COVID-19 hospitalizations reach record high, cases drop to lowest mark in 3 weeks

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Here's the latest news and information on COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines.

5 p.m.

Hospitals across the Triangle are filling up with COVID-19 patients, but the latest statewide data shows there is a glimmer of hope.

The analysis shows that cases have dropped to the lowest point in three weeks. There's been a 59% decrease since last Tuesday.

"It's a really positive sign to see case counts dropping," said WakeMed Chief Medical Officer Dr. Chris DeRienzo.

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Hospitals across the Triangle are filling up with COVID patients, but the latest statewide data shows there is a glimmer of hope.

Statewide, however, more people are being admitted into hospitals. More than 5,000 North Carolinians are at facilities right now receiving care -- a record high.

"We have continued to set new records through Omicron. We set records of folks we're seeing in our emergency rooms earlier this month. We set records for number of COVID hospitalizations," said DeRienzo. "The community's patience with healthcare workers -- it's been a very long two years, and we are as ready to get through this wave and get to whatever, what the next step looks like, as everybody else is."

WakeMed is caring for hundreds of COVID-19 patients across three hospitals.

"We are hopeful that over the course of this week we're going to reaching our plateau," said DeRienzo.

The record is being hit as a sub-variant of Omicron is starting to circulate.

DeRienzo says that sub-variant is gaining traction in Denmark and some cases are popping up in the United States.

"I think the core answer right now is Omicron is by no means the last variant that we're going to see and much like every other variant, variants come and variants go," he said. "Omicron spread remarkably fast and so it became the dominant variant here in the U.S. really rapidly and clearly is the dominant variant here in North Carolina. It won't be the last one that we see."

-- Reporting by ABC11's Elaina Athans

12:30 p.m.
For the first time ever, North Carolina has more than 5,000 people in the hospital with COVID-19.

NC Department of Health and Human Services reported new metrics Tuesday. They showed 5,055 people in hospitals across the state with COVID-19.

That comes as new cases reached a three-week low, with 13,017 reported. That's a 59% decrease since last Tuesday.

In addition, the percent of tests coming back positive dropped slightly to 36.4%. That's still higher than the last few weeks and significantly higher than the state's goal of 5%.

Click here to look at the numbers yourself.

7:25 a.m.
Pfizer has begun a study comparing its original COVID-19 vaccine with doses specially tweaked to match the hugely contagious omicron variant.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech announced the study on Tuesday.

COVID-19 vaccine makers have been updating their shots to better match omicron in case global health authorities decide the change is needed.

While omicron is more likely than previous variants to cause infection even in people who've been vaccinated, it's not yet clear that a change to the vaccine recipe is needed.

6:40 a.m.
A new study adds to the growing evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are safe for both pregnant women and women hoping to become pregnant.

The study, which looked at more than 2,000 couples in the United States and Canada, found "no adverse association" between getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and fertility, for both men and women.

On the other hand, men who contract COVID-19 may experience a temporary reduction in their fertility. Couples who had a male partner test positive for COVID-19 within 60 days of their partner's menstrual cycle were 18% less likely to conceive in that cycle, according to the study, published on Jan. 20 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Wake County Public Health Department added two new locations where you can pick up free N95 masks.

The two new locations are the Human Services Center in Raleigh and the Western Health Center in Cary.

The free masks are also being distributed at testing sites and vaccination clinics for people with appointments there.

When picking up a mask, you will be limited to one mask per household member.

Wake County also distributed more than 40,000 N95 masks to community organizations such as churches.

N95 masks are certified to offer more protection against COVID-19 and other illnesses than other face coverings.

The COVID-19 testing site at PNC Arena will close at noon today due to the Carolina Hurricanes hockey game scheduled for tonight.

Cape Fear Valley Health closed its drive-through testing site at Pavilion North this week due to a shortage of testing supplies. The site has been testing 200-300 people per day for the past several weeks.

3:29 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department, NCCU and Radeas Labs have partnered to provide COVID-19 testing events throughout the county on the following dates:

  • Thursday, at Hattie P. Staton Senior Center - 1403 Church St., Scotland Neck from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
  • Friday, at Thomas Shield Community Center - 401 S. Beech St., Hobgood from 9 a.m. to noon.
  • Saturday, at Greater Joy North Church -- 1711 E 10th St., Suite 13, Roanoke Rapids from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
  • Feb. 12 at Ivory Hill Baptist Church - 4505 Medoc Mountain Road, Enfield from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.

The mass COVID-19 testing event at the Roanoke Rapids Theatre, 500 Carolina Crossroads Parkway in Roanoke Rapids, is ongoing. This event will run weekly, Monday-Friday through Feb. 18 from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. daily.

At each of the events, no registration or appointment is required. There are no out-of-pocket costs. Insurance is accepted but not required.

2:57 p.m.
Because of testing-supply issues, Cape Fear Valley Health will close its drive-through COVID-19 testing site at Cape Fear Valley Health Pavilion North this week.

The site, which is located at 6387 Ramsey St., Fayetteville, has been open Tuesdays through Fridays since Oct. 21. The vaccination clinic at the same location will remain open.

Vice President of Pharmacy and Cancer Centers Christopher Tart said the testing site had been seeing 200 to 300 patients per day for the past several weeks.

"We are experiencing a lack of supply availability," Tart said. "We will reevaluate at the end of this week to determine if we can open up the testing site next week."

Other outpatient testing locations in the health system, such as primary care clinics and Emergency Departments, are only offering COVID-19 testing to patients who are symptomatic. Patients who would like a COVID-19 test for travel, return to school, or possible exposure will not be tested at these locations.

2:15 p.m.
Wake County Public Health is expanding locations offering free N95 masks to include the Western Health and Human Services Center in Cary and Wake County Human Services Center (Departure Drive) in Raleigh.

In addition to these two new sites, the two sites that ran out last week - Public Health Center (Sunnybrook Road) and the Southern Regional Center in Fuquay Varina - now have a new supply for the public.

The Wake County Health and Human Services building on Swinburne/Kidd Road will no longer be a distribution site.

Wake County Public Health will distribute masks at the following locations Monday through Friday while supplies last:

  • Wake County Western Health & Human Services Center, 111 James Jackson Ave., Cary, 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.
  • Wake County Northern Regional Center, 350 E. Holding Ave., Wake Forest, 8:30 a.m. - 5:15 p.m.
  • Wake County Eastern Regional Center, 1002 Dogwood Drive, Zebulon, 8:30 a.m. - 5:15 p.m.
  • Wake County Southern Regional Center, 130 N. Judd Parkway NE, Fuquay-Varina, 8:30 a.m. - 5:15 p.m.
  • Wake County Human Services Center (vaccine clinic location), 5809 Departure Drive, Raleigh, 8:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Residents will need to enter the building and pick them up at the information desks at each location. Masks will also be distributed at testing sites and vaccination clinics for those who have an appointment for those services.

There is a limit of one mask per household member.

12:40 p.m.
NC Department of Health and Human Services reports the state set yet another daily percent positive rate record.

Monday's metrics put that positivity rate at 37.8%. The new metrics also included more than 18,000 new positive cases.

Hospitalizations also went up again, now at 4,896.

Click here to look at the numbers yourself.

12:30 p.m.
We're all hoping and waiting for this pandemic to end, and some experts agree we could be getting closer.

According to experts at Duke University, the big question is, where do we go from here?

Ultimately, they say that depends on two things: what the virus does and what humans do.

They say at this point, people need to continue to get vaccinated, wear masks and make changes like canceling travel or isolating during outbreaks of surges.

Experts add we need to move quickly because there is always a potential for a new variant that could be more dangerous than omicron. But if we remain vigilant we could get to an endemic phase-meaning COVID-19 would be treated similar to viruses like the flu.

"I think we are moving in the right direction but we need lay out all of the issues that need to be addressed and make sure we are on vaccine development and vaccine distribution systems and the actual administration system and looking at this problem in a creative way," said Dr. Jonathan Quick, Duke Global Health Institute.

Experts also agree public health officials need to be more clear explaining that this virus and the science are continuing to change and evolve so information and guidance will do the same.

Some COVID-19 testing centers are delaying their openings due to the threat of slick spots on some roads.

All five Wake County testing sites will delay their openings until 10 a.m. Monday.

Those sites are expected to be quite busy Monday due to the delayed opening and the many appointments missed since Thursday due to the threat of weather. Officials said anyone who missed their appointment because of the weather the last few days can show up to get tested today.

The NC Department of Health and Human Services testing sites in Wake County, which are operated b Mako Medical will all open at their normal time. That means the sites at PNC Arena, Mudcat Stadium, WakeMed Soccer Complex and Highland Baptist Church are open from 7 a.m. - 4 p.m. and the Word of God location is open from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Those sites do not require appointments, but you do need to register before you show up.

Click here for full details and registration links for all testing centers in Wake County.

Durham County's COVID-19 testing sites at Durham County Memorial Stadium, El Centro Hispano and Wheels Fun Park all open Monday at 10:30 a.m. The vaccine clinic at Durham County Public Health is also not opening until 10:30 a.m.

Wayne County is set to reopen its testing facility Monday after running out of tests last week. The county health department said it received a shipment of 200 tests and will administer them starting Monday on a first-come, first-served basis.
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