Coronavirus local updates: NC Senate unanimously passes $1.4 billion COVID-19 relief bill

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — More than 3.1 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

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

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Mecklenburg County: (TBA)

North Carolina Task Force: (2 p.m.)

South Carolina Task Force (4 p.m.)

White House Task Force: (TBA)

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

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>> 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 9,948 Wednesday. North Carolina is now reporting 354 deaths, 118,440 completed tests and 551 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:

10:25 p.m.

10 p.m.

Differences between House and Senate funding priorities became clearer and immediate election-related spending looked unlikely as North Carolina legislators on Wednesday advanced competing COVID-19 emergency packages, WTVD reported.

The full Senate approved its coronavirus legislation unanimously after tacking on another $131 million in federal funds that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration asked for, Senate leader Phil Berger said. The House was expected to debate and vote Thursday on its own bipartisan plan.

Still, the House proposal distributes or designates roughly $375 million more overall in coronavirus relief funds that Congress has sent to North Carolina compared to the Senate’s proposal. Much of the difference comes through additional aid for the K-12 public schools and university research.

Legislators from both chambers still will have to negotiate to close that gap and get a final measure to Cooper’s desk, possibly by Friday. The Senate is taking a guarded approach when it comes to earmarking federal dollars compared to the House.

Senate leaders are worried about the state’s fragile budget picture since the economic downturn has dried up revenues. Federal money could be allowed later to fill budget shortfalls.

8:15 p.m.

Statement: The new last day of school will be on Friday, May 22, 2020 for Catawba County Schools.

  • We will not be giving 4th quarter or traditional final grades.
  • Work during the At-Home Learning period will be averaged into 3rd quarter grades. If the work improves the grade, we will change it to reflect the higher grade. If it does not, your 3rd quarter grade will remain as is.
  • Students in grades 9-11 have options about how their final grades will be handled - be sure to read the information linked below.
  • Please keep working hard for the next 3 weeks… next year will be challenging (and likely different!) and we need you to have as strong of a foundation as you can.

CLICK HERE to read more.

8 p.m.

7 p.m.

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

Bills working their way through legislative committees on Wednesday showed the House wants to distribute or designate roughly $500 million more in federal dollars compared to the Senate.

The House would distribute more money now to public schools and set aside over $100 million for coronavirus research.

Senate leaders are now taking a guarded approach with earmarking federal dollars given the state’s fragile budget picture. Legislators still hope to get a final measure to Gov. Roy Cooper’s by the end of the week.

5:50 p.m.

Lincoln County

  • Total tested: 735
  • Positive active cases: 7
  • Positive recovered cases: 20
  • Negative cases: 703

5 p.m.

Caldwell County

  • Confirmed cases: 34
  • Recovered: 20
  • Deaths: 0
  • Completed tests: 1,422
  • Negative tests: 1,286

4:30 p.m.

One more person has died from COVID-19 in Mecklenburg County. To date, 1,587 county residents have tested positive for the virus and 46 have died.

4 p.m.

SCDHEC today announced 130 new cases of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, and 11 additional deaths were reported in South Carolina.

This brings the total number of people confirmed to have COVID-19 in South Carolina to 5,881 and those who have died to 203.

3:30 p.m.

Gaston County Manager Kim Eagle has sent an email to county employees, walking back today’s comments by Chair Tracy Philbeck.

“We would never ask our employees to break the law. That includes defying an executive order issued by the governor,” she said.

3 p.m.

Positive clinical trial results from North Carolina COVID-19 innovation

Today the nation’s coronavirus task force announced positive clinical trial results for remdesivir, a treatment that originated in the labs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The breakthrough treatment diminished the time to recovery from COVID-19, the disease associated with coronavirus. Animal testing at UNC Gillings School of Public Health set the stage for clinical trials to begin this spring as the virus spread across the globe.

“This is a game-changer for the treatment of patients with COVID-19 and provides hope to many infected,” said Ralph Baric, an epidemiologist in the UNC Gillings School of Public Health that led lab testing of the broad-spectrum antiviral drug.

Six years ago, the UNC lab partnered with the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences Inc. Their goal was testing the company’s antiviral drugs to curb emerging viral diseases, according to Tim Sheahan, a virologist in Baric’s lab.

Fast forward to today and the intravenous drug remdesivir could provide relief during a global pandemic that has taken the lives of nearly 60,000 Americans and sickened more than 1 million in the United States.

2:30 p.m.

Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation is loosening some restrictions tomorrow as part of the county’s transition to North Carolina’s Stay-at-Home proclamation.

Effective April 30, parking lots for parks, greenways and nature preserves will reopen for vehicles, instead of simply walk-in and bicycle access.

In addition, boat ramps at Ramsey Creek, Blythe Landing and Copperhead Island will reopen.

Tennis will also be allowed in county parks that follow safety rules and restrictions provided by the United States Tennis Association. Tennis players and all park patrons should observe the CDC’s recommended social distancing guideline of at least six feet between individuals, and when that is not possible, wear a face mask.

Golf is still allowed with restrictions of only one person per golf cart and social distancing. County driving ranges are still closed.

Park playgrounds, sports courts, restrooms, and fields for group sports will remain closed.

High contact sports like basketball, soccer and volleyball as well as softball/baseball are not permitted.

Indoor facilities like recreation, nature, and aquatic centers will also remain closed to the public until further notice.

Visitors cannot congregate in groups larger than 10.

2:10 p.m.

During this afternoon’s NC Coronavirus Task Force news conference, reporter Joe Bruno asked NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen about Gaston County deciding to reopen. She said confusion “is really, really damaging” in a crisis. She reiterated the governor’s stay-at-home order is still in effect.

Dr. Cohen’s full answer:

“I think confusion during a crisis is really unfortunate and I think folks should know the stay-at-home order is still in place across our state. I appreciate all the people staying at home and obeying those orders. What I would say is that we know this is more than just the governor making a decision about opening or closing. We need to make sure consumers feel safe as they go back to businesses. I was just on a call with business leaders this morning, talking about just that. How do we think about shopping safer and using that not to just say we’re open, but in a way that folks feel like they can go back, that virus spread is low, that they aren’t putting their families or communities at risk. That’s what we’ve been working through with our business community, not only the answer about open/close but how do you open in the most appropriate way to protect workers and the community?"

“The statewide order is still in effect. I think even Gaston acknowledges that in their own order, that the statewide order is in effect. That will be the thing that is governing folks going forward. Again, I just thank all North Carolinians who have done a good job of keeping our viral spread really low in the state. We should be very proud that our state has been doing as great as it has. So stick with this plan, let us go through a phase reopening. We’re only talking about next week when we start to ease some of these restrictions. We want to do it in the smartest way possible. So that people can feel they have confidence when they go back to shop, they’re doing it in a smart way.”

2 p.m.

UNC System interim president says he plans to reopen campuses for 2020 fall semester but with changes

UNC System Interim President Bill Roper announced Wednesday that he expects to reopen the campuses for the 2020 Fall Semester.

“Our institutions have done a remarkable job serving their students during this time of crisis. Our speedy adaptation to remote teaching and learning was a necessary and invaluable step to preserve the continuity of our students’ academic pursuits while protecting health and safety,” Roper said in a statement. “But for many in the UNC System, digital learning technologies simply cannot be a long-term substitute for the facilities and community that our campuses provide. The majority of our faculty and students need access to our libraries, labs, classrooms, and medical and agriculture facilities to fully engage with their research, teaching, learning, and service work.”

Read more here.

1:30 p.m.

City of Charlotte Announces Micro Business Relief Fund Application

The City of Charlotte on Wednesday announced the opening of the Micro Business Relief Fund (MBRF) application. Beginning Monday, May 4 at noon, micro businesses with five or fewer employees can apply through the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) webpage.

As part of a COVID-19 relief partnership with LISC, the fund will support 100 micro businesses located within opportunity corridors by providing $1,000,000 in grants. The fund was made available after the Charlotte City Council approved the use of FY 2020 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. Each micro business that meets income regulations is eligible for up to $10,000.

The city’s Economic Development team, along with LISC’s staff, will score each application. Businesses must have been in operation for at least three years and provide documentation as required by CDBG regulations. Grants may be applied to urgent needs, such as payroll, rent and vendor/debt costs.

“Small business is the lifeblood of our economy and micro businesses are essential to maintain what we have established and cultivated here in Charlotte,” said Mayor Vi Lyles. “As we recover from the financial impacts of COVID-19, we need all sectors of our business community to grow and thrive, and this relief fund is one of the ways to make it happen.”

Small business owners can contact the city for more information on the dashboard or visit the city’s small business resource page for other local, state, federal and partner resources.

1 p.m.

Cabarrus County, Concord, Kannapolis, Harrisburg, Midland and Mount Pleasant have announced their COVID-19 stay-at-home order expires today at 5 p.m. and that they are aligning with Gov. Cooper’s order, which extends to May 8.

12 p.m.

County Manager to Virtually Present Fiscal Year 2021 Recommended Budget on Friday

For the first time in Mecklenburg County’s history, the recommended budget presentation will take place without an audience in the chamber of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center.

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena R. Diorio will present her funding recommendations for Fiscal Year 2021 to the Board of County Commissioners, who will be attending virtually via WebEx, on Friday, May 1, 2020 at 11 a.m.

However, to ensure the safety and health of County staff, the media and community partners, the public will not be allowed inside the chamber for the event. The presentation will air live on the Government Channel and on MeckNC.gov. The presentation will be available to watch after the meeting.

For more information on the County Manager’s Recommended Budget for FY2021, visit MeckNC.gov.

11 a.m.

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

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is reporting 9,948 cases of COVID-19 in 98 counties. That is up 380 from Tuesday.

There have been 12 new deaths attributed to COVID-19 since Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 354.

NCDHHS reported that 551 people remain hospitalized and 118,440 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. Tuesday, 5,688 new tests were reported.

Mecklenburg County continues to lead the state in both cases and deaths with 1,567 and 44 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 (87%)

Cases by race:

White: 52%

Black: 39%

Cases by gender:

Women: 50%

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 1,546 cases and 154 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 298 cases and 33 deaths (Cabarrus (2); Mecklenburg (5); Stanly; Union).

10:50 a.m.

Unemployment rates (not seasonally adjusted) increased in 97 of North Carolina’s counties in March, decreased in two, and remained unchanged in one. Hyde County had the highest unemployment rate at 13.1 percent, while Buncombe, Alexander, and Orange Counties each had the lowest at 3.4 percent. All 15 of the state’s metro areas experienced rate increases. Among the metro areas, Fayetteville and Rocky Mount each had the highest rate at 5.5 percent and Asheville and Durham-Chapel Hill each had the lowest rate at 3.6 percent. The March not seasonally adjusted statewide rate was 4.2 percent.

When compared to the same month last year, not seasonally adjusted unemployment rates increased in 82 counties, decreased in eight, and remained unchanged in 10. Thirteen of the state’s metro areas experienced rate increases and two remained unchanged.

The number of workers employed statewide (not seasonally adjusted) decreased in March by 162,257 to 4,771,939, while those unemployed increased by 21,101 to 210,268. Since March 2019, the number of workers employed statewide decreased 96,845, while those unemployed increased 6,740.

It is important to note that employment estimates are subject to large seasonal patterns; therefore, it is advisable to focus on over-the-year changes in the not seasonally adjusted estimates.

The next unemployment update is scheduled for Friday, May 22, 2020 when the state unemployment rate for April 2020 will be released.

10:15 a.m.

Gaston County plans to lift the state’s Stay-at-Home order

Starting at 5 p.m., Gaston County commissioners say businesses can reopen if they can practice social distancing. Leaders are signing an order to lift the stay-at-home order, contradicting Gov. Roy Cooper’s order which was extended to May 8.

The Gaston County Chairman Tracy Philbeck made the following announcement during a news conference on Wednesday.

Philbeck said he plans to sign an ordinance re-opening Gaston County, and said this will contradict Cooper’s order. Philbeck said if they continue as they are now, “we will not have anything to come back to.”

Philbeck said Gaston County’s leadership supports the reopening of the county, effective April 29.

“We believe a continued stay-at-home order in Gaston County will have disastrous results,” Philbeck said. “I would be derelict in my duty and continue to support something that the data ... doesn’t lend itself to. We can protect the health of our citizens while at the same time putting our citizens back to work."

Gaston County leadership plans to lift the stay-at-home order as of 5 p.m.

“Today, I plan to sign an order ... where Gaston County leadership supports lifting a stay-at-home order,” Philbeck said. “This ... does contradict the governor’s order.”

Philbeck said COVID-19 numbers will fluctuate when they re-open and said their concern is what number will require hospitalization. He does not believe hospital capacity will be compromised.

>> Gaston County bureau reporter Ken Lemon was at the news conference and will break down the county’s plan and explain what you need to know, on Eyewitness News.

9:50 a.m.

Gaston County officials will be holding a news conference at 10 a.m. to go over the county’s plan for reopening.

[WATCH LIVE HERE]

7 a.m.

Mecklenburg County leaders will rescind the stay-at-home order Wednesday to bring it in line with the state’s order.

It is less restrictive and will allow some local businesses to start reopening as early as Thursday. It moves a handful of businesses into the essential category such as car dealerships, electronic retailers, craft stores, book stores and insurance companies.

Social distancing and frequent cleaning are still required, but the county manager stopped short of recommending masks in public.

When leaders meet Wednesday to rescind the order, they are also expected to announce if there will be other changes to parks in the area.

The reopening will be done in phases. The order does not include hair salons and barbershops and you still can’t dine inside restaurants.

11 p.m. (Tuesday)

Prison officials said Butner inmate William Walker Minto, 73, died April 28, affiliate WTVD reported.

Walker had tested positive for COVID-19 after going into respiratory failure on April 15.Minto had long-term pre-existing medical conditions and had been in custody at the FCI Butner I adjacent minimum security satellite camp since Oct. 11, 2019.

9:22 p.m. (Tuesday)

President Donald Trump took executive action Tuesday to order meat processing plants to stay open amid concerns over growing coronavirus cases and the impact on the nation's food supply.

The order uses the Defense Production Act to classify meat processing as critical infrastructure to try to prevent a shortage of chicken, pork and other meat on supermarket shelves. Unions fired back, saying the White House was jeopardizing lives and prioritizing cold cuts over workers’ health.

More than 20 meatpacking plants have closed temporarily under pressure from local authorities and their own workers because of the virus, including two of the nation’s largest, one in Iowa and one in South Dakota. Others have slowed production as workers have fallen ill or stayed home to avoid getting sick.