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COVID vaccine live updates: Here’s what to know in North Carolina on Sept. 16

We’re tracking the most up-to-date information about the coronavirus and vaccines in North Carolina. Check back for updates.

More than 7,200 new cases reported

At least 1,315,427 people in North Carolina have tested positive for the coronavirus, and at least 15,405 have died since March 2020, according to state health officials.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday reported 7,277 new COVID-19 cases, up from 4,760 the day before.

One hundred coronavirus-related deaths were added on Wednesday. State health officials don’t specify the dates on which newly reported deaths occurred.

At least 3,630 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday, including 946 adult patients who are being treated in intensive care units, health officials said.

As of Monday, the latest date for which data is available, 11.9% of coronavirus tests were reported positive. Health officials say 5% or lower is the target rate to slow the spread of the virus.

Roughly 68% of adults in North Carolina have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and about 62% have been fully vaccinated. State officials round vaccination numbers to the nearest whole number.

Masks optional in district where teacher died

Lincoln County Schools became the first district in the Charlotte area on Tuesday to make face masks optional again despite a rise in coronavirus cases locally.

The decision comes after a 45-year-old third-grade teacher at Battleground Elementary School in Lincolnton died of complications from COVID-19.

Board members were divided on the vote, but those who opted in favor of making face masks optional did not explain their reasoning, The Charlotte Observer reported. Two Atrium Health doctors who practice in the county were also not allowed to address the board.

SAS mandates employees get a vaccine

SAS Institute will require its workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine or face being fired.

The software developer employs some 5,500 people in Cary, making it the largest employer in the city, The News & Observer reported.

SAS previously required any worker who wanted to return to in-office work to get a vaccine but said unvaccinated workers could work remotely. The vaccine mandate now applies to all employees.

“With the FDA approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and the federal government’s recent Executive Orders, SAS is now mandating that all U.S. SAS employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19 regardless of their work arrangement (fully remote, hybrid, on-campus),” spokesperson Trent Smith said.

UNC System sees record growth despite pandemic

Enrollment across the UNC System continued to climb amid uncertainty during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s the fourth year in a row enrollment has climbed, The News & Observer reported. About 244,500 students are enrolled in the university system this fall — a 0.8% jump from last year.

“We’re very pleased to be bucking the national trends with another year of enrollment,” UNC System President Peter Hans said.

Few COVID outbreaks at Charlotte schools

There were three COVID-19 clusters reported at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools last week and an additional 382 infections reported among students, state health department data show.

The clusters occurred at Movement Charter School, Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology and Mallard Creek High, The Charlotte Observer reported.

Clusters previously reported at other schools appeared to have slowed. Ardrey Kell High, which had 18 cases among students in the first two weeks of school, now has five cases, according to The Observer.

Staff cases have also declined from 80 in the second week of school to 65 last week. School officials said there have been a total of 764 known COVID-19 cases among students over the last two weeks, accounting for less than 1% of the student population.

Mecklenburg suspends some employees

Mecklenburg County started suspending employees on Tuesday who haven’t gotten a COVID-19 vaccine and failed to show proof of a negative test.

While all Mecklenburg County health employees are required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, other government workers can remain unvaccinated as long as they submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. Officials said about 70% of the county’s full-time workers are fully vaccinated.

County spokeswoman Tammy Thompson said any unvaccinated employee who does not submit a negative test result will remain on unpaid suspension until they present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

Nearly 600 county employees have been deemed non-compliant, The Charlotte Observer reported. But it wasn’t immediately clear Wednesday how many have been suspended.

Cooper’s vaccine strategy changed with delta wave

Gov. Roy Cooper has moved away from his decision earlier in the pandemic to issue statewide mandates, shifting that control to local governments while focusing his efforts on the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We know that vaccinations are going to be the way out of this thing,” Cooper told reporters Tuesday.

While all state employees under his jurisdiction have to show proof of vaccination or be tested weekly for COVID-19, The News & Observer reported, local school boards and county governments have been entrusted with passing their own mask ordinances or vaccine mandates.

“I think it’s politically smart,” said Chris Cooper, who leads the Department of Political Science and Public Affairs at Western Carolina University.

“I think it’s a textbook Roy Cooper move, to kind of read the changing environment. He has read the shift in public opinion and read the shift in local government opinion and taken some of the pressure off of him,” he said.

Raleigh requiring vaccines for city employees to get promoted

The city of Raleigh is requiring its employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 if they want to be promoted, according to a police department memo.

“The decision requiring promoted employees to be vaccinated was recently made by city leadership and applies to the entire organization,” said Sherry Hunter, the administrative services division commander for Raleigh police.

Starting Jan. 1, those who seek promotions within that department, the fire department and the Raleigh-Wake Emergency Communications Center must have their COVID-19 shots, The News & Observer reported.

The deadline for Raleigh workers to be vaccinated is Friday, and those who do not receive their shots by then must undergo weekly testing.

Major NC employer Wells Fargo delaying return to office

Wells Fargo bank, a major Charlotte-area employer, is pushing back its return to the office.

A “broad return to in-person work” has been postponed to Nov. 1, the second time the date has been moved, The Charlotte Observer reported Wednesday.

While Chief Operating Officer Scott Powell in a memo to employees didn’t share a reason for the latest change, many companies near Charlotte have seen the coronavirus pandemic impact their plans to bring workers back into offices.

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Hayley Fowler is a reporter at The Charlotte Observer covering breaking and real-time news across North and South Carolina. She has a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and previously worked as a legal reporter in New York City before joining the Observer in 2019.

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