the city’s state of emergency goes above and beyond the Governor’s order.

The changes are as follows: 

·         Hotels and Motels will now be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity in addition to providing lodging for those displaced/needing a place to stay or who is supporting an essential function related to the Covid-19 crisis. 

·         Outdoor team sports are allowed to have up to 5-on-5 players with spectators following social distancing rules. 

·         Dressing rooms may open with requirements that the clothing articles are sanitized or taken out of circulation for at least one day. 

·         Vehicles that are test driven must be thoroughly sanitized before being put back on the lot, and salespersons may go on test drives as long as they wear face coverings. 

These restrictions will last until 5 p.m. May 29.  You can learn more at www.wilmingtonnc.gov/coronavirus.

Thursday, May 21

News outlets report Wrightsville Beach allowed all beach activities to resume this week, including sunbathing, fishing and games. Previously, it allowed access to its beach but only for exercise. The town is also allowing short-term rentals to resume and has opened six of its public parking lots to beachgoers, a total 329 available spaces. On Wednesday, Gov. Roy Cooper announced restaurants, barber shops and hair salons could welcome patrons inside starting this holiday weekend, citing state COVID-19 trends remaining largely stable. 

During a visit to the Charlotte area, federal Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says the upcoming NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday in Concord  is an important part of the country getting back to work and normal activities. He praised governors for moving to reopen their economies, with North Carolina set to enter a second phase of loosened restrictions Friday. He said economic downturns can lead to increased suicide rates and reductions in vaccinations and cancer screenings. Azar addressed reporters after touring a testing center at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and having a discussion with health leaders about reopening state economies.

Brunswick County Health Services identified two more cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) among county residents Thursday. As of Thursday, May 21, there are now 66 positive cases of COVID-19 among county residents (51 considered recovered, 11 isolating at home, 2 isolating at a hospital, 2 deaths) and 10 cases among non-residents (5 considered recovered, 3 transferred monitoring to home county, 2 deaths).

Governor Roy Cooper and NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen announced Wednesday that North Carolina will move into Safer At Home Phase 2 of lifting COVID-19 restrictions this Friday, May 22 at 5 p.m. under Executive Order No. 141. Safer At Home Phase 2 runs through at least Friday, June 26.

Wednesday, May 20

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is permitting restaurants, barbershops and salons to welcome customers indoors starting this weekend, but bars, gyms and other indoor entertainment will need to remain closed for another five weeks. The Democratic governor announced a new executive order on Wednesday that starts the second phase of easing restrictions that originally were issued in March. Cooper says he feels comfortable about virus data to extend starting Friday afternoon partial openings to dine-in eating at restaurants and for personal care services. But he said the order is more modest than originally anticipated because the number of overall cases continue to increase. Hear more from WHQR here.

North Carolina Republican senators are pledging bipartisan fiscal management reforms within Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s transportation agency following a recent audit that found it overspent by $740 million last year. A senator committee heard on Wednesday from State Auditor Beth Wood about a performance review of the Department of Transportation by her office. The overspending came before a revenue drop due to COVID-19 that has stopped DOT from awarding new construction contracts and requiring employees to take furloughs. Wood's review blamed the overspending on poor cost estimates and poor oversight within the agency.  

Tuesday, May 19

North Carolina’s chief health leader is asking residents to “hang in there” by continuing to comply with the state business restrictions mean to blunt the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Roy Cooper’s current stay-at-home order expires Friday. Cooper said this week he's hopeful further easing of business restrictions could begin. State Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said Tuesday that testing, tracing and hospitalization trends used to make decisions on stay-home orders continue to be stable. The state's restaurant industry is preparing to open its dining rooms again under eased rules in time for the Memorial Day weekend.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation has told its employees to take unpaid time off until the end of June to help the department save money as part of cost-cutting measures during the coronavirus pandemic. Transportation Secretary J. Eric Boyette wrote in an email to employees on Monday that they will have until June 26 to take 20 hours of unpaid time off. News outlets report the furloughs will also affect the department’s executive and senior leadership teams. An official told the News & Observer the furloughs will save the department about $7 million.

Monday, May 18

The North Carolina legislature is resuming its annual session, two weeks after meeting to approve a $1.6 billion package that distributed COVID-19 funds from Washington. Lawmakers scheduled floor sessions and a committee meeting as they return starting Monday. Constituents can come inside the Legislative Building again now that it will reopen to the public after being closed for four weeks. The building’s capacity will be capped and members, staff and visitors should expect temperature checks when going inside. It’s unclear how long legislators will keep the session going. 

Sunday, May 17

The number of COVID-19 related deaths in North Carolina has officially surpassed influenza-related deaths. As of Sunday morning, the number of people that have died from COVID-19 in North Carolina has reached 659, according to North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The total number of positive cases now stands at 18,512. There are currently 493 people in the hospital with COVID-19.

Saturday, May 16

A federal judge in North Carolina has sided with conservative Christian leaders and blocked the enforcement of restrictions that Gov. Roy Cooper ordered affecting indoor religious services during the pandemic. The order from Judge James C. Dever III came Saturday, days after two Baptist churches, a minister and a Christian revival group filed a federal lawsuit seeking to immediately block enforcement of rules covering religious services within the Democratic governor’s executive orders. The plaintiffs argued the limits violate their rights to worship freely and treat churches differently from retailers and other secular activities. Cooper's office says it won't appeal the ruling.

Friday, May 15 

Today, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo announced that some local COVID-19 emergency restrictions will be lifted at 5 p.m. in an effort to gradually roll back restrictions in concurrence with Gov. Roy Cooper’s re-opening plan for the state. The changes are as follows:

1. Hotels and Motels will now be allowed to operate at 25 percent capacity for allowable activity. Under the Governor’s current orders, hotels and motels should not be opened for the leisure travel market.

2. Outside team sports facilities are now allowed to open for up to 2 on 2 players.

3. Country clubs and social clubs are allowed to re-open, but must adhere to the Governor’s Executive Order which states gatherings of more than 10 people are not allowed.

The following local restrictions will remain in place:

1. Dressing rooms are to remain closed.

2. Auto and boat sales must continue to comply with the 11 point protocol as previously outlined.

These restrictions will last until 5 p.m. May 22. The City is reviewing the plan on a weekly basis. All decisions are data-driven and in consultation with local healthcare professionals. You can learn more at www.wilmingtonnc.gov/coronavirus

A poultry producer is temporarily closing a North Carolina plant for cleaning amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Tyson Foods spokesman Derek Burleson said in an email one of two fresh meat plants at its Wilkesboro complex was closed from Thursday to Tuesday. A second fresh poultry plant at the site will continue limited operations. Burleson said Friday that a food-service plant at the site was operating normally Friday, though he had earlier said it would also close for several days. The closure, following another temporary closure for cleaning, will allow “additional deep cleaning” due to sick workers and quarantine-related absences.  

South Carolina’s governor is urging residents to patronize local businesses shuttered for weeks during the coronavirus outbreak, albeit with appropriate safety precautions. Monday marks the date on which businesses like hair salons and fitness centers can reopen across the state, where more than 486,000 unemployment claims have been filed in the last two months. New weekly claims have declined as McMaster has gradually lifted orders that had restricted businesses deemed nonessential in an effort to stem the spread of the virus, which as of Thursday afternoon had caused 371 known deaths in South Carolina, according to state public health officials. Thus far, more than 8,100 positive tests for COVID-19 have been reported in the state.

Thursday, May 14

Conservative Christian leaders have sued North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper in hopes of getting thrown out his restrictions on indoor religious services during the COVID-19 pandemic. They argue the limits violate their right to worship freely. Two Baptist churches, a minister and a Christian revival group filed the federal lawsuit on Thursday to block enforcement of rules covering religious services. The latest order largely prevents most faith organizations from holding indoor services attended by more than 10 people. Cooper says his orders have recognized First Amendment protections and urged congregations to make good decisions about looking after the safety of their members.

The public can return to North Carolina’s legislative complex to watch the General Assembly conduct business when it reconvenes its annual session after a two-week break, but health precautions will continue. The Legislative Building and nearby Legislative Office Building will be reopen to visitors on Monday, four weeks after they were closed. Lawmakers met for about a week during that time to approve a COVID-19 relief package. Building attendance will be capped at half of fire code capacity, and people who enter will be subject to temperature checks for now. 

Tuesday, May 12

North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is defending details of his eased stay-at-home order against criticisms by Republican elected officials and the latest weekly protests at his home. Cooper’s altered COVID-19 order allows more businesses to open, but barber shops, movie theater and gyms remain closed. He's also keeping narrow the exceptions for churches to hold services indoors. Cooper said on Tuesday that “pandemics cannot be partisan" and talked about how he signed a bipartisan COVID-19 funding bill recently. Hundreds of demonstrators critical of his stay-at-home order rallied again in front of the Executive Mansion on Tuesday.

At least 577 people have died from COVID -19 in North Carolina, according to data provided by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.  The total number of positive cases now stands at 15,346.  NCDHHS released its latest numbers around 11 a.m. Tuesday.  Confirmed case breakdown for southeastern North Carolina as of Tuesday:

New Hanover County - 117

Brunswick County - 51

Columbus County - 221

Pender County - 39

Bladen County - 60

At least 25 deaths related to COVID-19 have been reported in the region:

Columbus County - 17

New Hanover County - 3

Brunswick County - 2

Pender County - 1

Bladen County - 2

Surf City has become the latest to require face coverings, whenever you go inside of a public space. “We just wont let anybody in," said Adelaide Farmer, employee at Sweet Island. "If they have to keep their face covered whether it’s a napkin or keep their shirt over their mouth or a mask on, that’s pretty much our rule.”  WECT reports with Phase one allowing more places to open, town leaders wanted to make sure they could still keep everybody safe. “I think it’s necessary because anything we can do to stop the spread of the virus, I think is important to keep everybody safe," said Farmer.

Monday, May 11

North Carolina legislators and leading sheriffs want Gov. Roy Cooper to clarify or remove a portion of his executive order that limits how religious services can convene under his eased stay-at-home rules for COVID-19. Cooper’s health and human services secretary said on Monday that state lawyers are taking a second look at the language designed to provide an exception to the continued ban on mass gatherings. The governor’s order says the permitted worship services “shall take place outdoors unless impossible,” but state senators said it's unclear what impossible means.  The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association executive committee asked Cooper to simply allow indoor services.

A Tyson Foods poultry plant in North Carolina is closing temporarily for deep cleaning after a coronavirus outbreak there. News outlets report that one of two Tyson plants in Wilkesboro closed Saturday and will reopen on Tuesday. The plant is normally closed on Sundays anyway. Tyson employs about 3,000 people at its two Wilkesboro plants. A spokesman for the plant wouldn’t say how many employees had contracted COVID-19. But officials in Wilkes County said Friday that an outbreak at the plant is responsible for a majority of the county’s 194 coronavirus cases. Meat processing plants across the country have seen outbreaks of coronavirus.

In Brunswick County as of May 11, there are 49 positive cases of COVID-19, 33 pending test results and 1,720 confirmed negative test results, totaling 1,802 tests administered so far among county residents. Of the positive cases, 39 are considered recovered cases, eight are currently isolating at seven different homes (one is not located in Brunswick County), and two are deaths associated to COVID-19. There are 10 cases involving non-residents testing positive for COVID-19; five are considered recovered cases, three have transferred monitoring to their home county, and two are deaths associated to COVID-19


Sunday, May 10

Health officials in North Carolina are reporting roughly 400 new coronavirus cases and only 3 new deaths in their latest count. The updated numbers released Sunday by the state health department show the total number of cases statewide grew by 404 from a day ago to 14,764. The death count increased from 544 to 547. The rate of positive tests for the virus remained under 10 percent. State officials are monitoring data as North Carolina began over the weekend to allow a phased-in reopening of businesses. One-day changes can sometimes be an anomaly, and officials say they are looking for trends that sustain themselves over 14 days or longer. 

Saturday, May 9

Gov. Roy Cooper says COVID-19 remains a lethal threat to North Carolina residents, even as rules he issued to ease a statewide stay-at-home order take effect. Cooper offered sobering comments to citizens even while defending his decision this week to initiate the first part of his three-phase plan to jump-start the economy starting Friday afternoon. He said it’s still preferable to stay at home and urged social distancing and the wearing of face masks in public. But he called the new rules a "careful modest step." More than 13,850 people have tested positive in the state with over 525 deaths.

Phase 1 of North Carolina’s three-phase plan to lift restrictions due to COVID-19 is now in effect; Phase 1 still includes a modified version of the Governor’s Stay at Home Order. Read the full press release from the Governor’s Office here. More information and guidance for businesses about Phase 1 is available on the NCDHHS website.

Brunswick County will continue to require individuals to schedule appointments for any necessary in-person visits during Phase 1. Individuals are encouraged to call ahead or email departments to see if team members can assist them virtually or through our online services. County libraries will partially reopen for no-contact curbside delivery beginning Monday, May 11. Library team members will begin calling library patrons who have reserved a book(s) and will agree together on a set pick up time during approved collection hours. Public Utilities encourages any business/building owners preparing to reopen to flush the entire building before doing so, including all water-using appliances such as ice machines and dishwashers. Flushing clears out the low-quality water that accumulates during low use and replaces it with higher quality water from the main water supply.

As of May 9, there are 49 positive cases of COVID-19, 21 pending test results and 1,715 confirmed negative test results, totaling 1,785 tests administered so far among county residents. Of the positive cases, 39 are considered recovered cases, eight are currently isolating at seven different homes (one is not located in Brunswick County), and two are deaths associated to COVID-19.

There are 10 cases involving non-residents testing positive for COVID-19; five are considered recovered cases, three have transferred monitoring to their home county, and two are deaths associated to COVID-19.

See answers and information to several of our most frequently asked questions concerning COVID-19.

See more information about COVID-19 testing and screening sites in Brunswick County

BOLIVIA, N.C. – Phase 1 of North Carolina’s three-phase plan to lift restrictions due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is now in effect. Phase 1 still includes a modified version of the Governor’s Stay at Home Order and individuals should continue to limit travel as much as possible during this phase and discourage vacations or invitations to guests to visit during Phase 1. Read the full press release from the Governor’s Office here.

Travel increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends you stay home as much as possible, especially if your trip is not essential, and practice social distancing especially if you are at higher risk of severe illness. Do not travel if you are sick or travel with someone who is sick.

Brunswick County has not issued additional restrictions beyond what is required in the Governor’s executive orders. Individuals should reach out to your municipality or check their website to see if their town or city has initiated or could initiate additional restrictions that overlap with Phase 1 of North Carolina’s statewide plan. Individuals should continue to comply with any rules established within their jurisdiction.

Individuals are strongly encouraged to follow the three Ws when visiting any public area:

Wear a cloth face covering when in public

Learn how to wear and/or make one on the CDC website and see answers to frequently asked questions about cloth face coverings on the NCDHHS website

Wait six feet apart to avoid close contact and maintain appropriate social distancing between yourself and others

Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer while also following other best hygiene practices

Thursday, May 7

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is set to reopen on Saturday, becoming one of the biggest federal attractions to reopen amid the national lockdown prompted by the coronavirus crisis. The nation’s most visited national park has been closed since late March in response to the pandemic. The park says some of its most popular trails will remain off limits for now. It says new safety measures will be implemented in facility operations and services to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Most national parks remain closed, though Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah and the Everglades National Park in Florida have also announced phased reopenings.

The North Carolina Air National Guard will conduct flyover salutes to foodbank workers, medical staffs and other frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19. The flyover will be performed by a C-17 plane, according to a release by the Guard. The planned route Thursday will start over Asheville in the western part of the state before heading to Wilmington and circling back to Charlotte. Along the way, the route will include medical facilities in Morganton, Winston-Salem, Chapel Hill and Greenville. It will fly over food banks in Asheville, Raleigh and Charlotte, among other cities and facilities. 

Wednesday, May 6

This week, the governor signed into law a COVID19 relief package for North Carolina -- and WUNC reports it includes hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid for K-12 public schools. The funds will help schools continue to feed students and reach them through remote instruction. The state Department of Public Instruction reports about 300-thousand students lack the ability to connect to digital learning. In this first wave of funding, the department received about a third of what it requested to buy students computers.  

As South Carolina continues reopening, the state's peak of cases has been pushed further into the future with hundreds of additional deaths now predicted. The new prediction is for more than 11 hundred deaths by early August from COVID-19. Less than two weeks ago, state health officials predicted fewer than 700 deaths in that same time frame. Gov. Henry McMaster says he hopes to announce soon when barber shops and dine-in restaurants can reopen.   

As North Carolinians remain isolated in their homes, the Domestic Violence Shelter and Services in Wilmington is reporting a significant uptick in calls from people who are facing domestic abuse during the pandemic. Since mid-March, the shelter has seen an 114% increase in calls, and a 48% increase in services overall. According to the Outreach Director for Wilmington’s Domestic Violence Shelter and Services, some victims of domestic violence are afraid of seeking shelter outside of their homes for fear of contracting COVID-19.    

As local school systems grapple with graduation decisions and changes during the pandemic, the New Hanover County Board of Education says its school system is still assessing options. Interim Superintendent Del Burns says school officials surveyed more than 1,000 families about graduation preferences. A newly formed task force will use that data to make a decision -- which is expected by the end of May. Meanwhile, the Brunswick County Board of Education has set a plan in place to hold small graduation diploma ceremonies, while remaining under the CDC’s guidelines of number of people allowed to gather. 


Tuesday, May 5

Trying to regain its economic footing ahead of the summertime tourist season, South Ca rolina has officially begun loosening restrictions on travel, commerce and recreation.  Yesterday marked the end of Gov. Henry McMaster’s stay-at-home order, which fined anyone found outside their home for a reason other than work, visiting family, exercising alone or going to an essential business. Restaurants are now being allowed to begin serving people in outdoor dining areas, as long as tables are at least 8 feet apart and strict sanitation guidelines are followed. 

Seven North Carolina voters have filed a lawsuit against the state and the State Board of Elections over North Carolina’s absentee by mail voting regulations. The plaintiffs argue that because of the coronavirus, absentee ballot restrictions will make it unreasonably burdensome for people to vote by mail, even though doing so would allow for better adherence of social distancing protocols. The NCSBE has said it anticipates an absentee by mail turnout upward of 40% — roughly 10 times the usual turnout for that ballot type.

A major restaurant chain has reported nearly 200 local layoffs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bloomin' Brands Inc., the restaurant company that operates Outback and Carrabas has reported layoffs for two of the restaurants in the area, according to the lastest Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification reports. The cuts are included in more than 4,100 temporary layoffs in the state, documented by the its WARN reports. Other companies with WARN notices reported in New Hanover County include Enterprise Holdings with 233 permanent layoffs, part of nearly 900 statewide. And GE Aviation, which has a manufacturing site in Wilmington, plans to reduce up to 25% of its total U.S. workforce. 

Just over half of North Carolina adults are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 because they are 65 or older, have at least one underlying health condition, or both, according to data analyzed by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. The underlying health conditions included chronic lung disease, cardiovascular disease, severe obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease and immunosuppressive conditions, including cancer treatment, smoking and other immune disorders. As of yesterday, 75% of all laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 deaths had at least one underlying health condition.

Monday, May 4

North Carolina Gov Roy Cooper has signed legislation pumping $1.6 billion into schools, hospitals, local governments and researchers dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. The bills represent a compromise between measures approved separately in the Senate and House last week, with input from the governor and legislative Democrats seeking items in Cooper’s own $1.4 billion request. The $1.6 billion is less than half of North Carolina’s share received from the $2 trillion coronavirus relief law that Congress approved last month.

As state officials consider relaxing social restrictions by the end of the week, the coronavirus has now been recorded in all but one of North Carolina’s 100 counties. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services reported the first case in Yancey County, located on the western side of the state along the Tennessee border. That leaves only Avery County left.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has declared this week as Hurricane Preparedness Week across the state -- and impacts from the coronavirus could make this storm season a little more complicated. With a pandemic underway, the governor says evacuation plans should include hotel stays or residing with friends and family -- as emergency shelters may not be able to maintain social distancing. Additionally, hurricane preparedness kits this year should also include hand sanitizer and face masks, along with the traditional items.

More than 1 million North Carolinians have filed for unemployment since mid-March, according to the Department of Commerce. A total of 1,008,641 claims have been filed between March 15 to May 3. Of those, at least 847,748 are related to COVID-19, the Department of Commerce said. That figure could be higher but it is up to the person filing to give a reason behind their unemployment. The state has paid out $1.25 billion in unemployment to 444,422 claimants.

A state hospitality industry group is asking Governor Roy Cooper to allow restaurants to begin offering dine-in services under social distancing guidelines as soon as possible. The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association President says starting to reopen restaurants in mid-May could be the difference between businesses surviving or closing permanently. In the group’s survey of its members, 65% said their businesses would have to permanently close unless dine-in services are again allowed within the next two months. WUNC reports dine-in guidelines could include having tables spaced six feet apart and allowing restaurants to open only at 25 to 50 percent capacity. 

A North Carolina judge has ordered public officials to turn over detailed information about what steps they are taking to prevent coronavirus outbreaks in state prisons. State prison officials are currently grappling with two major outbreaks of the virus. At Neuse Correctional Institution in Goldsboro, more than 460 inmates have tested positive and two have died. And at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh, 90 inmates have been diagnosed with the virus. 

A total of 430 people have died from COVID-19 in North Carolina, according to data provided by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. The total number of positive cases now stands at 11,848.  NCDHHS released its latest numbers Monday.  Here is the confirmed case breakdown for southeastern North Carolina, as of Monday morning:

New Hanover County - 89

Brunswick County - 47

Columbus County - 170

Pender County - 15

Bladen County - 24

Seventeen deaths related to COVID-19 have been reported in the Cape Fear region:

Columbus County - 11

New Hanover County - 3

Brunswick County - 2

Pender County - 1

Sunday, May 3

The General Assembly has finalized a relief package to address the new coronavirus pandemic in North Carolina, agreeing to send money to schools, hospitals, local governments and researchers. A pair of bipartisan measures approved unanimously by the House and Senate on Saturday direct how nearly $1.6 billion in federal funds are distributed and how government activities during the outbreak are deferred or delayed. Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to sign the bills into law. He and Republican legislative leaders praised the collaboration in fashioning the measures. The Legislative Building was closed to the public while the General Assembly worked this week.

Several major shopping malls in North Carolina are expected to reopen on the same day Gov. Roy Cooper’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order is scheduled to end. The News & Observer reports that Simon Property Group announced that it plans to reopen the SouthPark and Concord Mills malls and Charlotte Premium Outlets on May 8. A statement on Simon's website says the planned reopenings are based on “current state and/or local stay-at-home or closure orders, which are subject to change." The mall operator said all employees will be required to wear masks and take hand-washing breaks. The malls will also limit entrances, hours and the number of people in the buildings. 

Saturday, May 2 

Brunswick County has not issued additional restrictions beyond what is required in the Governor’s Stay at Home Order, which is now in effect through Friday, May 8. North Carolina’s three-phase approach to lifting statewide restrictions follows the guidance of President Donald Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force.

Reach out to the municipality or the owners of short-term rental properties for questions concerning beaches, short-term rentals, and refunds for rentals. Do not travel to other places in the state or country or encourage travelers here while the Governor’s Stay at Home Order is in place; individuals who travel should quarantine for 14 days to watch for COVID-19 symptoms.

As of May 2, there are 47 positive cases of COVID-19, 35 pending test results and 1,418 confirmed negative test results, totaling 1,500 tests administered so far among county residents. Of the positive cases, 35 are considered recovered cases, 10 are currently isolating at six different homes and two are deaths associated to COVID-19.

There are 10 cases involving non-residents testing positive for COVID-19 while visiting; five are considered recovered cases, three have transferred monitoring to their home county and two are deaths associated to COVID-19.

Friday, May 1

North Carolina plans to release COVID-19 outbreak data by zip code.  According to WUNC, State Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen says her agency wants to share more information with North Carolinians, but will limit it to protect people's identities. There will not be data shared for zip codes that have less than 500 people and less than five lab-confirmed cases. DHHS will share the information on its website, though the state plans to use the county-level data it has already been releasing to make policy decisions.

Nearly one out of every five working North Carolinians has applied for unemployment since mid-March. WUNC reports there's been another wave of unemployment applicants the past week. An additional 200-thousand people filed for help with the state agency since last Friday. Payments have gone out to about 40-percent of applicants -- the maximum weekly benefit from the state is $350. 

It's the first of the month and rents are due across North Carolina. But nearly a million people have lost their jobs in recent weeks, and paying those bills may be a struggle for many. According to WFAE, evictions are on hold until at least June 1, and Attorney General Josh Stein is asking landlords to work with their tenants, and try to come up with payment plans so folks aren't dispossessed of their property when the courts open back up. He's also asking tenants who have the means to pay to do so, so landlords have the cash flow they need to help those who are in severe financial distress. 

Surgical services and diagnostic testing will resume in the New Hanover Regional Medical Center system starting Monday. The plan is based on a phased, calculated approach guided by a dozen metrics that serve as a guide to safely reopen services. NHRMC officials say they continue to closely monitor the the virus situation, and remain prepared to respond to a sudden outbreak in the region.

American Airlines, the major carrier for flights out of Wilmington International Airport, plans to require all passengers to wear face masks on board starting May 11. The CDC has recommended simple face coverings as an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus, for which there is no current vaccine. Extremely young passengers and those with conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask will be exempt.

The Holden Beach Board of Commissioners voted to immediately open up public parking and public accesses to its beach yesterday. There are no restrictions to the use of the beach in place. Meanwhile, Ocean Isle Beach became the first area beach town to drop many of their restrictions and open the beach strand to everyone yesterday.

Cape Fear Community College’s Continuing Education program will be offering 10 free self-pace-tutorial online courses as part of their COVID-19 response to the community. The classes are designed to help build essential skills for the current job market. The goal of the courses is to help improve professional skill sets, whether a person is currently employed, seeking a new job, owns a business, or volunteers in the community. The courses are available through June 30.


Thursday, April 30

Listen here: North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper is hopeful the state can move forward with its planned reopening by May 8th.  However, there are four indicators – or metrics – that state officials say must go in the right direction before they greenlight Phase 1.  Two of the four data points are going in the wrong direction -- including the number of people heading to the Emergency Room with COVID-like symptoms and the number of confirmed positive cases over the last 14 days. The other two data points are positive: hospitalizations, and percentage of positive tests.

The state House voted unanimously today for a measure that distributes more than $1.7 billion of the state’s share of coronavirus relief approved by Congress. The Senate passed a package yesterday  that distributes over $1.3 billion.  Budget-writers want to send a final bill backed by both chambers to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk by tomorrow.

North Carolina is receiving failing grades when it comes to social distancing. WFDD reports a study by Unacast says North Carolina is one of nine states to receive an overall F grade, suggesting residents haven’t been practicing social distancing as well as they should. The grades are based on three metrics, including average mobility, reduction in non-essential visits, and a decrease in human encounters. Most of the states that received an F grade were located in the Southeast.

Research conducted by the real estate editorial branch of The Motley Fool has ranked Wilmington the fifth-most exposed U.S. city to the risks of a downturn in its commercial real estate market, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Port City Daily, the analysis examined data to determine cities’ shares of workers in the commercial real estate market. In many markets with a high concentration of retail employment there are two core risks: closed stores will not be able to afford leases without any income coming in, and employees themselves will be unable to pay rent or mortgages.

Wilmington Downtown Incorporated and the Longleaf Foundation has awarded additional grants to local businesses through their Re-3 grant program. In total, 30 downtown businesses have received $3,000 each through the program. That’s according to the Greater Wilmington Business Journal. Since launching, Re-3 has received over $90,000 in donations from local businesses and individuals, and another $20,000 has been pledged. Organizers anticipate that a third round of grants will be made next week.