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Coronavirus: One year later in North Carolina

2020 was fulfilled with mask-wearing, social distancing, struggles for millions
Updated: Mar. 8, 2021 at 6:13 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The world paused.

Schools closed, sports were abruptly halted and businesses and restaurants were forced to close their doors, some permanently.

Doctors and scientists were just learning about this new virus, one that has taken more than 2.5 million lives worldwide, including nearly 514,000 in the United States.

Masks started becoming the required attire, large gatherings were frowned upon, social distancing was commanded, and drive-through and virtual ceremonies became the norm.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE COUNTY COVID-19 COUNTY ALERT MAP

CLICK HERE FOR N.C.’S LATEST CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS

The year 2020 felt like a nightmare for jobs were lost and the economy was struggling.

A year later, the world is still recovering. As North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper says, “there is hope.”

LATEST ON COVID-19 IN CAROLINAS

Unlike this time last year, we have vaccines being rolled out, albeit in limited supply, students are returning to the classroom and businesses are getting back on their feet.

In North Carolina, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported on March 3, 2020, a year ago Wednesday.

A week later, on March 10, Gov. Cooper issued an executive order declaring a State of Emergency as part of North Carolina’s preparedness plan for COVID-19, which was declared a global pandemic the following day, March 11.

On March 30, 2020, a stay-at-home order went into effect in North Carolina to prevent people from being out as the virus continued to spread. The order was set out to restrict people in public places, impose a curfew, close hundreds of businesses and initiate the “work-from-home” model, which continues for many companies.

Federal and state governments have been rolling out plans to reopen the economy and limit the spread of the virus.

A year after North Carolina and the nation was initially bombarded by COVID-19, there are still restrictions.

Vaccine Team: Vaccination Groups

Here’s where we stand after a year into the pandemic:

The COVID-19 vaccine, the shot designed to defeat the virus, was approved and distributed to states quicker than even experts had imagined.

Currently, more than 2.4 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in North Carolina.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said that North Carolina is ranked No. 1 in the United States for vaccinations of adults over 65.

[ Answers to your Vaccine Team questions ]

Click here for complete coverage on the COVID-19 vaccine

“I am so proud of our vaccine providers across North Carolina, and the amazing team at NCDHHS for all their hard work getting vaccines into arms quickly and equitably,” Cohen said.

[We’re still navigating and working to get answers to your questions on the COVID-19 vaccine. Have a question, submit it here]

In December, the Food and Drug Administration approved two vaccines — from Moderna and Pfizer — both of which offer two shots.

On Feb. 27, 2021, the Food and Drug Administration cleared a Johnson & Johnson shot that works with just one dose instead of two.

The FDA said J&J’s vaccine offers strong protection against what matters most: serious illness, hospitalizations and death.

Officials say one dose was 85% protective against the most severe COVID-19 illness, in a massive study that spanned three continents — protection that remained strong even in countries such as South Africa, where the variants of most concern are spreading, according to the Associated Press.

Dr. Anthony Fauci told CBS News he estimates that by the end of March, there will be 20 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine available to the public and a total of 100 million doses available by June.

“That is all going to ramp up because, as you know, in the next few months, we’re going to have a lot more vaccines available,” Fauci said. “And that’s the reason why we’re getting the capability, literally getting better every single day, of making this much more smoothly than it’s gone in the past. It’s going to get better, I assure you.”

Since the rollout started, North Carolina officials say the vaccine remains in short supply; those with essential needs were moved to the top of the list.

Group 1 included healthcare workers in the middle of the coronavirus fight, along with long-term facility residents and staff. Phase 1b included people 75 years and older and frontline essential workers 50 years and older.

Group 2 rollout included people older than 65 years old.

Group 3, the current phased plan, includes frontline essential workers — teachers, police officers and certain food and industrial workers, among others. Child care and PreK–12 workers and school staff members became eligible for vaccinations on Feb. 24.

Additional workers in this group will become eligible on March 3, which include first responders and emergency personnel such as police and firefighters, people who work in-person in manufacturing, food and agriculture, grocery stores, government workers and our clergy, among others.

The state will then begin expanding vaccine eligibility to Group 4 on March 24, starting with people who have a medical condition that puts them at higher risk as well and those living in a congregate setting.

Group 5 is for everyone else.

President Biden then said on March 2 that his goal is to have vaccines available for every adult by the end of May.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen has said she hopes everyone has the chance to be vaccinated by this summer.

North Carolina has administered all of its first supply of vaccine doses received from the federal government.

In late January, health officials said they expected to receive 120,000 doses of the vaccine each week, to be distributed to healthcare providers in large and rural cities, along with mass vaccination clinics that have been held statewide, including here in Charlotte.

Here we are now, one year since the first case was reported in North Carolina, and more than two million vaccination doses have been administered.

You can locate a vaccination site in your county right here.

WBTV has all the answers you need to know about the vaccine here.

If you have a question you can email vaccineteam@wbtv.com or just fill out the form below.

Most school districts across the state have returned to the classroom, in some way or form, following months of remote learning.

In-person learning still remains optional for school districts across the state.

N.C. General Assembly followed and passed the “back to classroom” bill, also known as Senate Bill 37, that requires school systems to offer in-person instruction.

That bill was vetoed last week by Gov. Cooper, who said Senate Bill 37 does not require adequate safety measures for COVID-19.

Cooper released this statement:

“The question on SB 37 that I vetoed is not whether our children should be in the classroom in person. They absolutely should. The question is whether we do it safely.

“The bill allows middle and high school students to be in school without following NCDHHS and CDC guidelines on social distancing. SB 37 also removes authority from state and local officials to put students in remote learning in an emergency like a new COVID variant hitting our schools. I have asked legislative leaders to compromise with me on these two issues but so far they have not.

“I will continue talking with legislators and I will work diligently with the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction to make sure all of our children and educators are in the classroom, in-person and safe.”

Millions of children across the state had been forced to study and learn from their own homes, causing disconnect and struggles for many. Gov. Cooper initially ordered schools to close for in-person learning on March 16, 2020.

Since then, students haven’t been able to enjoy the simple milestones, including in-person graduations, proms, homecomings, sports and seeing their friends in the hallways.

Last month, Cooper joined with N.C. State Superintendent Catherine Truitt to urge local districts to offer the option of in-person learning.

“Now is time to get our children back in the classroom,” Cooper said. “Students who are ready to return to the classrooms should have that chance.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that in-person schooling can resume safely with masks, social distancing and other strategies, and vaccination of teachers, while important, is not a prerequisite for reopening.

Back in October, Cooper issued an executive order to allow public kindergarten through 5th-grade students the option to return to the classroom full-time.

North Carolina is giving school districts the option to allow the rest of the students to return.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools opened its doors for many students to return on Feb. 15, 2021. High School and middle school students were permitted back on Feb. 22.

It has been nearly a year since North Carolina schools shut down, in the middle of March. Districts across the state have not only had to figure out lesson plans, but they’ve also had to implement safety measures and capacity limits in the schools.

“I think it’s important for the morale of families in CMS to see it happen this time because people are giving up,” parent Kim Wojnowich told WBTV.

Last week, North Carolina took a giant leap in its reopening process, nearly a year after most businesses were initially shut down, which lasted for months.

Gov. Cooper signed an executive order to “ease but not lift” restrictions related to COVID-19 across the state.

Executive Order 195 has two general categories of occupancy restrictions: 30 percent capacity and 50 percent capacity. Officials say that because indoor spaces have a higher risk for spread of COVID-19, those facilities in the 30 percent-occupancy categories may not exceed 250 people per indoor room or indoor space.

The order allows a 30 percent capacity limit for bars; Meeting, Reception, and Conference Spaces; Lounges (including tobacco) and Night Clubs; Indoor areas of Amusement Parks; Movie Theatres; Entertainment facilities (e.g., bingo parlors, gaming establishments); and Sports Arenas and Fields.

Indoor event venues with more than 5,000 seats may be exempt from the 250 person limit if they follow additional safety measures up to 15 percent capacity, which locally include the Charlotte Hornets.

Aside from that, 50 percent capacity is permitted in Restaurants; Breweries, Wineries, Distilleries; Fitness and Physical Activity Facilities (e.g., gyms, bowling alleys, rock climbing facilities); Pools; Museums and Aquariums; Retailers; Outdoor areas of Amusement Parks; Salons, Personal Care and Tattoo Parlors.

Cooper also lifted the modified stay-at-home order, which started Dec. 11, 2020 and was set to expire Feb. 28, 2021 after a few extensions.

Cooper said the modified stay-at-home order required people to stay at home between the hours of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Most businesses were required to close by 10 p.m., and onsite alcohol consumption sales must end at 9 p.m.

Now, bars and on-site alcohol sales have until 11 p.m.

This is all big news compared to where we were in March 2020 when a full stay-at-home order was issued in North Carolina.

That strict order directed residents to stay at home unless they needed to leave for essentials such as a job, food, medicine, outdoor exercise or to help someone.

The state gradually eased restrictions in Phases:

PHASE 1: Eased restrictions and reopened more businesses, started May 8. Bars and restaurants continued to only offer curbside pickup. Barbershops, salons, massage centers, theaters, music venues, bowling alleys, gyms and playgrounds remained closed. Visitation of loved ones inside long-term care centers was still not allowed.

PHASE 2: “Here, the Stay at Home order will be lifted,” Cooper said, but the most vulnerable population will be encouraged to stay home. The mass gathering number of 10 will be increased and bars and restaurants can begin to reopen. This started May 22. Bars, nightclubs, gyms and indoor fitness facilities, indoor entertainment venues such as movie theaters, bowling alleys, and public playgrounds still remained closed in this order.

PHASE 3: Phase 3 was ordered in September began in October.

This included:

  • Large outdoor venues with seating greater than 10,000 could operate with 7% occupancy for spectators with other safety protocols
  • Smaller outdoor entertainment venues could operate outdoors at 30% of outdoor capacity or 100 guests, whichever is less
  • Movie theaters and conference centers could open indoor spaces to 30% of capacity, or 100 seated guests, whichever is less
  • Bars could operate outdoors only at 30% of outdoor capacity, or 100 guests, whichever is less.
  • Outdoor amusement parks could open at 30% occupancy.
  • The limits on mass gatherings remained at 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.
  • The 11 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales for in-person consumption in locations such as restaurants and outdoor bars was extended

Then, in December, after a spike in cases, the governor announced that a modified “Stay at Home” order was issued to keep people from being out between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Most businesses were required to close by 10 p.m. Cooper said onsite alcohol consumption sales had to end at 9 p.m.

Sports, used by millions as entertainment and a distraction, took a hiatus for months.

Here in Charlotte, the Hornets had just returned home after beating the Miami Heat, and they were preparing for their next game - a home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers - before the season was halted.

The Hornets didn’t play another game until the next season tipped off in December, and the Charlotte Knights, along with other minor league baseball teams in North Carolina, had their seasons canceled, along with AHL’s Charlotte Checkers hockey team.

But, now there’s good news, sports fans.

More and more spectators are allowed in arenas and stadiums.

On Feb. 26, Gov. Cooper issued an executive order to bring more fans into professional, college and high school sporting events across the state.

The Hornets said they plan to allow 15 percent capacity, or about 3,000 fans, to attend home games at the Spectrum Center beginning March 13.

High school football is increasing from its 100-person cap to have a 30-percent capacity.

The new order will also allow some indoor businesses to open at a 30-percent capacity with a cap of 250 people. These businesses include indoor sports arenas.

An exception for larger indoor arenas with a capacity of more than 5,000 people (like the Spectrum Center and Bojangles Coliseum) will allow up to 15-percent capacity if more safety protocols are followed.

Most college and professional indoor sports like basketball and hockey can have fans at 15-percent capacity with certain protocols.

About 3,000 fans could be allowed at Charlotte Hornets games, based on a 20,200 capacity for Spectrum Center. About 1,400 fans could be allowed at Charlotte Checkers games based on a 9,605 capacity for Bojangles’ Coliseum.

“We are excited that Governor Cooper has granted the opportunity for fans to begin returning to indoor arenas and entertainment venues. We have remained in contact with state and county officials, as well as the NBA, throughout the last year and are preparing a plan that we believe will allow fans to safely return to Spectrum Center in the near future,” the Hornets said in a statement.

Many outdoor sports venues will now be allowed to hold 30 percent.

The Knights said in a statement they are preparing to play in front of fans, and the Charlotte Motor Speedway plans to host 30 percent capacity at May’s Coca-Cola 600.

The Hornets, so far, have not allowed any spectators in the Spectrum Center, and ACC basketball games have been played without fans.

The Panthers were allowed seven percent capacity for home games at Bank of America Stadium last year, which the exception of the finale, which capped ticket sales at 1,500.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers featured that elderly and those living in long-term care facilities were the most at-risk of getting impacted by the virus the worst.

Gov. Cooper said last week that 80 percent of North Carolina’s more than 11,000 deaths are by people 65 years and older.

“It is critical to get this age group vaccinated,” Cooper said. “People in this group are still getting first and second vaccinations. That will keep happening even after the next phase starts.”

Long-term care and congregate living staff and residents were among the first in North Carolina to receive the vaccine after the rollout started in December.

Currently, health officials say there are 285 coronavirus outbreaks at nursing homes across the state. There have also been 3,766 coronavirus-related deaths at nursing homes and 1,178 coronavirus-related deaths at residential care facilities.

Inmates at N.C. prisons are eligible for the vaccination in Group 4 unless an inmate is 65 years or older.

Officials say there are currently 83 outbreaks at North Carolina prisons, and there have been 88 deaths.

This time last year, coronavirus was new and caught the world by surprise.

It was unknown that the virus would spread this quickly and this viciously.

A year later, health leaders have worked non-stop to combat COVID-19.

Several medical breakthroughs have given the world, and in particular this country, hope.

Since last March, more than 510,000 people in the U.S. have died of complications related to COVID-19.

However, health officials say the death rate among patients in intensive care has fallen, according to usnews.com.

In just nine months, the FDA approved two vaccines. A third was just approved this past weekend.

Researchers at MIT say Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have what is called Messenger RNA, which is used to help fight off cancers.

According to MIT, the “COVID-19 vaccines are based on a technology never before used in therapeutics, and it could transform medicine, leading to vaccines against various infectious diseases, including malaria. And if this coronavirus keeps mutating, mRNA vaccines can be easily and quickly modified.”

The University of Miami, in January, says stem cells from a baby’s umbilical cord has shown to safely reduce the risk of death and has made recovery time faster for some of the illest patients, according to a report by CBS Miami.

An article on hospimedica.com shows a new coronavirus treatment has helped several moderate-to-serious COVID-19 patients recover from the disease within days in Phase 1 trials, according to a report by The Times of Israel.

In that article, medicine developed by scientists at the Ichilov Medical Center (Tel Aviv, Israel) that moderates immune response and helps prevent deadly cytokine storm allowed 29 out of 30 patients in the trial to leave the hospital within 3-5 days.’

Back in November, St. Jude researchers focused on cytokines, small proteins released in the body in response to inflammation, to treat COVID-19. This virus triggers severe inflammation that cripples the lungs and damages other organs.

When tried on mice, the medication protected them from COVID-19 death and from sepsis, a deadly infection of the blood.

Hundreds of breakthroughs have been in the works, led by some of the most innovative researchers in the world.

As of Wednesday, more than 28.6 million cases have been reported in a year, along with 512,000 deaths.

However, the case rate is decreasing.

There are less than 70,000 newly reported cases across the country. To put that into perspective, there were 315,000 new daily cases per day in early January.

There’s light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel.

It has been draining, exhausting and cost thousands of jobs and lives in North Carolina.

There is reason to be optimistic.

The federal government has approved three vaccines - Moderna, Pfizer, and now Johnson & Johnson.

Nearly 2.5 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in North Carolina.

Aside from that, on Tuesday, 1,239 new coronavirus cases were reported, which is the smallest single-day total since early November. There are also 1,319 hospitalizations, the state’s lowest since November, and the percent positive rate is 5.7 percent.

“North Carolina is carefully easing restrictions because our trends are moving in the right direction, but we need to stay cautious and wear our masks,” Cooper said. “We can beat this virus, but we have to work together and act responsibly to get to the other side.”

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