RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Here are the latest updates about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in North Carolina.
Have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine? Send them to us here
The makers of COVID-19 vaccines are figuring out how to tweak their recipes against worrisome virus mutations - and regulators are looking to flu as a blueprint if and when the shots need an update.
"It's not really something you can sort of flip a switch, do overnight," cautioned Richard Webby, who directs a World Health Organization flu center from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Viruses mutate constantly and it takes just the right combination of particular mutations to escape vaccination. But studies are raising concern that first-generation COVID-19 vaccines don't work as well against a mutant that first emerged in South Africa as they do against other versions circulating around the world.
The good news: Many of the new COVID-19 vaccines are made with new, flexible technology that's easy to upgrade. What's harder: Deciding if the virus has mutated enough that it's time to modify vaccines - and what changes to make.
The Lee County Government Health Department confirmed a total of 5,212 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, an increase of 162 cases since the department's last report on Feb.8.
The county reports 66 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
The Health Department continues to register people for the COVID-19 vaccine eligible under Groups 1 and 2 of the NCDHHS vaccine rollout plan. This includes healthcare workers that have direct contact with patients, staff and residents of long-term care facilities, and adults aged 65 and older. The department is also registering K-12 educators and childcare workers who are eligible to receive the vaccine beginning February 24th. All others in Group 3 (frontline essential workers) must wait until March 10 to register.
The Health Department has opened a temporary call center for vaccine registrations in Lee County. Individuals currently eligible to register may call (919) 352-3360 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. through 5 p.m. To register and speak with a staff member in Spanish, please call (919) 718-4640 and select option 8. Eligible individuals may also choose to complete a registration form online. Health Department staff will contact those who register within five to seven business days to complete registration and provide information for the next available vaccine clinic.
The county will hold a second dose COVID-19 drive-thru vaccination clinic at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center in Sanford on Tuesday.
Monday's report from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services included 2,458 newly-reported COVID-19 cases; a 20% decrease from last week.
There were a total of 1,941 hospitalizations. That's 48 less than Sunday.
The daily percent positive rate was 7.7% and 10 more deaths were reported, totaling 10,501 since the start of the pandemic.
Wake County Public Health is set to receive 7,825 doses from the state for the week of Feb. 15. These are all 1st doses.
Appointments will be offered at the following locations:
3,500 to Wake County Public Health Center & Wake County Commons Building (our two indoor locations)
1,000 to Strike Teams
Group 1: 200 to Long Term Care
Group 2: 1,000 to Equity Community Outreach (historically-marginalized focused events in partnerships with black, Hispanic, church, and other organizations)
3,325 to PNC Arena community partner outdoor drive-thru
In addition, WakeMed is going to partner and bring another 975 of its doses to give out at PNC. Total appointments at PNC for Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday of this week will be 4,300.
Cumberland County announced a first dose COVID-19 vaccine clinic for today.
The clinic is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Crown Complex.
It is a drive-thru clinic and no appointments are needed.
Vaccines will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis for those who meet eligibility requirements.
MONDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Some Wake County students are returning to class for in-person learning today.
Year-round students will go back to the classroom Monday, while other students will have to wait until Wednesday.
Classroom layouts will look much different than before the COVID-19 pandemic. They will be spaced out and socially distant, while hallways will have arrows telling students which way they should be walking.
Signage is also up throughout the schools reminding students to keep their masks on at all times. Masks can only be removed during designated breaks and during lunch.
All students will also be required to go through a health screening when they arrive at the school.
Elsewhere in the United States, researchers have identified a batch of new COVID-19 mutations. Up to this point, researchers have been studying variants of the virus first identified in other countries--such as South Africa and the United Kingdom.
But now, they say there is a US mutation that affects the protein that helps the virus attach to cells.
It's unclear yet if this mutation changes how contagious or how dangerous the virus is.
Meanwhile, North Carolina continues its push to make COVID-19 testing available to those who need it.
Four new locations are opening this week in Wake County: Anderson Point Park, Halifax Community Park, and South Park (Fuquay-Varina). There will also be a testing site at Aversboro Baptist Church in Garner from Thursday through Saturday. More on COVID-19 testing here.
The improving COVID-19 metrics are sight of optimism for Amber Echevarria and Jaime Radar; the two Raleigh locals own a clothing store called Munjo Munjo in the downtown area.
"Just a weird year where there weren't many people in downtown for most of the summer and the fall," Echevarria said.
However, in recent weeks, the duo has seen some minor changes, Echevarria going on to say she's, "seen more people out, recently. Like, in the last couple of weeks versus maybe a month ago."
Dr. Lina Butler, a Chief Medical Officer at UNC Rex Healthcare, tells ABC11 the state's downward trend is thanks in part to vaccinations.
"I think vaccinations for sure is one; I think that people are still doing their best to comply with social distancing and wearing the masks and good hygiene practices," Dr. Butler said.
Those statewide total numbers reflect the hospital's current patient intake with front line workers treating 23 COVID-19 positive patients, many of them being there longer than 21 days, per Dr. Butler.
"I think, as long as we follow the CDC guidance, we're in good shape. And people need to not, you know, become less vigilant," Dr. Butler added.
Health officials tell ABC 11 that, aside from the growing number of people getting vaccinated, the lack of major upcoming holidays will also help keep the COVID-19 metrics from spiking, creating less reasons for people wanting to gather in large groups.
All great news for Echevarria and Radar, who are one of many downtown Raleigh businesses trying to stay open. They hope that people continue to take the pandemic seriously so more people can safely return to supporting small businesses.
"Not only is the business held back by being open less and not doing as much, but I mean, we're stuck at home too; everybody is stuck at home. It's not just a light at the end of the tunnel for the business, it's for everybody; it's for all of Raleigh," Radar said.
North Carolina is reporting 3,170 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 821,894.
Throughout the state, 38 more people have died from the virus.
With 95 percent of hospitals reporting, COVID-19 hospitalizations are down 101 to 1,989. This is the first time hospitalizations have been below 2,000 since Nov. 30.
The state's percent positive test rate has been 6.5% for three straight days.
According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 27,576,276 COVID-19 cases throughout the United States since March.
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Despite the weather, more than 1,000 people got vaccinated at Raleigh's PNC Arena on Saturday.
Along with conjoined efforts with other outreach programs in the area, another 1,000 people were vaccinated in Wake County totaling to more than 2,000 people getting vaccinated.
North Carolina is reporting 4,130 more COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 818,724.
State health officials are reporting 77 more deaths, bringing the total to 10,453.
Hospitalizations have decreased by 50 to 2,101.
The state's percent positive test rate has remained the same since Friday at 6.5%.
According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 27,492,955 COVID-19 cases throughout the United States since March.
Walk-ins welcome at Cumberland County COVID-19 vaccine clinic