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Bars can re-open inside at reduced capacity at 5 p.m. Friday, for the first time since the beginning of pandemic-related restrictions.
It’s among the lifted restrictions announced Wednesday afternoon by Governor Roy Cooper.
- Mass gathering limits are increased to 25 people indoors. The limit was 10 people indoors since November. Outdoor gatherings are still limited to 50 people.
- The 10 p.m. curfew is lifted.
- On-site alcohol service now ends at 11 p.m. and bars and restaurants aren’t required to close at a certain time. Previously, sales ended at 9 p.m. with the 10 p.m. curfew.
- Restaurants, breweries, fitness facilities, retail spaces, salons and barber shops and certain other businesses’ indoor capacity is increased to 50%.
- Bars, indoor amusement parks and movie theaters can be open indoors at 30% with a cap of 250 people.
- Sports arenas and fields (includes professional, collegiate and amateur — such as high school sports) can be open at 30% but not exceed 250 people in indoor spaces.
- However, indoor arenas with more than 5,000 capacity can have up to 15% capacity with no cap on attendees.
Why state officials decided it was OK to relax restrictions: Gov. Cooper pointed to “significant and sustained improvement” in the key metrics.
All of the metrics received NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen’s “yellow line” for being high but stable:
- People arriving at the emergency room with Covid-like symptoms is decreasing.
- New confirmed COVID-19 cases at levels like we saw in October. From Dec. 24, the numbers are decreasing.
- Percent of tests that are positive are high but still above the 5% state officials want to see.
- Hospitalizations are decreasing but still high
The statewide county alert system, which measures case rate, percent positive and hospital capacity impact, has improvement. Wake County remains orange, as it has for the last 3 reports on Jan. 21, Feb. 4 and now Feb. 24.
State officials urged caution: “Those new COVID-19 variants are a wild card,” Dr. Cohen said Wednesday.
Teacher COVID-19 vaccinations begin: Teachers and staff at K-12 schools and childcare facilities can register through Wake County Public Health to request a vaccine as of Monday, the county shared, and begin Wednesday. [more info]
About the coronavirus cases in Wake County
Wake County‘s total count of confirmed COVID-19 cases is 71,825 as of Wednesday, according to the state dashboard.
515 people in Wake County have died from complications with COVID-19, according to state numbers.
But the case numbers don’t show the full picture of how many people actually have the coronavirus. Even though testing increased since the beginning of the pandemic, not everyone gets tested and some people don’t have symptoms but can pass along the virus.
There have been 829,507 total confirmed cases in North Carolina as of Wednesday, according to the state’s tally. [NCDHHS]
At least 10,670 people in N.C. have died from COVID-19, according to the state’s report.
As of Wednesday, 1,954 people are hospitalized statewide, trending down.
That’s also the case in our region, where there is still capacity. In Wake County, area hospitals are part of the Capital Region Healthcare Preparedness Coalition. Franklin, Harnett, Johnston and Lee counties are also included in the region, which includes 160 hospitalized with COVID-related issues as of Wednesday. You can see the region’s numbers daily on the updated hospitalizations dashboard.
While there is still capacity at area hospitals, state officials want to keep hospitalizations low to avoid overwhelming the available resources for COVID patients and those who need care for other emergencies.
Racial inequities persist in Wake County vaccinations
Black and Latinx residents in Wake County are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, but white residents are receiving COVID-19 vaccines at disproportionately higher percentages.
Wake County officials are working to change that, leaders said in a press conference Feb. 17, mentioning recent clinics at historically Black churches.
Wake County demographics, according to 2019 Census estimates, includes:
Meanwhile, the vaccination data for first doses in Wake County from the state as of Wednesday shows:
5.94% Asian or Pacific Islander.
The county will also partner with local chapters of the Divine Nine, historically Black Greek organizations with deep alumni ties, on sharing information on COVID-19 vaccines.
In our county, not only are COVID-19 infections at higher rates in the Black and Latinx communities, Black residents are dying at higher rates:
Geographic focus areas include the 27610 ZIP code in Southeast Raleigh and Wendell, where officials see disproportionately high rates for COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Racial inequities persist statewide: The state dashboard shows that 78% of the people who have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine so far are white, though white people only make up 68.7% of North Carolina’s population, according to the 2019 American Community Survey Census estimates.
Only 14.74% of COVID-19 first-dose vaccine recipients are Black people, though Black North Carolinians make up 21.4% of the population.
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Wake County public school campuses re-open
Wake County Public Schools will return to in-person instruction for those not in Virtual Academy, the school board voted on Feb. 2.
The vote came hours after Governor Roy Cooper’s urging to re-open school campuses in a Feb. 2 public briefing, but coincided with when the district was scheduled to re-evaluate re-opening campuses. The public school system’s campuses were temporarily closed since the end-of-the-year holidays.
Beginning Feb. 15, those who opted for in-person school will return:
- “Pre-K through third grade: Daily in-person instruction
- Grades 4 and 5: Three-week rotations
- Middle and High School: Three-week rotations
- Special Education Regional Programs, K-12: Daily in-person instruction”
It’s the first time since March 2020 that high school students will return to campus. WRAL has more of the discussion.
Where to find free testing: Drive-through COVID-19 testing from Wake County is available at several sites.
People who have travelled with or gathered with other households are recommended to test for COVID-19 three to five days later. The drive-through testing is free of cost and doesn’t require ID.
Statewide curfew in place
Governor Roy Cooper announced a “modified stay at home order” that went into effect Dec. 11. The new executive order includes limiting people leaving home between the hours of 10 p.m.-5 a.m. to only essential activities.
Non-essential businesses will have to close their doors 10 p.m. and on-site alcohol sales will end at 9 p.m.
That doesn’t include places like grocery stores or pharmacies. Food for consumption off site, such as curbside or to-go orders, may go on past the 10 p.m. “night-time public closure period.”
Modified stay-at-home order, curfew extended: In a press conference Jan. 27, Governor Roy Cooper announced the current restrictions around gatherings, masks requirements and 10 p.m. curfew will be extended until Feb. 28 by executive order.
Gov. Cooper also extended the sale of mixed drinks to go and for delivery until March 31. [more on how it works]
New mask rules
Governor Roy Cooper announced stricter mask rules as some COVID-19 metrics are on an upward trajectory before the Thanksgiving holiday.
“I have a stark warning for North Carolinians today: We are in danger,” Governor Cooper said Nov. 23 in a press conference, stressing that individual actions will determine the health and safety of many others.
The stricter mask rules include more requirements to wear masks when gathering inside at people’s homes, during homeschool with more than one household and changes to businesses:
When gathering at someone’s home:
- Masks will be required indoors whenever there are non-household members present, whether they are 6 feet away or not.
- Face coverings are still required when outside if 6 feet of distance with non-household members isn’t possible.
For those with learning pods or virtual learning with families from different households, this also changes.
In the FAQ, in the section on homeschooling or virtual learning: “Students 5 years and older and all caretakers must wear a face covering, if non- household members are present. For example, if there is a blending of students from different households, face coverings are required.”
In public areas or businesses:
- Masks will be required at indoor gyms and fitness facilities even while exercising.
- At restaurants, people will be required to wear facemasks at the table unless “actively or drinking.”
- “Retail business locations with more than 15,000 square feet of interior space must have a worker, at each entrance open to the public, who is responsible for enforcing the executive orders’ face covering and emergency maximum occupancy requirements.”
Individuals can be penalized: Another key change. Previously, the face covering requirements were enforceable only against businesses. Now, law enforcement can enforce the requirements against individuals.
Not following the rules could result in a Class 2 misdemeanor, “which could result in a fine of up to $1,000 or active punishment.”
This is in addition to previous mask rules that went into effect in June. Phase 3 was also extended in the new executive order.
The state’s mask rules went into effect at 5 p.m. June 26, though Raleigh and Knightdale put face mask rules in place the previous week.
Masks are required for children ages 5 and older as of an executive order in September.
What else to know:
Indoor gatherings limited to 10: N.C. Governor Roy Cooper announced Nov. 10 that indoor gatherings will be restricted to 10 people or fewer, which began 5 p.m. Nov. 13 and is effective through at least Dec. 4. On Nov. 23 he extended the indoor gathering restrictions to Dec. 11.
The restriction applies to people gathering indoors at someone’s home, not businesses. It’s the only thing that changes in the new executive order, and the outdoor limit for gatherings will remain at 50 people.
The 10-person gathering limit was put in place before Thanksgiving. The indoor limit for gatherings at 25 people has been in place since Phase 2.5, beginning Sept. 4.
How to get help now
For general help/find resources: NCCARE360, powered by NC 2-1-1, from United Way of North Carolina, is helping connect people with needed resources from COVID-19’s direct and indirect effects. [get info]
North Carolinians who can’t pay rent have new protections from being evicted with a new executive order from Governor Roy Cooper. The order works with the CDC moratorium on evictions through the end of the year by clarifying that it applies to people living in all types of rental housing.
Under the order, landlords are required to let tenants know about the CDC moratorium.
Previously shared: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has banned evictions through the end of the year in response to the COVID-19 health crisis. The Dallas Morning News has a good explainer: All you need to do is meet the requirements, fill out this form and deliver it to your landlord. No other documentation is required.
Childcare support: Wake County families who meet certain income requirements can get support for childcare and remote learning, thanks to the new WakeSUPPORTS program.
The program helps working parents:
- Afford to pay for their K-6th grade students to attend virtual school at a “safe location with reliable oversight,”
- For before and after school care for K-6th graders
- And pays fees for infant and toddler childcare associated with subsidized childcare.
WakeSUPPORTS will pay between $516-$870/month to care centers and organizations for qualified families within low-moderate income levels. [learn more]
The program comes after the pandemic showed that lower income families had fewer options to support their virtual learning children, while families with more resources were able to create “learning pods” or find and pay for other quality solutions.
Housing assistance: Wake County and Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End Homelessness rolled out a new hotline for housing assistance, the House Wake! Access Hub. Call 919-443-0096 or email HW_AH@partnershipwake.org to get connected to resources. The phone line and email is monitored 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.
House Wake!, a program that helps Wake County residents experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, will now pay up to 100% of 6 months of approved tenants’ late rent. That increased from what was originally possible with the program because of money from the state. [more details]
Wake County offers help with utility bills: WakeHELPS is a new program for Wake County residents who are unable to pay their gas, power, water or other utility bills because of COVID-19-related financial issues.
Qualified applicants will live in Wake County, are low- to moderate-income households, are effected financially by COVID-19 and are behind on utility bills.
Funding for the program comes from the CARES Act. [learn more + apply]
Need help paying rent this month? Wake County’s Wake Network of Care has a list of resources to get help. [more info]
Get mental health support: The Hope4NC Helpline is a 24/7 mental health resource during COVID-19. Call 1-855-587-3463. “A Hope4Healers Helpline (919-226-2002) is also available for health care workers experiencing stress,” the NCDHHS shared in a tweet.
If you’ve lost health insurance or are seeking it for the first time, you can find some resources here.
Help for Triangle area hospitality workers: The Triangle Restaurant Workers Relief Fund was announced March 18, run by Frankie Lemmon Foundation, to help those working in the industry experiencing layoffs or loss of income.
That fund has since been moved to NC Restaurant Workers Relief Fund, managed by the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association and available for hospitality workers across the state. [donate or get help]
Families experiencing food insecurity: Community food distribution sites to help families experiencing food insecurity are open at lunchtime at some schools and community centers. ID will not be required to pick up. [Find the closest location]
Some schools will also be offering lunch and breakfast pickup. You can also text FOODNC to 877-877 for locations.
Unemployment: Gov. Cooper made it easier for people to file for unemployment, removing some of the requirements that will help food & beverage workers, including removing the one-week waiting period to apply, removing the requirement that they must be actively looking for another job, allowing those who have had their hours reduced to apply and removing the requirement to apply in person. [learn + file here]
Business owners in Wake County with questions can contact the county at a “a dedicated phone number — 919.856.7420” or visit the website https://covid19.wakegov.com/guidance-for-business/. Wake Forward is another program for Wake County small businesses.
Domestic abuse and isolation are a dangerous mix, INDY Week reports. If you need help, call the InterAct 24-hour crisis line at 919-828-7740 for safety planning, resources and advocacy. In an emergency, always call 9-1-1.
Find a list of resources to get help: Revive 919.
CDC’s order on evictions: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has banned evictions through the end of the year in response to the COVID-19 health crisis. The Dallas Morning News has a good explainer: All you need to do is meet the requirements, fill out this form and deliver it to your landlord. No other documentation is required.
The requirements include but aren’t limited to: Exhausting all efforts for government assistance for housing, an income cap, and if evicted, would have no place to go.
Local arts fund created: Wake County officials allocated $1 million from federal funds to create the Wake County Nonprofit Arts Relief Fund, which will support local arts and culture nonprofits that have lost revenue as a result of the pandemic. [learn more]
READ MORE: How to help your neighbors
What progress do N.C. officials track?
State officials evaluate “key indicators” over a 14-day period, looking at “COVID-like syndromic cases” that come into an emergency room as well as how the number of lab-confirmed cases is trending.
The percentage of positive tests of total tests also inform officials’ decision-making.
Officials will look at tests completed per day, whether or not there’s capacity for widespread tracing of cases, and the supply of personal protective equipment.
The state released a new dashboard that updates the key indicators they’re tracking.
More people can get access to testing:
Anyone who might have COVID-19 should be tested. Previously, when testing resources were limited, people with mild symptoms were encouraged to self-isolate versus seeking a test.
The new guidance encourages testing for:
- “Anyone with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19
- Close contacts of known positive cases, regardless of symptoms
- Persons who live in or have regular contact with high-risk settings (e.g., long-term care facility, homeless shelter, correctional facility, migrant farmworker camp)
- Persons who are at high risk of severe illness (e.g., people over 65 years of age, people of any age with underlying health conditions)
- Persons who come from historically marginalized populations
- Health care workers or first responders (e.g. EMS, law enforcement, fire department, military)
- Front-line and essential workers (grocery store clerks, gas station attendants, etc.) in settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain,” according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services website.
“We want anyone who needs a test to get one. This is particularly important for those at high-risk for severe illness, those at greatest risk for exposure and those who are being disproportionately impacted by this virus,” NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said in a release.
The NCDHHS lists testing sites on their website.
Who’s at risk?
Not all people who get coronavirus will have serious complications, but even asymptomatic carriers can pass the coronavirus along to another person who may be more at risk.
About 80% of people with the virus only experience mild symptoms. About 20% see more serious respiratory complications, such as pneumonia, or worse.
That goes in particular for people considered “high risk” — those with underlying health issues such as “heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes,” those with weakened immune systems or adults older than 65.
Younger, healthy people, even young children, appear to be less affected. Some studies show infants are more at-risk for more serious symptoms. While it’s not known if pregnant women are more at risk, they should be monitored, according to the CDC.
How does coronavirus spread?
Because the virus is thought to spread from person to person contact, anyone in “close contact” — within 6 feet — is at higher risk for coronavirus.
Droplets from a sick person’s coughs or sneezes may be inhaled by a person in this defined close contact. Getting sick from touching surfaces seems to be less risky with this virus, the CDC says.
People with the virus are most contagious when they are symptomatic. Read more on the CDC website.
How to avoid getting sick and protect others
Stay at home.
Wash your hands. With warm water and soap, for 30 seconds. As an alternative, use hand sanitizer.
“Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
The cloth face cover is meant to protect other people in case you are infected.”
Stay 6 feet apart.
Call your care provider if you think you might have the virus.
This story will be updated.