RALEIGH, N.C. -- Here's the latest news and information on COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines.
New COVID-19 metrics from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services show cases up 8 percent from last week.
The daily percent positive rate sits at 8%--down from 91% yesterday but up from 7.3% last week.
For the first time in 11 days, there are fewer COVID-19 patients in the hospital today than there were the previous day.
Pfizer said Wednesday that a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine may protect against the new omicron variant even though the initial two doses appear significantly less effective.
Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said lab tests showed a booster dose increased by 25-fold the level of so-called neutralizing antibodies against omicron.
Q&A: What we know right now about the omicron variant
WEDNESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
The omicron variant has now been found in at least 20 states, but the good news is that preliminary data shows the variant tends to lead to less severe illnesses.
According to US health officials, the delta variant--especially among unvaccinated people--continues to drive worsening COVID-19 metrics.
The daily death average in the U.S. has increased to more than 1,150 -- up by 57% in the last week, according to federal data.
The U.S. is about 10,000 deaths away from reaching yet another grim milestone of 800,000 Americans lost to COVID-19.
The U.S. is now averaging approximately 103,000 new cases per day, which is a 19% increase in the last week and a 62% jump since late-October, according to federal data.
Minnesota currently holds the country's highest case rate followed by Vermont and Wisconsin. Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Louisiana have the nation's lowest infection rate.
For the second time in two weeks, the percent positive rate in North Carolina inched above 9%. Hospitalization also are growing in North Carolina, but the good news is the percentage of patients who need to be in the ICU or on a ventilator is decreasing. Now just 26% of COVID-19 patients are in the ICU and 15% are on a ventilator.
The Houston Health Department says that more than half of people who died of COVID-19 in that city had diabetes.
Houston reported more than 3,600 COVID-19 deaths as of Nov. 1
Officials said nearly 52% had diabetes and 23% were obese.
Hypertension was the most common co-morbidity at 56%, followed by heart disease.
Houston health officials said the data clearly shows that people with underlying health conditions are more vulnerable to severe outcomes if they get COVID-19.
A federal judge on Tuesday blocked President Joe Biden's administration from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees of federal contractors, the latest in a string of victories for Republican-led states pushing back against Biden's pandemic policies.
U.S. District Court Judge R. Stan Baker, in Augusta, Georgia, issued a stay to bar enforcement of the mandate nationwide.
The order came in response to a lawsuit from several contractors and seven states -- Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia. It applies across the U.S. because one of those challenging the order is the trade group Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., whose members do business nationwide.
Baker found that the states are likely to succeed in their claim that Biden exceeded authorization from Congress when he issued the requirement in September.
"The Court acknowledges the tragic toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought throughout the nation and the globe," wrote the judge, an appointee of former President Donald Trump. "However, even in times of crisis this Court must preserve the rule of law and ensure that all branches of government act within the bounds of their constitutionally granted authorities."
A White House spokeswoman said the Justice Department would continue to defend the mandate.
"The reason that we proposed these requirements is that we know they work, and we are confident in our ability, legally, to make these happen across the country," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at Tuesday's briefing.
A federal judge in Kentucky also had issued a preliminary injunction against the mandate last week, but it applied only to contractors in three states that had sued together -- Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.
Biden issued an executive order Sept. 9 requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to comply with workplace safety guidelines developed by a federal task force. That task force subsequently issued guidelines that new, renewed or extended contracts include a clause requiring employees to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 18. That meant those receiving a two-dose vaccine must get their second shot by Jan. 4.
Limited exceptions were allowed for medical or religious reasons. The requirements would apply to millions of employees of federal contractors, which include defense companies and airlines.
"This is a big win in removing compliance hurdles for the construction industry, which is facing economic challenges, such as a workforce shortage of 430,000, rising materials prices and supply chain issues," Ben Brubeck, a vice president of the construction industry group said in a statement.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, said in a Twitter message that the ruling will provide relief to workers "who were in fear of being forced to choose between this vaccine and their livelihood."
Other Republican officials also praised the court ruling. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said the mandate was "just an outrageous overreach by the federal government."
With Tuesday's ruling, all three of Biden's broad vaccine mandates affecting the private sector have been put on hold by courts. Judges already issued a stay regarding one that applies to businesses with 100 or more employees and another for health care workers across the U.S.
Separately, Biden has imposed vaccine requirements for employees of the federal government and the military.
Robeson Community College will host a COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Thursday. All vaccines will be available from the three manufacturers - Moderna, Pfizer, and J&J.
Individuals can receive their initial doses or get the booster shot. Get more information here.
North Carolina continues to see worsening signs from statewide COVID-19 metrics.
For the second time in two weeks, the percent positive rate has inched above 9%. The last time that happened was exactly one week ago when the rate was 9.4%.
The majority of cases continue to not require hospitalization, but the state did see its 11th straight day of increases in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations. A total of 1,376 people are fighting the virus under the watchful eyes of hospital staff.
The good news is the percentage of patients who need to be in the ICU or on a ventilator is decreasing. Now just 26% of COVID-19 patients are in the ICU and 15% are on a ventilator.
You can look at the state's metrics yourself at this link.
TUESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on COVID-19 testing and is advising people, even those who are vaccinated, to get a test before they head to an indoor gathering.
The agency said a rapid test ahead of a gathering is important if the gathering includes unvaccinated children and older people who are more vulnerable to COVID-19.
"Even if you don't have symptoms and have not been exposed to an individual with COVID-19, using a self-test before gathering indoors with others can give you information about the risk of spreading the virus that causes COVID-19," the CDC said in its guidance.
If you do test positive, you'll want to self isolate yourself at home for 10 days and wear a mask if you do have to come in contact with others.
Keep in mind, a negative test means the test did not detect the virus, but it doesn't completely rule out an infection. Repeating the test for the next couple of days, at least 24 hours apart, will increase your confidence that you're not infected.