Coronavirus in the Carolinas: Cases, testing hit single-day highs in NC

Coronavirus in the Carolinas: June 4 morning update

CHARLOTTE — Here is a roundup of what’s happening so far today, June 3, surrounding COVID-19 in both North Carolina and South Carolina (Click here for yesterday’s coverage). Scroll below for live, local real-time minute-by-minute updates.

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Live, local updates from Thursday:

Cooper creates task force to address health disparities in communities of color

Gov. Roy Cooper is signing an executive order to address disparities in communities of color that are being highlighted and intensified by COVID-19. The Andrea Harris Social and Economic Taskforce is being created

Two more cases in Avery County

Avery County has 2 new positive COVID-19 cases. Their first and only 2 previous cases are recovered.

361 new cases; 7 more deaths in South Carolina

SC DHEC announced 361 new cases of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 and seven additional deaths.

This brings the total number of people confirmed to have COVID-19 in South Carolina to 13,005 and those who have died to 525.

Burke County reports more than 500 positive COVID-19 cases

Burke County is currently at 514 positive cases.

The cases consist of traveling, congregate living, and community spread. All positive cases are isolated and Public Health staff continues to investigate the cases and will be locating those close contacts to help contain the spread of the infection.

NCDHHS Launches Testing and Contact Tracing Resources to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19

Today, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) launches new initiatives to expand COVID-19 testing and contact tracing across the state and help North Carolinians protect their families and neighbors. Testing and tracing are core public health measures and key components of North Carolina’s strategy to responsibly ease restrictions, while continuing to slow the spread of the virus.

North Carolinians can now access new online tools to determine if they should consider being tested for COVID-19 and find a nearby testing place. The tool will also help individuals monitor their symptoms if they have tested positive for or been exposed to COVID-19. In addition, NCDHHS launched a new platform to integrate contact tracing efforts across the state under the COVID-19 Community Team. More than 900 local health department staff and other Community Team members have been trained on the software and many have begun using it in their ongoing contact tracing work.

“These new COVID-19 testing tools and resources help North Carolinians have the support and information they need to take care of themselves and their loved ones,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen, M.D. “When more people get tested, and we all work alongside the COVID-19 Community Team to do our part with contact tracing, we can protect our loved ones and slow the spread of the virus.”

“These tools are one way we can help break down barriers to access, particularly for our historically marginalized populations, who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,” said Dr. Cardra Burns, Senior Deputy Director, NCDHHS Division of Public Health. “They are part of a larger effort to make sure that testing is available in trusted and accessible places for communities of color.”

North Carolina contact tracing is being conducted by experienced and trained local health department staff and other COVID-19 Community Team members. Last week, the Community Team met its initial goal to hire and train 250 additional contact tracers who collectively are reflective of the racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity of North Carolina.

New Online Tools to Increase Access to Testing

Having more than tripled the amount of testing completed just a month ago, North Carolina continues to ramp up testing. The new online tools are intended to help people know if they may need a test, how to get a test and how to monitor their own symptoms if advised to do so by a contact tracer. These tools include:

  • Check My Symptoms (www.ncdhhs.gov/symptoms), a public website that allows people to enter their symptoms to determine if they should consider getting tested for COVID-19. If a test is recommended, they will receive a link to a list of nearby testing sites via email or text.
  • Find My Testing Place (www.ncdhhs.gov/TestingPlace), a public website that allows people to enter their county or ZIP code and access a list of nearby testing site locations online.
  • COVID-19 Community Team Outreach (CCTO) Tool, a password-protected online software that helps people track their own symptoms if they have been advised to do so by the COVID-19 Community Team. The tool is also a platform that helps streamline and integrate contact tracing work across the state.

Expanded Contact Tracing through the COVID-19 Community Team

Through contact tracing, local health department staff and other COVID-19 Community Team members reach out to people who may have recently come into close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 and connect them with the information and support needed to protect themselves and their loved ones.

It is important that people answer the call when the Community Team reaches out. Individuals being contacted will get an initial text from the number 45394 or email from NC-ARIAS-NoReply@dhhs.nc.gov with follow-up phone calls from their local health department or NC OUTREACH (844-628-7223). The Community Team will never ask for anyone’s Social Security Number, bank or credit card numbers, or any other financial information at any time. Any information shared during the call is a private health record and is strictly confidential.

NCDHHS releases updated data on COVID-19 for the state:

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday reported the highest daily increase in cases, with 1,189 new cases. The previous highest one-day increase was 1,185 cases.

However, the state also reported the highest daily number of tests with 19,039. That’s well over the state’s goal of 5,000 to 7,000 per day. The overall percent positive is between 6% and 7%, and has remained mostly level over the last week.

The additional 1,189 new COVID-19 cases bring the state’s total to 31,966, and the 19,039 completed tests bring the total number of completed tests in the state to 468,302.

There have been 21 new deaths attributed to COVID-19 since Wednesday, bringing the state’s total to 960.

The state reported 659 people currently hospitalized for COVID-19.

Mecklenburg County continues to lead the state in both cases and deaths with at least 4,842 and 101 respectively.

Confirmed cases by age:

0-17 (7%)

18-24 (10%)

25-49 (45%)

50-64 (22%)

65-74 (8%)

75 or older (9%)

COVID-19 deaths by age:

25-49 (4%)

50-64 (13%)

65-74 (20%)

75 or older (63%)

Cases by race:

White: 54%

Black: 29%

Cases by gender:

Women: 51%

Men: 49%

(Men account for 53% of deaths)

Cases and deaths in congregate living settings:

There have been 93 outbreaks in nursing homes across the state, resulting in 3,412 cases and 503 deaths.

There have been 48 outbreaks at residential care facilities across the state, resulting in 892 cases and 73 deaths.

More than $1 million in utility bill assistance available in Mecklenburg County

As the number of Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas customers facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow, the companies are encouraging Mecklenburg County customers to apply for the more than $1 million in utility assistance funds available through Crisis Assistance Ministry.

The funding is part of the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Customers must apply by June 26 in order for applications to be processed by June 30, marking the end of the county’s fiscal year when the funds expire.

To qualify, customers must be a U.S. citizen, resident of Mecklenburg County, have a household income at 150 percent of federal poverty level guidelines and have a past-due bill.

“It’s really important to make people aware that help is available,” said Carol Hardison, Crisis Assistance Ministry chief executive officer. “Even though they may not have a disconnect notice, this funding can reduce the amount they owe today and make it easier to pay off balances in the future.”

Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas are also reaching out to Mecklenburg County customers in arrears through email and/or text, letting them know about the assistance available.

In North Carolina, more than 145,000 Duke Energy customers were more than 60 days behind in making payments at the end of May. Rising summer temperatures could cause even more hardship for those who are behind.

Customers can apply for funds online at www.crisisassistance.org/applynow or use the curbside application pick-up and drop-off at Crisis Assistance Ministries’ offices at 500-A Spratt St. in Charlotte. Office hours are Monday - Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. through the month of June.

Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas have a longstanding partnership with Crisis Assistance Ministry through Share the Warmth, which provides utility assistance during winter. Since its inception, Duke Energy – through contributions from customers, employees and the Duke Energy Foundation – has contributed more than $35 million to Share the Warmth through Crisis Assistance Ministry and 85 other service agencies.

The companies have donated $27,000 to Crisis Assistance Ministry as part of their overall pandemic relief efforts, which total more than $6 million in giving in the seven states they serve. On March 13, the companies announced they would not disconnect service to those who could not pay their electric or natural gas bills during the pandemic.

Since then, the companies and Crisis Assistance Ministry have continued to encourage customers to pay what they can to avoid unmanageable balances when the pandemic ends.

Crisis Assistance Ministry will still be able to help those in need after the LIHEAP funds expire with money from fundraising but would like to help as many people as possible with the federal money.

Crisis Assistance Ministry has called more than 1,000 households who expressed need to invite them to apply, reached out to churches who have broadcasted the availability over Zoom services, and put fliers in hundreds of food boxes delivered at food pantry curbside pickups.

State Health Plan extends waivers for COVID-19 test, treatment costs to July 31

State Treasurer Dale R. Folwell, CPA, and the State Health Plan (Plan) today announced that the Plan is extending the cost waiver for COVID-19 testing and treatment for members diagnosed with COVID-19, including associated deductibles, copayments and coinsurance, until July 31.

The member cost-share coverage for COVID-19 testing and treatments extends the previous June 1 waiver through July 31, 2020, at which time the Plan will re-evaluate this and other measures. This coverage applies to members enrolled in the 80/20 Plan, 70/30 Plan and High Deductible Health Plan. This action helps ensure that members continue to receive the COVID-19 testing and treatment they need.

“Speaking on behalf of State Health Plan Executive Director Dee Jones and the Plan Board of Trustees, as COVID-19 testing becomes more readily available, we don’t want any barriers to our members getting tests when and where they need them,” said Treasurer Folwell. “From personal experience, I know the importance of prompt, effective care. I urge our Plan members to continue working to keep themselves and their families safe and virus-free.”

In addition, the Plan is also waiving the cost for the new drive-through COVID-19 testing at select North Carolina CVS Pharmacy locations. Members must register in advance to schedule an appointment and will need to follow instructions during registration, which includes a questionnaire. Members will be required to stay in their cars and will be directed to the pharmacy drive-through window, where they will be provided with a test kit and given instructions. Results will be available in about three days. A complete list of CVS Pharmacy drive-through test sites can be found here.

The Plan is also waiving early medication refill limits on 30-day prescriptions for maintenance medications until June 15, 2020. Member cost-sharing will apply as normal.

FOURTH OUTBREAK IDENTIFIED IN CATAWBA COUNTY

Catawba County Public Health is investigating a newly identified outbreak of COVID-19 at Brookdale Senior Living – Falling Creek, where two residents have tested positive for the virus. The assisted living facility is informing patients, their family members, and staff about the situation.

This is the fourth congregate care facility outbreak identified in Catawba County. In a congregate living setting, a COVID-19 outbreak is defined as two or more laboratory-confirmed cases.

The facility has conducted widespread testing and is working closely with Public Health to ensure control measures are in place to help prevent further spread of the disease.

“We are in frequent communication with facility administrators and have advised the facility on cleaning and disinfection, best practices for providing meals and separating residents, and encouraging the use of masks for residents,” said Catawba County Public Health Director Jennifer McCracken.

Public Health is continuing daily monitoring of all congregate care facilities in our community in order to respond as quickly as possible to reports of potential illness.

More information about Catawba County’s COVID-19 response and recommended prevention measures can be found online at www.catawbacountync.gov.

1.9 million seek jobless aid even as reopenings slow layoffs

Nearly 1.9 million people applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week, the ninth straight decline since applications spiked in mid-March, a sign that the gradual reopening of businesses has slowed the loss of jobs.

The diminishing pace suggests that the job market meltdown that was triggered by the coronavirus may have bottomed out as more companies call at least some of their former employees back to work.

The total number of people who are now receiving jobless aid rose only slightly to 21.5 million, suggesting that rehiring is offsetting some of the ongoing layoffs.

Though applications for benefits are slowing, the latest weekly number is still more than double the record high that prevailed before the viral outbreak. It shows that there are limits to how much a partial reopening of the economy can restore a depressed job market mired in a recession.

With all states in the process of gradually reopening for business, more consumers are starting to return to restaurants, stores and hair salons. That trend has boosted consumer spending from exceedingly low levels and has likely encouraged some companies to hire again.

In addition to the laid-off employees who applied for benefits last week, 623,000 others sought jobless aid under a new program for self-employed and gig workers, who now qualify for unemployment benefits for the first time. These figures aren’t adjusted for seasonal variations, so the government doesn’t include them in the overall data.

The figures come one day before the government’s jobs report for May is expected to show that employers slashed 8 million jobs last month and that the unemployment rate jumped from 14.7% to 19.8%. If those forecasts prove accurate, it would mean that nearly 30 million people have lost jobs since the viral outbreak intensified in March and that joblessness has reached its highest point since the Great Depression.

Since mid-March, 42.7 million people have applied for unemployment benefits. Not all of them are still unemployed, though. Some have since been rehired. And some laid-off people, it turns out, filed duplicate applications for benefits as they struggled with unresponsive state unemployment systems.

THURSDAY MORNING STORYLINES

The total number of COVID-19 cases eclipsed 30,000 in North Carolina on Wednesday, according to state reports, and 684 people are in the hospital from coronavirus-related symptoms. There have been at least 939 deaths.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is preparing for the possibility that remote learning will continue in the new school year and wants your feedback. Parents are being asked to take part in a survey to help CMS plan for the future and to better understand the impact COVID-19 has had on the school district.

High School graduations will begin Thursday in York County. Students from Fort Mill High School will hold their ceremony today at Bob Jones Stadium. Nations Ford High School will hold theirs on Friday. Because of social distancing, only graduates will be allowed in. Parents will be able to watch the ceremony live on YouTube.

AMC says it may not survive the coronavirus pandemic. The theater was already seeing a drop in ticket sales before the outbreak, but with closures and movie production delays it may need more money to stay afloat than it will be able to borrow. AMC’s rival, Cinemark, plans to reopen on June 19. Cinemark has three locations in our area -- Charlotte, Matthews and Salisbury.

A Durham second-grader died from severe complications related to COVID-19, according to a GoFundMe page organized for her family. In the GoFundMe, which has raised more than $12,600, organizers wrote Aurea Soto Morales was hospitalized at UNC Hospital and died on Monday. Organizers added that Aurea’s mother, father and sister have also contracted COVID-19.