Coronavirus local updates: American Airlines to require customers to wear face coverings

Nearly 3.2 million people worldwide -- including more than one million people in the United States – have been infected with the new coronavirus, and the number of deaths from the outbreak continues to rise. Officials are attempting to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. as hospitals manage unprecedented patient surges.

>> Scroll below for live, local real-time minute-by-minute updates


***Possible news conferences scheduled for today***


Mecklenburg County: (2 p.m.)

North Carolina Task Force: (3 p.m.)

South Carolina Task Force (TBA)

White House Task Force: (None)


>> Have questions about the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the Carolinas? We have an entire section dedicated to coverage of the outbreak -- CLICK HERE FOR MORE.




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[FAQ: N.C. Gov. Cooper’s Stay-at-Home Order]

[FAQ: S.C. Gov. McMaster’s Work-or-Home Order]

[Everything you need to know about the stimulus payments, unemployment]

[Food banks, soup kitchens helping people affected by COVID-19 outbreak]

[Charlotte restaurants, breweries offering curbside pickup, delivery, discounts]

>> Here are the latest updates about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in North Carolina and South Carolina. Scroll below for real-time updates.

  • The number of cases across North Carolina reached 10,509 Thursday. North Carolina is now reporting 378 deaths, 128,036 completed tests and 546 people currently in the hospital.
  • Gov. Roy Cooper and the state’s coronavirus task force announced a statewide stay-at-home order which is currently in effect.
  • Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered a home or work order in South Carolina.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is tracking cases in the United States here.

Important Links:

Live, local updates from Wednesday:

11:15 p.m.

5:50 p.m.

Statement: American Airlines will soon require all customers traveling to wear a face covering (or mask) while on board the aircraft starting May 11. This new requirement is part of the airline’s ongoing commitment to prioritizing customer and team member well-being in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the use of a simple face covering slows the spread of the virus and helps people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials can be used as a public health measure. Additional details are available on the CDC website. A face covering will be required by each passenger while onboard an American flight. Face coverings may also be required by local jurisdictions. Very young passengers and those with conditions that prevent them from wearing a face covering will be exempt from the requirement.

Earlier this week, American announced that face coverings will be required for flight attendants during every mainline and regional flight beginning tomorrow, May 1. Additionally, American will begin the process of distributing sanitizing wipes and face coverings to customers. This offering will expand to all flights as supplies and operational conditions allow.

These changes continue to build on American’s commitment to customer and team member safety. American’s cleaning practices have always met or exceeded all guidelines set by the CDC. All American Airlines mainline aircraft and most of its regional aircraft are equipped with High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters. In addition, the cabin air in all American aircraft is changed approximately 15 to 30 times per hour, or once every two to four minutes, similar to the standard for hospitals.

At the airport, American has expanded the frequency of cleaning the areas under its control including gate areas, ticket counters, passenger service counters, baggage service offices and team member rooms. American is also using stanchions to encourage social distancing at gates and ticket counters. Learn more about American’s ongoing commitment to safety at aa.com/coronavirus.

5:45 p.m.

Rowan County (As of April 30)

  • Confirmed cases: 373
  • Deaths:22
  • Recovered: 106

CLICK HERE to read more.

5:30 p.m.

N.C. Dept. of Health & Human Services: "As of this morning, NC has 10,509 confirmed cases in 98 counties, 546 hospitalizations and 378 deaths.

North Carolinians have flattened the curve, with fewer people getting sick at the same time. We are hopeful that next week we can enter Phase I of our plan to ease restrictions, but North Carolinians must remain vigilant.

A combination of four metrics will drive the easing of restrictions: 1) COVID-like syndromic cases over 14 days, 2) Lab-confirmed cases over 14 days, 3) Positive tests as a percentage of the total tests over 14 days and 4) Hospitalizations over 14 days.

FEMA will provide cloth masks to infrastructure workers, mostly in the energy and food sectors who do not need medical-grade masks for their daily work. N.C. Emergency Management will also receive 149,000 cloth masks to be distributed to food supply chain workers.

Please refrain from calling 911 to report social distancing or stay at home violations. 911 is for emergencies only.

5 p.m.

Caldwell County

Confirmed cases: 35

Recovered patients: 21

Deaths: 0

Completed tests: 1,456

Negative tests: 1,301

4:40 p.m.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) today announced 220 new cases of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, and 12 additional deaths were reported to DHEC.

This brings the total number of people confirmed to have COVID-19 in South Carolina to 6,095 and those who have died to 244.

Nine of the deaths occurred in elderly individuals from Anderson (1), Chesterfield (1), Clarendon (1), Florence (1), Greenville (2), Lexington (2), and Richland (1) counties. Three occurred in middle-aged individuals from Anderson (1), Greenville (1), and Richland (1) counties.

CLICK HERE for more information.

3:30 p.m.

3:15 p.m.

The 61st running of the legendary Coca-Cola 600 will take place on Sunday, May 24, at 6:00 p.m. during Memorial Day Weekend as NASCAR brings live competition back to a worldwide broadcast audience on FOX and PRN. Due to continued restrictions on public gatherings during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the race will take place without spectators in attendance. The May 16 NASCAR All-Star Race has been postponed to a yet-to-be determined date.

[NASCAR announces revised May schedule as racing returns beginning at Darlington Raceway]

NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway have developed a comprehensive plan reviewed by state and local health agencies to protect the health and safety of the competitors, crew members, employees and broadcast crews that will produce the race. The plan includes limiting overall personnel, pre-event screening, social distancing on site, using personal protective equipment and sanitizing areas of the facility both before and during the event.

Also included on NASCAR’s revised race event schedule without spectators, the May 23 Alsco 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series Race has been postponed to Monday, May 25 at 7:30 p.m., while the May 15 N.C. Education Lottery 200 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race has been postponed to Tuesday, May 26, at 8:00 p.m. Both events will be telecast on FSI. The May 22 General Tire 150 ARCA race and May 23 United Rentals Patriot Nationals World of Outlaws race have been postponed to yet-to-be-determined dates.

CLICK HERE to learn more.

  • The 61st running of the legendary Coca-Cola 600 will take place on Sunday evening, May 24, in its traditional Memorial Day Weekend slot on the NASCAR schedule
  • The Coca-Cola 600 will be broadcast live worldwide on FOX and PRN at 6:00 p.m.
  • The 600-mile event will take place without spectators in attendance due to continued restrictions on public gatherings during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic
  • The May 16 NASCAR All-Star Race has been postponed to a yet-to-be determined date

NASCAR is scheduled to make its return to racing on Sunday, May 17, at Darlington Raceway with a NASCAR Cup Series race that will serve as the first of seven races over an 11-day span at two different race tracks throughout May, the sanctioning body announced Thursday.

CLICK HERE to learn more.

3 p.m.

Gov. Cooper’s News Conference: "Last week, we shared our three-phase plan to ease restrictions & how we’ll measure progress. Some are on track but there are potential warning signs ahead. But, you’ve made tremendous sacrifices & it’s working. By looking out for your health & others, you’re making a difference.

Last week we shared details on key indicators we’re watching to ensure data & facts guide our decisions. Those graphs are updated daily on the Case Count Dashboard at nc.gov/covid19. We remain optimistic the trends will be stable enough to move us into Phase 1 next week.

My message today is to stay vigilant. Right now, we need people to continue following the Stay At Home order so that we can move into the phases of easing restrictions. Complacency could risk lives and undo these plans.

The three-phase plan is like a dimmer switch, letting us gradually lift restrictions so that we can get moving again without a dangerous spike in infections. This approach and the indicators we’re watching follow the guidance of the President’s Coronavirus Task Force.

Even as we ease restrictions, if you the people don’t feel safe, it won’t work. In order for the people to be with us, there has to be trust and a knowledge that they can feel safe when they work, shop and eat out.

That’s why we’re looking at facts & science to guide the way. That’s why we’re asking businesses to take precautions for their employees and customers. We must get the economy running better, but we need working people to trust that they will feel safe as we move forward."

2:45 p.m.

Pandemic Response Act Approved by North Carolina House of Representatives

Legislation to appropriate $1.7 billion for COVID-19 relief in North Carolina was approved by the state House of Representatives on Thursday in a Pandemic Response Act that includes extensive policy reforms to address impacts of the crisis.

House Bill 1043 Pandemic Response Act funds recovery priorities and provides assistance for small businesses, streamlines access to unemployment benefits, modifies education requirements, ensures continuity of government operations, and supports healthcare facilities on the front lines of the public health crisis.

The legislation was developed over weeks of remote committee meetings by the bipartisan state House Select Committee on COVID-19 and would help safely reopen the economy, Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said Thursday.

“Since this crisis began, North Carolinians have come together to support not only their own families but friends and neighbors, folks in their communities who need the most support in this unprecedented pandemic,” Speaker Moore said. “I appreciate the bipartisan, bicameral collaboration among my colleagues in the General Assembly to respond with relief for North Carolinians whose lives are at risk in this public health crisis, and whose livelihoods hang in the balance of an economic shutdown. The Pandemic Response Act represents a critical step for North Carolina’s recovery, to provide relief now for families and businesses, and to prepare for an unexpected future with reforms that support the people our state in the months ahead.”

Members of both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly have begun meetings to reach a compromise agreement on COVID-19 relief packages approved by the state House and Senate.

2 p.m.

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio and Public Health Director Gibbie Harris provided a COVID-19 update:

Harris said as of 11 a.m., 1,612 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 in Mecklenburg County, with 49 deaths. Twenty-four of those deaths are tied to long-term care facilities.

994 people have been released from isolation, which is 63% of the cases, according to Harris.

Based on mobility tracking data, Harris said residents are largely adhering to the stay at home order.

27,000 tests have been conducted since early March. Two more long-term care facilities have outbreaks: Asbury Health and Mint Hill Senior Living.

Harris said she feels confident that, unless there is a drastic change, Mecklenburg County will be ready for Phase I of the state’s reopening plan next week.

CMPD Deputy Chief Jeff Estes said that based on everything they are seeing, the protests (ReOpen Meck and Decarcerate Mecklenburg) planned for Friday are emphasizing social distancing.

Harris pointed out that "the models are all over the place.” She said the county is focusing more on trends.

Los Angeles is offering free coronavirus testing for all residents but Harris said Mecklenburg County “is not close to that.”

Harris said 30 staff members are doing contact tracing. The county has the capacity to double that if/when they need to. She said Mecklenburg County is in pretty good shape right now for contact tracing.

Harris said the problem with antibody testing right now in the county is the sensitivity of the testing. She said they are providing false positives and false negatives. At a later date, the county may recommend specific types of antibody tests but not yet.

12:45 p.m.


Several of the newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in Wilkes County were from residents employed by Tyson Foods in Wilkesboro.

The infected employees have been instructed not to return to work and to self-isolate at home. Employees with whom the infected individuals have come into contact have also been instructed to self-isolate. The plant’s on-site medical professionals are performing additional contact tracing within the facility, and the Wilkes County Health Department is tracing contacts the infected employees who live in Wilkes County made outside the facility.

Tyson Foods has taken a number of measures to protect its employees and decrease the chance for person-to-person transmission of the coronavirus at their facilities, including the following:

  • Taking worker temperatures and installing infrared walkthrough temperature scanners
  • Securing a supply of face coverings before the CDC recommended their use and which are now required in company facilities
  • Conducting additional deep cleaning and sanitizing in all company facilities, including break areas, cafeterias and restrooms
  • Implementing social distancing measures, such as installing workstation dividers, providing more breakroom space, erecting outdoor tents for additional space for breaks, and staggering start times to avoid large gathers as team members enter the facility
  • Relaxing its attendance policy to encourage workers to stay at home when they’re sick and eliminating the waiting period for eligibility on short-term disability benefits, so workers can receive pay while they’re sick with the flu or COVID-19.

“We’ve taken both of our responsibilities to continue feeding the nation and keeping our team members safe and healthy seriously,” said Chad Martin, group president of poultry, Tyson Foods. “That’s why we’ve been focused on COVID-19 since January when we first formed a company coronavirus task force. We’ve since implemented numerous measures to protect workers and are constantly looking for ways to improve our efforts. We’ve also worked with the local health department on more mitigation efforts and have accommodated all its recommendations for protective measures.”

The Wilkes County Health Department has ensured that Tyson plant has been given all the necessary guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and NC DHHS. In addition to this guidance, health department authorities speak daily to the plant regarding employee health and any new recommendations that have been developed.

The Wilkes County Health Department has also worked with the plant to identify a process for how to manage confirmed cases and close contacts to cases. If a confirmed case is identified then the employee is told to self-isolate for seven days or 72 hours post fever, whichever is longer. Individuals considered close contacts to a positive case and sent home with instructions to self-monitor and call a medical professional if symptoms develop. What’s more, State of North Carolina and local officials have been in contact with the company’s corporate leadership to discuss additional measures.

Eddie Settle, Chairman of the Wilkes County Board of Commissioners, said: “we will continue to work with all companies to help ensure the safety of their employees and the citizens of Wilkes.”

According to the US Food & Drug Administration, there is no evidence that food or food packaging is associated with the transmission of coronavirus. Meat processing plants are recognized as one of the sixteen critical infrastructures for national security, and the availability of their products essential to maintaining stay at-home measures. The Wilkes County Health Department and other local government agencies are working to ensure that the plant can stay safely open. However, with new cases introduced into the community, every individual must continue to play a part in fighting the virus.

Residents who think they have been exposed or who are experiencing symptoms should immediately self-isolate from all human contact and call their medical provider for further advice. People with COVID-19 have reported a wide range of symptoms from mild symptoms to severe illness. Possible symptoms include fever, headache, chills, repeated shaking with chills, shortness of breath, cough, muscle pain, new loss of taste or smell, or sore throat. Staying at home, practicing social distancing, wearing masks, and taking other common-sense measures is now more important than ever. Every person is a potential carrier, even if no symptoms are present, so it’s urgent that every person -sick or healthy- take action to help break the chain of transmission.

The chief elected officials at each of the county’s local government entities endorse these measures and strongly encourage all residents to do their part to slow the spread of the virus, protect their neighbors, and accelerate our community’s recovery.

Mike Inscore, Mayor of Wilkesboro, and North Wilkesboro Mayor Robert Johnson ask all area residents to “continue to be vigilant and comply with stay at home and social distancing measures. Take them seriously, protect yourself and your loved ones. Please continue to be patient. Your health and welfare are our concern first and foremost. United we stand!”

Chairman Settled added: “Wilkes County looks forward to defeating this virus so we can open back up soon.”

12:30 p.m.

NCDMV Adds Contactless Payment Options at License Plate Agencies

The N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles is expanding the type of payments it accepts at its license plate agencies to include non-contact credit and bank cards.

All license plate agencies now accept Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay, and other contactless cards for Visa and MasterCard transactions. The same payment options will be available at driver license offices in the near future.

Customers who use the contactless payment option simply tap their card against the card reader device instead of sliding or inserting it, then they confirm the amount charged.

All DMV license plate agencies and driver license offices continue to accept payment options previously in place, including cash, money orders, personal checks made payable to NCDMV, and Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover credit and debit cards.

12:20 p.m.

General Assembly to Return to Session May 12

South Carolina Senate President Harvey Peeler and House Speaker Jay Lucas announced in the below letter that their respective chambers of the General Assembly both plan to return to the statehouse for session on Tuesday, May 12, 2020.


We are pleased to confirm that both the House and the Senate will reconvene on May 12, 2020.

We understand that the past weeks and months have been a challenging and unprecedented time for our state. Our regular legislative schedule, along with the schedules and plans of every South Carolinian, was halted abruptly and left unfinished.

However, while the pandemic did not permit us to continue to meet as normal, the job of this legislature will not be left unfinished. Now, more than ever, the needs of the citizens of this state must be addressed and met.

While the state pursues reopening, we must stand poised to get back to work. In order to do our work in a timely manner, it is imperative we work together as fellow legislators and fellow South Carolinians. Leadership in both chambers recognizes the importance of this partnership.

We look forward to seeing each of you back in the halls of our statehouse once again, ready to do our part in the recovery of our state.

11:30 a.m.

The city of Charlotte is closing some streets to vehicle traffic to promote social distancing

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing many aspects of how we live, move about our cities, and get essential physical activity. The City of Charlotte is launching Charlotte Shared Streets to support social distancing and pedestrian/bicycle safety amidst this new way of life. Shared Streets is intended to support outdoor exercise; create a safer environment for people walking, wheelchair rolling, and biking; and promote physical distancing of at least 6 feet by identifying low-speed neighborhood streets as “Shared Streets.”

Shared Streets are streets that are temporarily designated and signed as streets for walking, wheelchair rolling, and biking. Through traffic will not be permitted, but emergency vehicles and residents who live on those streets will still be able to access the roads by motor vehicle.

The City of Charlotte will continue to monitor guidance from the CDC, the State of NC, and Mecklenburg County Public Health on outdoor recreation, transportation, and physical distancing, and will adjust this pilot program as needed.

Eligibility Criteria:

  • For the initial identification of Shared Streets, only low-speed (30mph or less), non-thoroughfare streets are eligible. (Streets signed over 30 mph may be considered in the future based on other factors – citizen input, proximity to parks/greenways, etc.)
  • Shared Streets candidates should be identified as an existing bike route/greenway connector OR provide a nearby route to an existing park or a greenway
  • Identified corridors should be long enough to be useful for exercising and support responsible social distancing – at least ½ mile.
  • Street types that would not meet requirements:
  • Street that provides access to hospitals, health services, and emergency services.
  • Streets that provide curbside pickup, parking access, or loading for essential services that are still in operation
  • Transit routes
  • Streets that provide essential access to commercial development projects
  • Streets with active construction or utility projects
  • NCDOT-maintained streets
  • Any other street as deemed appropriate by CDOT

Phase 1 Starting May 9, 2020:

  • McClintock Rd. from The Plaza to Morningside Dr.
  • Romany Rd. (Bike Route 11) from Euclid Ave. to Kenilworth Ave.
  • Jameston Dr./Irby Dr./Westfield Rd. from Freedom Park to Brandywine Rd.

Future Potential Locations:

  • Thomas Ave. from Central Ave. to Belvedere Ave.
  • Andrill Tr./Summit Ave./Martin St. (Bike Route 10) between Oaklawn Ave. and 5th St.
  • 35th St. from Davidson Street to The Plaza
  • 8th St. from Louise Ave. to Laurel Ave.
  • 5th St. between Osborne Ave. and 7th St.

11 a.m.

NCDHHS has released updated data on COVID-19 for the state:

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is reporting 10,509 cases of COVID-19 in 98 counties. That is up 561 from Wednesday, marking the largest increase so far during the pandemic.

There have been 24 new deaths attributed to COVID-19 since Wednesday, bringing the state’s total to 378.

NCDHHS reported that 546 people remain hospitalized and 128,036 tests have been completed.

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the number of emergency department visits for COVID-like illnesses continues to decline. However, the number of COVID-19 cases reported per day continues to increase, which is one of the metrics the health department would like to see decrease or level before reopening North Carolina.

Additionally, while the percentage of positive tests out of all tests decreased, the total tests reported for the last five days has not met the state’s goal of 5,000 to 7,000 tests daily.

Mecklenburg County continues to lead the state in both cases and deaths with 1,627 and 47 respectively.

Confirmed cases by age:

0-17 (2%)

18-24 (7%)

25-49 (40%)

50-64 (27%)

65 or older (23%)

COVID-19 deaths by age:

25-49 (4%)

50-64 (10%)

65 or older (86%)

Cases by race:

White: 52%

Black: 38%

Cases by gender:

Women: 51%

Men: 48%

(Men account for 59% of deaths)

Cases and deaths in congregate living settings:

There have been 49 outbreaks in nursing homes across the state, resulting in 1,649 cases and 169 deaths (Burke (2); Cabarrus; Cleveland; Iredell; Mecklenburg (6); Rowan (3); Union (2)).

There have been 20 outbreaks at residential care facilities across the state, resulting in 336 cases and 32 deaths (Cabarrus (2); Mecklenburg (5); Stanly; Union).

9:40 a.m.

NC State Superintendent Mark Johnson Announces Schools Reopening Task Force

COVID-19 has forced statewide school closures creating unprecedented challenges for students, teachers, and families. Thus far, understandably, everyone has been reacting to the crisis. Today, Superintendent Mark Johnson announced the Schools Reopening Task Force (SRTF). This task force seeks to put North Carolina public education back on the proactive path to address the challenges of post-COVID-19 education.

“We have all been forced to react to the ongoing crisis, and we know there are frustrations as we face these challenges forced upon us,” said Superintendent Johnson. “People keep tossing around the phrase ‘the new normal.’ We could not be more proud or appreciative of how educators and families have stepped up to these challenges, but we want parents, students, and educators to know that we recognize the current situation is not sustainable. DPI is convening this task force in an effort to efficiently address the challenges that lay ahead when we reopen schools and to put us back on a proactive path that, once again, will allow North Carolina students their best opportunities to pursue their own pathways to success.”

The SRTF includes bipartisan membership ranging from public school students to the Governor’s office and most stakeholders in between. The SRTF seeks to get as many students and teachers back into school buildings as safely possible this fall and to review and recommend improved options for remote learning.

Specifically, SRTF will focus on:

  • Improving Opportunities -- We hear you and recognize that remote learning options must be more user-friendly and practical. Is this best accomplished with more broadband or are there more pragmatic options?
  • Mind the Gap -- There is going to be a learning gap due to missed school. How do we best meet students at their ability level when they return?
  • Social Distancing -- The need for greater social distancing is likely unavoidable until there is a vaccine. The SRTF will help develop guidelines in partnership with NC DHHS with the goals of getting as many teachers and students back in schools as safely as possible and determining best paths forward for extracurricular activities.

SRTF Membership:

  • NC Department of Public Instruction leadership
  • Gov. Roy Cooper’s office
  • Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Chair of the State Board’s Digital Learning Committee
  • Susan Perry, NC DHHS
  • Sen. Deanna Ballard
  • Sen. Don Davis
  • Rep. Jason Saine
  • Rep. Jeffrey Elmore
  • Superintendent Stephen Basnight (Hyde)
  • Superintendent Jeana Conley (Cherokee)
  • Superintendent Marvin Connelly (Cumberland)
  • Superintendent Andrew Houlihan (Union)
  • Superintendent Anthony Jackson (Vance)
  • Superintendent Lynn Moody (Rowan)
  • Dana Jones, WSFCS Board of Education (Forsyth)
  • Susan Gates, Special Advisor on Education, SAS
  • Malbert Smith, MetaMetrics
  • Freebird McKinney, 2018 Teacher of the Year; Director of Government and Community Relations, State Board of Education
  • Jill Camnitz, State Board of Education member
  • Courtney Crowder, ExternalAffairs
  • Jonathan Felts, External Affairs

Other advisors will include district CTOs and CAOs, thought-partners from education-focused organizations, and teachers, principals, parents, and students.

8:55 a.m.

In North Carolina, close to 750,000 people -- at least -- have lost their jobs in the past six weeks. Mecklenburg County’s entire population is 1 million people and the state’s is 10.5 million.

NC unemployment by the numbers:

Week ending ...

  • April 25: 97,332
  • April 18: 106,266
  • April 11: 140,155
  • April 4: 137,422
  • March 28: 172,145
  • March 21: 94,083
  • Six-week total: 747,393

SC unemployment by the numbers:

Week ending ...

  • April 25: 65,159
  • April 18: 74,362
  • April 11: 89,147
  • April 4: 86,573
  • March 28: 66,475
  • March 21: 31,826
  • Six-week total: 413,542

SC’s population is 5.2 million

8:30 a.m.

More than 3.8 million laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits last week as the U.S. economy slid further into a crisis that is becoming the most devastating since the 1930s.

Roughly 30.3 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the six weeks since the coronavirus outbreak began forcing millions of employers to close their doors and slash their workforces. That is more people than live in the New York and Chicago metropolitan areas combined, and it's by far the worst string of layoffs on record. It adds up to more than one in six American workers.

With more employers cutting payrolls to save money, economists have forecast that the unemployment rate for April could go as high as 20%. That would be the highest rate since it reached 25% during the Great Depression.

This week, the government estimated that the economy shrank at a 4.8% annual rate in the first three months of this year, the sharpest quarterly drop since the 2008 financial crisis. Yet the picture is likely to grow far worse: The economy is expected to contract in the April-June quarter by as much as 40% at an annual rate. No previous quarter has been anywhere near as weak since the government began keeping such records after World War II.

As businesses across the country have shut down and laid off tens of millions of workers, the economy has sunk into a near-paralysis in just a few weeks. Factories, hotels, restaurants, department stores, movie theaters and many small businesses are shuttered. Home sales are falling. Households are slashing spending. Consumer confidence is sinking.

With some signs that the viral outbreak may have plateaued at least in certain areas of the country, a few governors have taken tentative steps to begin reopening their economies. But surveys show that a large majority of Americans remain wary of returning to shopping, traveling and other normal economic activity. That suggests that many industries will struggle with diminished revenue for weeks or months to come and might be unable to rehire laid-off workers.

7 a.m.

Differences between House and Senate funding priorities are becoming clearer as North Carolina legislators advanced competing COVID-19 emergency packages.

Bills working their way the General Assembly on Wednesday showed the House wants to distribute or designate roughly $375 million more in federal dollars compared to the Senate.

Senate leaders are taking a guarded approach to earmarking the funds given the state’s fragile budget picture. But senators did agree to add another $130 million at the request of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper before approving their package unanimously. Legislators still hope to get a final measure to Cooper’s desk by the end of the week.

6:30 a.m.

North Carolina appeals court online arguments is a first

The COVID-19 outbreak means North Carolina’s intermediate-level appeals court will make history by hearing oral arguments in a case using online video.

Three judges from the state Court of Appeals plan to listen to lawyers remotely on Thursday through videoconferencing, which will be a first for the court. It’s an appeal of a verdict in a civil lawsuit in which the plaintiffs alleged battery and won a monetary award.

Members of the public also can watch the arguments online, like they can in person under normal circumstances.

5:45 a.m.

Thursday Morning Headlines

Experts believe another 3.5 million people across the country will be on this morning’s unemployment report. That would mean close to 30 million people have filed for unemployment over the last six weeks -- but some companies are hiring a lot of new workers right now.

This morning, there's relief for families in Union County who are struggling to put food on the table. There will be a mobile food pantry at Waxhaw Elementary. Organizers are expecting about 300 families for today's pantry, which runs from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Some Gaston County businesses thought they’d be opening today after the county commission chair said he supports businesses that defy North Carolina’s stay-at-home order. But mayors in the county do not agree, issuing a joint statement urging citizens to obey the order.

8 p.m. (Wednesday)

The NC Senate unanimously passed a $1.4 billion COVID-19 relief bill directed at aiding recovery efforts of those hit hardest by the virus as well as supporting research.

Senate Bill 704 passed 48-0. The bill now has to pass through the North Carolina House for approval where it will then move to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk to be signed.

6:30 p.m.

In a news conference, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said nearly half of all North Carolinians have a chronic health condition such as diabetes, heart conditions, high blood pressure or lung conditions that could put them at high risk for severe complications from COVID-19.

That’s why, she said, it’s important for the state to follow a phased reopening only when the trends show that the spread of the virus has sufficiently slowed.

“The more we keep down the spread of the virus, the more it helps people who are high risk,” Cohen said.

Cohen also said she was working with the state General Assembly as lawmakers finalize how federal funds will be allocated across the state. After looking at a plan put forward in the State Senate on Tuesday, Cohen said she did not feel enough money was allocated to rural communities and basic necessities such as food, public safety and shelter.

“We know we’re fighting the largest public health battle that our state has ever faced,” Cohen said.

Addressing President Donald Trump’s executive order requiring all meat processing plants to stay open, Director of Emergency Management Mike Sprayberry said health and emergency officials are currently monitoring plants across the state where employees have tested positive, implementing prevention procedures and testing workers.

Cohen addressed individual counties attempting to reopen businesses by saying she appreciated the work North Carolinians are doing to stay at home and emphasizing that Gov. Roy Cooper’s Stay-at-Home order is still in effect.

“We’re in a crisis, and I think confusion is really, really damaging during a crisis,” Cohen said. “You have truly flattened the curve. We’re doing great as a state -- let us walk through this together. That’s how we’re going to be strongest.”

Cohen referred to a report from epidemiologists and data scientists outlining current trends and models for the spread of disease in North Carolina. While she said they were promising, she emphasized they show the virus is still in our community, and a phased reopening is the best course of action.

She said in order to reopen, the state would need to improve on a number of key metrics in combination--including hospitalizations, percent of positive tests and number of cases and deaths reported each day.

“There’s no one trend that everything is going to turn on,” Cohen said. “We do need to look at them in combination.”