News

First COVID-19 unemployment benefits will be paid this week

The first payments for unemployment claims related to the coronavirus will begin going out this week.

Approximately 270,000 unemployment claims have been filed in North Carolina over the last two weeks with most related to economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Saturday, Governor Roy Cooper directed the state Division of Employment Security to begin implementing the unemployment insurance provisions of the federal CARES Act.

The new federal legislation includes change that will allow for an additional $600 in unemployment benefits.

Here’s more from Governor Cooper’s press office:

Workers applying for benefits must complete their weekly certifications in order to receive unemployment insurance payments. The weekly certification is a series of ‘yes or no’ questions that helps determine a person’s eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits each week. If a person does not complete a weekly certification, they will not receive a payment for that week.

The weekly certification must be completed through the individual’s online account at des.nc.gov.

For general questions about unemployment benefits in North Carolina during the COVID-19 crisis, contact the Division of Employment Security.
* Employees with questions about the application and benefits can read more about requirements and steps to get an unemployment benefit payment here: https://des.nc.gov/need-help/covid-19-information/covid-19-information-individuals
* Employers who have questions about their role in the process can read more about what is required of them to help their workers quialify for benefits here <insert link: https://des.nc.gov/need-help/covid-19-information/covid-19-information-employers>.
* To report technical difficulties using the online tools provided by the Division of Employment Security, contact the office via the form at https://des.nc.gov/customer-contact-form.

COVID-19, News

Duke adopts decontamination technology, allowing reuse of N95 face masks in short supply

As state officials scramble to acquire more personal protective equipment for workers on the front line of treating COVID-19 patients, there is good news from Duke Health.

Researchers and clinical teams have confirmed a way to use vaporized hydrogen peroxide methods to decontaminate the masks and allow for them to be reused.

Duke Health made the announcement on Thursday. Here’s more from their release:

Photo: Duke Health

The decontamination process should keep a significant number of N95 masks in use at Duke University Hospital as well as Duke Regional and Duke Raleigh hospitals, easing some of the shortage and curbing the need for other alternatives using unproven decontamination techniques.

The use of hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate N95 masks was tested and published by others in 2016, but did not result in widespread adaptation. The earlier studies did not include fit testing after cleaning – basically sizing the masks for individual wearers – to prove efficacy in the real world, which Duke has now done.

The decontamination process requires specialized equipment that aerosolizes the hydrogen peroxide, and a closed facility where the masks can be exposed to the vapor. No toxic byproducts result, because hydrogen peroxide breaks down to water.

“The ability to reuse the crucial N95 masks will boost the hospitals’ ability to protect frontline health care workers during this time of critical shortages of N95 masks,” said Cameron Wolfe, M.D., associate professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist.

Monte Brown, M.D., vice president at Duke University Health System, said the Duke team is working to spread the word about the technique, making the protocols widely available. He said several health systems and many pharmaceutical companies already have the needed equipment, which is currently used in different ways, and could ramp up operations to come to the aid of their local hospitals.

Medical professionals stress that this will not solve the shortage of equipment we are seeing nationwide, but it will ease some of the strain on the system if a mask can be safely decontaminated and reused once or twice.

COVID-19, News

Child care advocates press governor to close child care centers, provide emergency relief

The North Carolina Early Education Coalition, NC Child and the North Carolina Association for the Education of Young Children are calling on Gov. Roy Cooper and NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen to order all child care centers closed and put emergency relief into place, effective immediately.

Here’s more from the coalition’s press release:

“Child care plays a critical role in the immediate response to this crisis and in the coming recovery.Right now, we are asking programs to make excruciating decisions that affect their business, their employees, and the families they serve,” said Michele Rivest, director of the NC Early Education Coalition. “Social distancing is not possible or even safe when caring for young children and babies. We need to act now to ensure that child care programs and their employees get the supports they need to stay healthy and safe both during and after this crisis.”

“More than a fifth of early childhood teachers have no health insurance whatsoever, and yet we are asking them to risk their own health and safety as front-line emergency responders in a national health crisis,” said Michelle Hughes, executive director of NC Child. “The workers in child care centers are overwhelmingly women of color earning very low wages. We need health coverage, emergency pay, and paid leave for every child care worker now.”
NC DHHS has provided guidance to child care centers who decide to remain open and asked them to fill out an application by March 30thto be able to serve as emergency child care operators. Thousands of private child care centers in the state have already closed, but many are remaining open because they serve the families of health care workers and other essential personnel. DHHS has also put an emergency hotline into place to help families find urgent child care. While these steps are important, they do not go nearly far enough, say child care advocates.
“There is panic in every family and employee,” said Melissa Mathis, Director of Footsteps Childcare Center in Hickory. “Families are concerned about how they will work without child care if their business is not closed. Staff worry how will we get paid if we have to close. We live paycheck to paycheck because no one wants to pay child care workers what their true value is.

We’re in a pandemic and everyone is now relying on centers to stay open during this crisis. I feel we need just as much help financially during this crisis as any other business.”

Data from a survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children indicates that for without emergency funding,a temporary closure will be a permanent one without emergency funding for many child care centers. Approximately one third of programs in North Carolina reported that they won’t survive a closure of more than two weeks without financial assistance.

 

COVID-19, News

New poll: Burr should resign, North Carolinians divided on Trump’s handling of coronavirus

The latest poll by Public Policy Polling offers a snapshot into how North Carolinians are thinking and feeling as COVID-19 continues to dominate the headlines and leave many sheltering at home.

PPP’s newest poll of nearly 900 registered voters finds that a majority of North Carolinians believe that Sen. Richard Burr should resign following revelation about his well-timed stock sales after receiving classified briefings about the coronavirus.

Fifty percent of voters surveyed think Burr should resign, compared to 24% who think he should remain in office. Fifty-four percent of those surveyed also now disapprove of Burr’s job performance, compared to 22% who say they approve.

PPP notes that since last polling on Burr in June, his disapproval is up 18 points and his approval has dropped by 10 points.

On the national level, North Carolinians are mixed in how President Trump is responding to the current emergency.

Forty-nine percent of those polled approve of the job he’s doing, compared to 45% who disapprove and six percent who are unsure.

On the issue of truthfulness, at least half of North Carolinains don’t believe they are getting the full story from the White House:

Governor Cooper receives better marks, with 63% saying they approve of his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

It’s also worth noting that one in five North Carolinians in this poll describe the precautions taken thus far as over-reacting.

On Tuesday morning, state health officials confirmed 398 positive cases of COVID-19 in 48 counties.

Read PPP’s full survey results here.

COVID-19, News

Senator: Time to revisit duration and size of NC’s jobless benefits (audio podcast)

Last week Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order to make it easier for people affected by the coronovirus to qualify for unemployment benefits. It’s a good first step, and Sen. Wiley Nickel believes it’s time for a broader conversation at the state level about how the benefits are calculated and just how many weeks they last.

New unemployment claims have surpassed 100,000 in the past week as another sign of continued fallout from the  COVID-19 crisis.

Click below to hear Policy Watch’s recent interview with Sen. Nickel on how the state should beef up its benefits system.

The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Unemployment Insurance is tentatively scheduled to meet April 8, though that date could change as circumstances warrant.

The newly named House Select Committee on COVID-19 will also be meeting remotely,  with one working group slated to meet as early as this week.