RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Here's the latest news and information on COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines.
President Joe Biden released a statement after the U.S. surpassed 900,000 deaths from COVID-19.
"Today, our nation marks another tragic milestone - 900,000 American lives have been lost to COVID-19. They were beloved mothers and fathers, grandparents, children, brothers and sisters, neighbors, and friends. Each soul is irreplaceable. We pray for the loved ones they have left behind, and together we keep every family enduring this pain in our hearts," Biden said. "After nearly two years, I know that the emotional, physical, and psychological weight of this pandemic has been incredibly difficult to bear. I know what it's like to stare at an empty chair around the kitchen table. But I also know that we carry an incredible capacity within ourselves - not only to come through our grief stronger but to come together to protect one another.
"We now have more tools than ever before to save lives and fight this virus - with vaccines remaining our most important tool. Vaccines and boosters have proven incredibly effective, and offer the highest level of protection. Two hundred and fifty million Americans have stepped up to protect themselves, their families, and their communities by getting at least one shot - and we have saved more than one million American lives as a result.
"We can save even more lives - and spare countless families from the deepest pain imaginable - if everybody does their part. I urge all Americans: get vaccinated, get your kids vaccinated, and get your booster shot if you are eligible. It's free, easy, and effective - and it can save your life, and the lives of those you love.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have released a study on whether varying degrees of COVID-19 lockdowns, school closings and restrictions made any impact on mortality.
The resounding conclusion is that they did not and likely caused more harm than good and have had "devastating effects" on society.
In fact, the study authors wrote that "while this meta-analysis concludes that lockdowns have had little to no public health effects, they have imposed enormous economic and social costs where they have been adopted. In consequence, lockdown policies are ill-founded and should be rejected as a pandemic policy instrument."
The study concluded that lockdowns and other measures improved COVID-19 mortality rates in Europe and the United States by only 0.2% to 2.9% on average at best.
Researchers found that during the early stages of a pandemic, "before the arrival of vaccines and new treatments, a society can respond in two ways: mandated behavioral changes or voluntary behavioral changes."
Though the study concluded that it could not find "significant positive effects" of mandated behavioral changes, such as lockdowns, it said more research is needed to determine the best way to have effective voluntary behavioral changes.
"It should be clear that one important role for government authorities is to provide information so that citizens can voluntarily respond to the pandemic in a way that mitigates their exposure," the authors wrote.
Moreover, the authors found that lockdowns used early in the pandemic have contributed to "reducing economic activity, raising unemployment, reducing schooling, causing political unrest, contributing to domestic violence, and undermining liberal democracy."
The number of lives lost to the pandemic in the U.S. stood at about 899,000 Friday afternoon, with deaths running at an average of more than 2,400 a day, back up to where they were last winter when the vaccine drive was still getting started.
New cases per day have plunged by almost a half-million nationwide since mid-January, the curve trending downward over the past two weeks in every state but Maine, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. And Maine health authorities said cases are declining there, too, falling sharply over the past week.
Also, the number of Americans in the hospital with COVID-19 has dropped 15% since mid-January to about 124,000.
Similarly, an early-warning program that looks for the virus in sewage found that COVID-19 infections are declining in the majority of participating U.S. communities, according to data posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Deaths are still on the rise in at least 35 states, reflecting the lag time between when victims become infected and when they succumb.
Public health officials have expressed hope that the worst of omicron is coming to an end, though they caution that things could still go bad again and dangerous new variants could emerge.
The Chatham County Public Health Department will operate two drive-thru sites to distribute N95 respirator masks to the general public from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, while supplies last.
Additionally, the three branches of Chatham County Public Libraries will continue to give out N95s while supplies last.
N95s are limited to one box of 20 respirators per household/car.
Here are the sites and hours of operation for Saturday:
Masks are available inside of the three library branches. Those visiting the Northwood High School site should go to the right side of the school near the bus lot. Those visiting the Silk Hope School site should use the driveway in front of the school.
"We are thrilled that we've been able to bring N95s to the Chatham community, and we're so grateful for our partners at Chatham County Public Libraries and Chatham County Schools for serving as pick-up locations," said Zachary Horner, Communications Specialist for the Chatham County Public Health Department. "We ask that those visiting the sites be patient and respectful of staff distributing masks. They're working very hard to make sure Chatham residents have access to this important tool."
COVD-19 metrics continue to improve in North Carolina.
NCDHHS says there are 12,385 new cases, down from 14,966 the previous day. The percent positive also fell, from 22.2% the previous day to the current 21%.
Hospitalizations are down, too, with 66 fewer patients than the day before. There are 4,490 in the hospital being treated for COVID-19.
Seventy new deaths were reported for a total of 21,097 since the start of the pandemic.
Wastewater monitoring data from North Carolina is now part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention national COVID Data Tracker (CDT) website.
North Carolina was one of the first eight jurisdictions in the CDC's National Wastewater Surveillance System and is one of 13 jurisdictions currently participating in the NWSS and reporting wastewater data in the CDT.
Wastewater monitoring tracks COVID-19 trends at the community level and has become an important tool for tracking the COVID-19 pandemic as testing behaviors and access have changed during the course of the pandemic, NCDHHS said.
Wastewater measurements include everyone in a community regardless of whether they have been tested and can be completed at a fraction of the cost of clinical COVID-19 testing. The data can also provide an early indicator of COVID trends even before changes can be seen in the number of reported cases.
Wastewater monitoring can only be used in areas that have wastewater treatment systems, which in North Carolina, covers approximately 50% of the state's population.
Why monitor wastewater? NCDHHS said it is because people with COVID-19 shed viral particles in their stool. These viral particles are pieces of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19 when still intact.
In wastewater, the particles are no longer infectious but can still be measured using sensitive laboratory techniques.
Halifax County reminds residents that the mass COVID-19 testing event at the Roanoke Rapids Theatre, 500 Carolina Crossroads Parkway in Roanoke Rapids is ongoing. The event runs weekly, Monday-Friday through Feb. 18 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
As of Wednesday, 1,006 samples have been collected and 27.63% were positive for COVID-19.
As of Thursday, the Halifax County Health Department reports 13,352 total positive COVID-19 cases since March 2020. Seven additional deaths have been added for a total of 162 countywide. That's 1.21% of cases.
Gov. Roy Cooper and NCDHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley visited and toured King's Pharmacy & Compounding Lab in New Hanover County.
"Our pharmacies are playing a key role in getting these safe, effective and free COVID vaccines into our communities and I'm grateful for their work," Cooper said.
The visit is part of the state's initiative to encourage residents to get vaccinated.
"Our message to North Carolinians is to layer protection to prevent serious illness from COVID-19: get vaccinated, get a booster when eligible, and wear a tight-fitting mask," said NCDHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley. "We're grateful to our pharmacy partners who are a critical part of getting vaccines and boosters into arms and blunting the impacts of this virus."
King's Pharmacy is distributing Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for adults and Pfizer vaccines for children ages 5 and older.
"It is still imperative to get vaccinated today, to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community," said Buck Martin, Owner and PharmD of Kings Pharmacy & Compounding. "COVID-19 is still going strong and the vaccines are effective. We can fight this together."
NCDHHS reports 14,966 new cases, slightly up from the previous day.
The daily percent positive stands at 22.2%, continuing to decline.
There are 4,556 people hospitalized, that's down 169 from the previous day.
There were 123 new deaths reported for a total of 21,027 statewide since the start of the pandemic.
NCDHHS said 71% of the adult population is considered fully vaccinated.
Cape Fear Valley Health System announced that the drive-through COVID-19 testing site at Health Pavilion North will reopen next week, beginning Tuesday.
It had been closed because of testing supply issues.
Vice President of Pharmacy and Cancer Center Christopher Tart said the combination of decreased demand for testing and resolved supply issues has made reopening the testing site possible.
"We are seeing demand drop, so our forecast for demand is improved," Tart said. "We are also now confident that we have enough supplies to reopen the site and still be able to meet the testing needs of the hospitals and clinics."
The testing site is at 6387 Ramsey St. in Fayetteville. It will be open Tuesdays through Fridays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Testing is done on a first-come-first-served basis as capacity allows, no appointment is necessary.
For patients with insurance, the COVID-19 tests are fully covered with no out-of-pocket costs. Patients without insurance will be billed $100.
The Chatham County Public Health Department has received a shipment of N95 respirators from the NC Department of Health and Human Services and has begun distributing these masks to the general public.
Beginning Thursday, these masks are available to the public at the three branches of the Chatham County Public Libraries as supplies allow. Each household can receive one box of 20 masks.
Boxes will be available during operating hours at each branch while supplies last: