Coronavirus local updates: Cooper considers request to allow NASCAR to race at Coca-Cola 600

More than 2.6 million people worldwide -- including more than 842,000 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: (TBD)

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

South Carolina Task Force (TBD)

White House Task Force: (5 p.m.)

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>> 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.

[CLICK HERE FOR TODAY’S NATIONAL UPDATES]

[COUNTY-BY-COUNTY COVID-19 RESOURCE GUIDE]

[CORONAVIRUS IN THE CAROLINAS; HERE’S HOW TO STAY INFORMED]

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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 7,608 Thursday. North Carolina is now reporting 253 deaths, 96,185 completed tests and 486 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 Thursday:

11:27 p.m.

11 p.m.

Records released indicated an outbreak at Autumn Care Statesville.

[Records request reveals outbreak at Statesville assisted-living facility]

8:15 p.m.

Public Health Director Nina Oliver releases additional statistics regarding those who have died from COVID-19.

Of the 20 deaths in Rowan County, 15 were residents at The Citadel, 4 were residents at NC State Veterans Home, 1 death was not a patient at a congregate care facility. The average age of the 20 patients is 83.

7:30 p.m.

Gov. Roy Cooper is still considering a request to allow NASCAR to race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.

Cooper on Thursday extended the state’s stay-at-home order because of the coronavirus through May 8 and said he would gradually open the state in three phases.

Cooper says teams can go back to work under the state’s executive order and are permitted to work in their race shops if they maintain social distancing guidelines.

NASCAR has been hoping to hold the Coca-Cola 600 as scheduled on May 24 without spectators and has made its request to Cooper.

The governors of both Florida and Texas have already said NASCAR is welcome to race in their states without spectators, and South Carolina and Georgia are gradually easing restrictions.

6:25 p.m.

The House passed a $484 billion measure to help businesses and hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.

President Trump says he’ll sign it into law as early as Thursday evening.

It had already passed by the Senate, which as its centerpiece would add $321 billion to replenish a small-business payroll fund, while pumping more money into hospitals and testing.

Supporters of the Paycheck Protection Program warn that this week’s refill may only last a few days, likely putting business groups back at Washington’s doorstep, along with the nation’s governors and the cash-strapped Postal Service.

The bill does not provide any additional funding for state and local officials.

6:10 p.m.

Sen. Thom Tillis is in favor of Governor Roy Cooper’s extension of the stay at home order.

5:30 p.m.

4:45 p.m.

Mecklenburg County officials say 1,377 residents have tested positive for COVID-19. As of four days ago, 58% of residents who tested positive in Meck County have been released from isolation. 37 residents have died.

4:40 p.m.

Caldwell County has one additional confirmed positive case of COVID-19 in the 28645 Zip code. The patient has been instructed to remain in isolation until they meet all of the following criteria:

  • At least 3 days (72 hours) have passed since recovery defined as resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and
  • Improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); and,
  • At least 7 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.

Please note, the state Stay-at-Home order has been extended until May 8. More information is available at www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/public-health/covid19.

4:20 p.m.

South Carolina DHEC today announced 161 new cases of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, and 10 additional deaths.

This brings the total number of people confirmed to have COVID-19 in South Carolina to 4,917 and those who have died to 150.

The deaths occurred in seven elderly individuals from Allendale (1), Fairfield (2), Lexington (2), Richland (1) and Spartanburg (1) counties, and three middle-aged individuals from Aiken (1), Anderson (1), and Richland (1) counties.

The number of new cases by county are listed below:

Abbeville (1), Aiken (2), Allendale (1), Anderson (3), Barnwell (2), Beaufort (5), Berkeley (10), Charleston (7), Chester (1), Chesterfield (2), Clarendon (12), Darlington (8), Dillon (5), Fairfield (1), Florence (19), Georgetown (1), Greenville (22), Horry (6), Kershaw (2), Lee (3), Lexington (8), Marlboro (1), Oconee (1), Orangeburg (2), Pickens (3), Richland (11), Saluda (1), Spartanburg (8), Sumter (1), Williamsburg (6), York (6)DHEC’s COVID-19 webpage is updated daily with a map of positive cases as well as the most current recommendations for protecting against COVID-19.

CLICK HERE for more information.

3:45 p.m.

Governor Roy Cooper says right now public health officials are examining proposals that could allow NASCAR to resume without fans on Memorial Day at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Announcement expected soon.

3 p.m.

NC Gov. Roy Cooper announced the stay at home order is being extended to May 8:

"Last month, our state took strong actions to slow the spread of this pandemic. We know these actions saved lives, but we also know we can’t keep staying at home in the long run. Now we know what’s needed to transition out of the restrictions and what a new normal will look like.

Last week, we laid out some general steps on the path forward. We need an increase in testing, more tracing and we need our trends to be heading in the right direction. The White House shared similar guidance with states and we have incorporated much of that guidance in our plan.

After a thorough analysis of the details of testing, tracing, and trends, and having conversations with Trump Administration officials like Dr. Fauci, it’s clear that we are on the right path but that our state is not ready to lift restrictions yet.

We need to slow the virus before we can ease restrictions, so today I’m extending the Stay At Home order until May 8. This includes continued closure of dine-in restaurants, bars & close-contact businesses like hair and nail salons, movie theaters & others in Executive Order 120.

It’s important to get our economy moving forward. We’re helping with unemployment payments, stimulus money & the businesses that continue to be open. But I won’t risk the health of our people or our hospitals. And easing these restrictions now would do that.

[FULL STORY: Gov. Cooper extends North Carolina’s stay-at-home order]

This decision is based on the data that we see in our critical categories. I know people want our lives and our livelihoods back, and I have a plan to do that. But first we will need to hit certain metrics in order to do that.”

2:45 p.m.

Union County commissioners wrote a letter today to Governor Cooper asking him to re-open North Carolina.

1 p.m.

More than 14,000 more people filed for unemployment in North Carolina on April 22.

The state’s Division of Employment Security said that brings the total of unemployment claims to 719,452 since COVID-19 layoffs began on March 15.


The group said 617,422 of the unemployment claims are directly related to COVID-19.

So far, the state has only paid 281,050 people -- that’s less than 40% of those who have filed. The division is overwhelmed since it previously only handled a few thousand claims per week.

State leaders are working to increase the divisions’ capability to handle and service all of the unemployment claims.

12:40 p.m.

Atrium Health Requiring Masks for Everyone at Acute Care, Skilled Nursing, Behavioral Health Facilities

Following the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atrium Health is now requiring everyone entering one of its acute care, skilled nursing or behavioral health facilities to wear a mask, including patients, permitted visitors and vendors. Atrium Health teammates are already wearing masks while at work, whether or not their responsibilities include direct patient contact. The new requirement will provide the best protection possible for everyone in the Atrium Health community.

All patients arriving at acute care, skilled nursing or behavioral health facilities will need to be masked and will wear a mask anytime they leave their room, including for therapy sessions or going for tests. Any visitors and vendors who are permitted to enter these facilities will also be required to wear a mask. Patients, visitors and vendors may wear their own masks or will be issued a surgical mask, if they don’t have one.

As supplies of cloth masks generously donated by the community continue to grow, it may become possible for Atrium Health to supply those to patients and others for use during their time at an Atrium Health facility.

Atrium Health will continue to screen all those entering any of its facilities, including taking temperatures and checking for active symptoms like fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Atrium Health also is continuing restrictions on visitors to protect them, our patients and our teammates.

This is a rapidly evolving situation and Atrium Health will take additional steps to help control the spread of COVID-19 as necessary.

For patients who have questions about COVID-19 or are showing symptoms, Atrium Health has established these resources:

  • COVID-19 Risk Assessment: Answer a few quick questions using a new automated and interactive digital COVID-19 assessment tool to get immediate recommendations on next steps in care.
  • Atrium Health Line (704-468-8888): Talk live with an Atrium Health healthcare professional to answer questions, 24 hours, 7 days a week.
  • Symptom Checker Chart: Is it COVID-19, the flu, cold or seasonal allergies? Click here to help distinguish between typical symptoms of each.
  • Virtual Visits: Secure, face-to-face video chat with a trusted healthcare provider from the comfort of home for a reduced cost of $25. These are highly recommended as a first point of contact for a person who is ill to avoid further spread of respiratory illnesses.
  • eVisits: Care through a secure message for minor illnesses like flu or cold for a reduced cost of $10.

12 p.m.

North Carolinians Can Apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Beginning April 24

North Carolina independent contractors and self-employed workers out of work because of COVID-19 can apply for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance beginning this Friday, April 24 at des.nc.gov.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, is a federal program for people who are unable to work as a result of COVID-19 and not eligible for regular state unemployment benefits, such as self-employed workers and independent contractors.

For people who have been laid off or had their hours reduced due to COVID-19, the online benefits system will determine eligibility for state unemployment or PUA through a single application beginning April 24.

Individuals who have already applied and been denied for state unemployment benefits may need to provide DES additional information to apply for PUA. Those individuals should sign into their online account and click on the ‘Apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance’ link to complete the application process. If their claim is in pending status, DES is continuing to review their eligibility for state unemployment benefits.

To help DES process claims more efficiently, claimants should upload all necessary documents, such as proof of income or proof of medical diagnosis, with their application before clicking ‘Submit.’ If a claimant does not have all of their documents ready when they start the application, they can save their work and come back to it when they are ready to submit all of their information.

“This is a complex program, and we have been working hard to get it up and running,” said Lockhart Taylor, assistant secretary for the Division of Employment Security. “We want to get assistance out to people as quickly as possible, while also making sure we protect the integrity of the program by verifying that claimants meet the eligibility requirements for these benefits.”

The fastest and most efficient way to file a claim for unemployment is online at des.nc.gov. Individuals who need assistance filing their PUA claim can call the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance line at 866-847-7209.

DES has now paid out a total of more than $636 million to more than 280,000 people for unemployment claims effective as of March 15.

11:10 a.m.

The latest COVID-19 data for North Carolina has been released for Thursday:

North Carolina reports 11 more people have died of COVID-19, bringing the total death toll of the virus up to 253.

The state health department said 7,608 people have tested positive for the virus. Many more are expected to have had the virus and recovered without getting tested.

Numbers:

There are now 7,608 positive cases reported across North Carolina, which is 388 more than the day prior.

Eleven more deaths were reported overnight, bringing the total for the state to 253.

There have been 96,185 completed tests and 486 people are currently in the hospital for COVID-19.

Mecklenburg County continues to lead the state in both cases and deaths, with 1,362 and 33 respectively.

Case breakdown by age:

0-17 (2%)

18-24 (7%)

25-49 (39%)

50-64 (28%)

65 or older (25%)

COVID-19 deaths by age:

25-49 (4%)

50-64 (11%)

65 or older (84%)

Of those positive cases, 53% are white and 39% are black.

Women make up 51% of the positive cases, and men account for 47%, though men make up 60% of the deaths.

Outbreaks:

There have been 40 reported outbreaks at nursing homes (Burke (2), Cabarrus, Cleveland, Iredell, Mecklenburg (5), Rowan (2), Union). Those nursing homes have seen 1,133 positive cases and 95 deaths.

There have been 14 reported outbreaks at residential care facilities (Cabarrus, Mecklenburg (5), Stanly, Union). Those facilities have seen 217 positive cases and 22 deaths.

10:15 a.m.

The Charlotte Community Recovery Task Force met this morning to discuss COVID-19′s impact on Charlotte Douglas International Airport, and Aviation Director Brent Cagle gave the following presentation.

For the FY20, Cagle said they anticipated 24.2 million enplanements (people getting on board) but because of the pandemic, they are dropping estimates to 18 million enplanements.

The latest thinking on where enplanements will be in July for FY21 budget shows a 24% decrease.

Cagle said aircraft are continuing to fly at Charlotte Douglas but the airplanes are mostly empty. He projects recovery to begin in August.

Cagle said new revised FY21 budget revenue is $79 million down from original estimate of $98 million.

“We are estimating a roughly $34 million decline in current non-airline revenue for FY20 and a $45 million decrease for FY21,” Cagle said.

Cagle said if you work for the aviation department, your job is safe. He said some unfilled positions will be frozen. The airport also now has a hiring freeze, restrictions on overtime, no new positions for FY21, cuts to travel/training and marketing.

The airport will get $135 million from the CARES Act. The funds can be used for debt service, capital projects and expenses.

"We can only use CARES Act money on documented expenses. We cannot use it for anticipated revenue loss. We think the industry will change from customer preferences, how they park, etc,” Cagle said. “We don’t know for sure. Best case, we get to 90% of where we were. Worst case, we get to 50% of where we were.”

The airport is delaying the start of the construction of the Concourse A expansion. Other suspended projects include a joint operations center, a distribution center for concessionaires and Concourse D renovations design.

Cagle said the airport is starting to look at what changes will need to be made for social distancing when people start flying again. Business valet parking was cited as something that may change.

8:55 a.m.

Novant Health to resume non-emergency/time-sensitive surgeries and appointments across facilities

Novant Health will resume some non-time sensitive and non-emergent surgeries and procedures beginning Monday, May 4. Additionally, clinics will reinstate appointments that were previously delayed by phasing in visits starting with pediatric well checks, chronic disease and acute issue visits. These appointments paused March 18 in response to increasing cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) spreading in our communities and the need to protect our patients and team members.

While virtual care options will continue and are encouraged to be used as much as possible, the announcement today ensures patients who had their care delayed can resume their treatment, including many surgical procedures. Patients need to take care of their health, and in line with national trends, Novant Health has seen a worrisome decline in patients seeking care for emergent conditions, including heart attack and stroke.

“Since the onset of the coronavirus in our communities, some of our patients have delayed seeking care out of an abundance of caution,” said Carl Armato, president and CEO of Novant Health. “Putting off care indefinitely, is simply not good for our patients – and in some cases, deadly. We urge our community to seek the care they need. At the advice of our physicians, and on behalf of our patients who need care, we have thoughtfully decided to resume some of these services. The number of patients receiving care for COVID-19 within our facilities has stabilized, and our team stands ready to care for the community.”

Novant Health will prioritize rescheduling patients with delayed and postponed appointments and procedures. Patients who fall into this category will receive communication from their healthcare provider with additional information and may receive a call as early as April 23.

Novant Health facilities will add enhanced safety measures, including patient and team member screenings, required masking of patient-facing team members, and enhanced cleaning and disinfection processes.

Novant Health has also taken measures to ensure physical distancing and address clinical safety concerns, which may include lowering the number of patients in the clinic at once, workflows to reduce use of waiting rooms, and even some care delivery within the confines of your vehicle. Visitor restrictions will remain in place.

Also, the health system’s universal masking policy remains in effect with team members wearing surgical and N95 masks, as clinically indicated, while optimizing PPE conservation efforts. Per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance, we recommend all patients come to their appointments with a cloth mask or face covering. Patients without a mask will be provided one upon entering our facilities. Novant Health is also advocating universal masking for the public as we transition to our new normal.

8:30 a.m.

26 million have sought US jobless aid since virus hit

More than 4.4 million laid-off workers applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week as job cuts escalated across an economy that remains all but shut down, the government said Thursday.

Roughly 26 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the five weeks since the coronavirus outbreak began forcing millions of employers to close their doors. About one in six American workers have now lost their jobs since mid-March, by far the worst string of layoffs on record. Economists have forecast that the unemployment rate for April could go as high as 20%.

The enormous magnitude of job cuts has plunged the U.S. economy into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Some economists say the nation’s output could shrink by twice the amount that it did during the Great Recession, which ended in 2009.

The painful economic consequences of the virus-related shutdowns have sparked angry protests in several state capitals from crowds demanding that businesses reopen. Some governors have begun easing restrictions despite warnings from health authorities that it may be too soon to do so without sparking new infections. In Georgia, gyms, hair salons and bowling alleys can reopen Friday. Texas has reopened its state parks.

Yet those scattered re-openings won’t lead to much rehiring, especially if Americans are too wary to leave their homes. Most people say they favor stay-at-home orders and believe it won’t be safe to lift social distancing guidelines anytime soon. And there are likely more layoffs to come from many small businesses that have tried but failed to receive loans from a federal aid program.

The total number of people who are receiving unemployment benefits has reached a record 16 million, surpassing a previous high of 12 million set in 2010, just after the 2008-2009 recession ended. This figure reflects people who have managed to navigate the online or telephone application systems in their states, have been approved for benefits and are actually receiving checks.

In some states, many laid-off workers have run into obstacles in trying to file applications for benefits. Among them are millions of freelancers, contractors, gig workers and self-employed people -- a category of workers who are now eligible for unemployment benefits for the first time.

“This has been a really devastating shock for a lot of families and small businesses,” said Aaron Sojourner, a labor economist at the University of Minnesota. “It is beyond their control and no fault of their own.”

Just about every major industry has absorbed sudden and severe layoffs. Economists at the Federal Reserve estimate that hotels and restaurants have shed the most jobs -- 4 million since Feb. 15. That is nearly one-third of all the employees in that industry.

Construction has shed more than 9% of its jobs. So has a category that includes retail, shipping and utilities, the Fed estimated. A category that is made up of data processing and online publishing has cut 4.7.

When the government issues the April jobs report on May 8, economists expect it to show breathtaking losses. Economists at JPMorgan are predicting a loss of 25 million jobs. That would be nearly triple the total lost during the entire Great Recession period.

A $2 trillion-plus federal relief package that was signed into law last month made millions of gig workers, contractors and self-employed people newly eligible for unemployment aid. But most states have yet to approve unemployment applications from those workers because they’re still trying to reprogram their systems to do so. As a result, many people who have lost jobs aren’t being counted as laid-off because their applications for unemployment aid are still pending.

Among them is Sasha McVeigh, a musician in Nashville. Having grown up in England with a love of country music, she spent years flying to Nashville to play gigs until she managed to secure a green card and move permanently two years ago. McVeigh had been working steadily until the city shut down music clubs in mid-March.

Since then, she’s applied for unemployment benefits but so far has received nothing. To make ends meet, she’s applied for some grants available to out-of-work musicians, held some live streaming concerts and pushed her merchandise sales.

By cutting expenses to a bare minimum, McVeigh said, “I’ve managed to just about keep myself afloat.” But she worries about what will happen over the next few months.

7 a.m.

Thursday morning storylines:

Today, we’re expecting an update from Gov. Roy Cooper on whether he may extend North Carolina’s stay-at-home order. Cooper will speak at 3 p.m. today to share a plan for reopening the state’s economy.

This morning, a national poll shows the majority of Americans want to keep restrictions in place. Channel 9 put that question to you on Facebook -- do you think North Carolina should lift COVID-19 restrictions?

More than 14,000 people responded, with 37% saying "yes" while 63% said the state should stay closed.

Meanwhile, we're expecting an update on how many Americans have filed for unemployment. Experts estimate 4.5 million more claims will be reported last week, which is actually down from the 5.2 million claims the week before.

We could also get an update later today regarding the rest of the school year in North Carolina. The state board of education will have a meeting this morning and the governor has a news conference scheduled later this afternoon.

North Carolina reported its first coronavirus death within a prison. The inmate was housed at the Pender Correctional Institution in Burgaw. The facility is one of 12 in the state reporting outbreaks.

Wake and Mecklenburg counties account for more than 25% of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.

North Carolina has requested $280 million worth of personal protective equipment.

The U.S. House is expected to pass a fourth spending bill for nearly $500 billion to refuel the Payroll Protection Program and help small businesses, hospitals and struggling workers.

President Trump’s Task Force plans to speak at 5 p.m. Channel 9 will carry Cooper and Trump’s briefings on-air and online.

10 p.m. (Wednesday)

Facing a growing chorus of complaints from business owners and stir-crazy North Carolina families, Governor Roy Cooper is expected Thursday to unveil his plan to begin easing the stay-at-home restrictions put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The state’s health director, Dr. Betsey Tilson said the governor’s reopen plan would be guided by the data.

“The governor is always saying we want to be looking at our trends: our cases, our hospitalizations, our deaths -- looking at all our trends to let us know when we think it may be safe to be able to start reopening the economy. Nobody more than governor wants to reopen the economy,” Tilson said.

It’s not just ReOpen NC demonstrators pressuring the governor. The top Republican in the state senate, Phil Berger sent a letter to Cooper, signed by every member of the GOP leadership, demanding answers on what the governor’s reopen plan is; when the plan would be released; and seeking more detailed statistics on the infection and death rates.

And Republican State House Rep. Jake Johnson from western North Carolina penned a separate letter to Cooper expressing his support for “returning decision-making authority back to the counties once the current stay-at-home order expires at the end of April.”

At Wednesday’s state briefing, the governor’s Health and Human Services Secretary, Dr. Mandy Cohen, said a regional reopening of the state’s economy may be reasonable -- but not a county by county strategy.

“I think making decisions at the county level is incredibly challenging given how people move through the county. The virus certainly doesn’t respect county borders,” Cohen said.

To illustrate her point about the potential for spread if every county had the power to decide on its own when to reopen, Dr. Cohen pointed to data showing the workforce that comes in and out of Charlotte every day travels from 32 different counties.

It’s one more factor that will inform Governor Cooper’s reopen plan that he’s expected to roll out Thursday at 3 p.m.