Study suggests omicron variant may overcome immunity protection from previous COVID infection

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

5:14 p.m.
As of 5 p.m. on Friday, at least 9 states -- California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania -- all have now confirmed positive COVID-19 cases of the Omicron variant.

The Philadelphia Department of Health announced on Friday that a man in his 30s from tested positive for the Omicron variant.

"A new variant, especially one that may be more transmissible, means that we have to stay vigilant about taking steps to protect ourselves and everyone around us. I know that this news is especially discouraging as we enter the holiday season, but we can get through this together," said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney in a statement.

Missouri also announced on Friday the state's first case of the Omicron variant in a St. Louis City resident who had recent domestic travel history.

And in Maryland, health officials confirmed Friday that three cases of the Omicron variant had been discovered in the Baltimore area.

Two cases in Maryland involved individuals from the same household, one of whom was vaccinated and had recently traveled to South Africa. The other individual was unvaccinated.

A third unrelated case involves a vaccinated individual, with no known recent travel history. None of the three individuals have required hospitalized.

-- Reporting by ABC News

4:39 p.m.
Scientists in South Africa are sharing early analysis of the possible transmissibility of the Omicron variant.

Early data suggests Omicron variant may be spreading in South Africa twice as quickly as Delta, which had been considered the most contagious/transmissible variant so far.

Scientists caution the preliminary results are interesting, but may not hold true as time goes by. The transmissibility rate may vary significantly in countries - such as the United States -- with different levels of immunity from vaccines or prior infection than in South Africa.

4:30 p.m.
Wake County Public Health has confirmed an outbreak of COVID-19 at Wellington Rehabilitation and Healthcare, 1000 Tandall Place, Knightdale.

This is the facility's fourth outbreak. The previous outbreak occurred in April 2020, December 2020 and August 2021.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services defines an outbreak as two or more people - residents or employees - testing positive for the virus.

3:19 p.m.
Healthier Together, a public-private partnership between the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and NC Counts Coalition, has awarded $500,000 in the second round of grants to support a new cohort of local community groups to support equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines throughout North Carolina.

The following organizations and collaboratives have been selected to receive Healthier Together vaccine equity grants ranging from $15,000 to $60,000 to serve their corresponding counties:

ADLA, Inc. - Wayne; Advocacy House Services, Inc. - Chatham, Harnett, Johnston, Lee; CityGate Dream Center - Alamance; EBC-ATOM, Inc. - Edgecombe, Nash; Faith & Victory Christian Church (FVCC) - Pasquotank;
Fuerza Y Union Multiple (FUM) - Franklin, Granville, Vance, Warren; Hola Carolina, UNIDXS Western North Carolina, and Centro Unido Latino-Americano (CULA) - Burke, Caldwell, Cherokee, Graham, Henderson, Jackson, Rutherford; HOLLA! Community Development Corporation - Anson; Jones County Community Hope - Jones, Lenoir; La Familia Community Health and Comunidad Colectiva - Gaston, Union; Let's Make It Happen Together, Inc. - Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, Lee, Moore, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson, Scotland, Wake; Lila Latino LGBTQI Initiative Inc. - Durham, Orange, Wake; Lionel Lee Jr. Center for Wellness - Cabarrus, Gaston, Mecklenburg; Mujerxs Organizando Oportunidades Notables/MOON - Chatham, Johnston, Nash, Wake; Nariah's Way Foundation - Montgomery, Moore, Randolph; Shackle Free Community Outreach Agency, Inc. - Duplin, Jones, Onslow, Pender, Sampson; The Wright's Center, Inc., Word Tabernacle Church, and the REACH Center - Edgecombe, Nash; True Ridge - Henderson; U2U, NAACP Charlotte, and Climate Reality Project - Mecklenburg; W.A.R. 4 Life, We Are Ready for Life - Alamance, Caswell, Chatham, Durham, Guilford; Whole Man Ministries of NC - Forsyth, Wake.

Grants will fund activities to conduct vaccine outreach and education efforts to help people get connected to first, second, additional or booster vaccines. The equity initiatives also support activities to connect residents to transportation resources, community health workers and COVID-19 testing resources. The funding period is November 2021 through February 2022.

"We greatly appreciate the partnership with NC Counts and our new grantees. Through Healthier Together we've been able to leverage the expertise of community-based organizations to create a two-way street of information from local leaders on how to continue to improve our COVID-19 vaccination and educational efforts," said NCDHHS Chief Equity Officer Victor Armstrong. "This second round of awards is a part of our ongoing effort to partner with our communities in assuring equitable access to vaccines."

1:35 p.m.
South African scientists are warning that reinfections among people who've already battled COVID-19 appear to be more likely with the new omicron variant than with earlier coronavirus mutants.

A research group has been tracking reinfections in South Africa and reported a jump with the arrival of omicron that they hadn't seen when two previous variants, including the extra-contagious delta variant, moved through the country.

The findings, posted online Thursday, are preliminary and haven't yet undergone scientific review. Nor did the researchers say what portion of the reinfections were confirmed as omicron cases - or whether they caused serious illness.

But the timing of the reinfection spike suggests that omicron "demonstrates substantial population-level evidence for evasion of immunity from prior infection," they wrote.

"Previous infection used to protect against delta, and now with omicron it doesn't seem to be the case," one of the researchers, Anne von Gottberg of the University of Witwatersrand, said at a World Health Organization briefing on Thursday.

The study also did not examine the protection offered by vaccination. Coronavirus vaccines trigger different layers of immune response, some to fend off infection and others to prevent severe disease if someone does become infected.

"We believe that vaccines will still, however, protect against severe disease," von Gottberg said.

7:45 a.m.
Germany on Thursday announced a nationwide lockdown for the unvaccinated, as its leaders backed plans for mandatory vaccinations in the coming months.

Unvaccinated people will be banned from accessing all but the most essential businesses, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, to curb the spread of coronavirus, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her successor, Olaf Scholz, announced Thursday, following crisis talks with regional leaders. Those who have recently recovered from Covid-19 are not covered by the ban.

Full story here

6:15 a.m.

A new study from South Africa suggests that the new omicron variant might be more likely to lead to COVID-19 reinfection than prior variants, though more research is needed.

The study, which is not peer-reviewed, found that in November, there was an uptick in the rate of reinfections seen within three months of a primary infection, compared to prior surges driven by the delta and beta variants.

Researchers, who reviewed records of over 2.7 million people in South Africa with COVID-19 infections in 2020 and 2021, assumed many cases in November were caused by omicron, even though the first cases of the variant were not detected there until late November.

The vaccination status of individuals with suspected reinfections was unknown in the study, so it is unclear if they had immunity from prior infection or vaccination.

WATCH: What does it mean that Omicron was designated a COVID 'variant of concern?'
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The CDC has listed the Omicron variant as a "Variant of Concern," listing it alongside Delta in its classification system.



FRIDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Hawaii became the fifth state to detect the omicron variant, after confirming a case through expedited genomic sequencing Thursday, health officials said.

The individual is an unvaccinated resident of Oahu who had a previous COVID-19 infection, the state health department said. The person is reportedly experiencing "moderate symptoms."

The resident has no recent travel history, indicating that this is a case of community transmission, health officials said.

Hawaii joins New York, California, Colorado and Minnesota as states that have identified COVID-19 cases caused by the omicron variant.

THURSDAY
4:11 p.m.
As cases rise in the colder months and amid concerns of a new COVID-19 variant, President Joe Biden looked to boost his struggling administration's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by announcing a plan Thursday for a winter coronavirus strategy that includes making at-home rapid tests free, extending the mask requirement on public transit and requiring more stringent testing protocols for all international travelers.

The latest plan does not include more aggressive measures like requiring testing for domestic flights or mandating testing for passengers after their arrival in the U.S.

Shanessa Vansluytman said she supports Biden's plan to extend the mask requirement on public transportation, including airplanes.

VanSluytman, who was traveling through RDU, told ABC11 that she thinks "it's a good idea."

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People traveling on airplanes and trains will need to continue to wear their masks through the holiday season.



"The more mask mandate there is, hopefully, people will wear them. And it should help you know, with the variant and everything," she said. "My immune system is sensitive. So I gave my sister a kidney, and then I just had knee surgery, and then I had surgery on my chest."

Another traveler, Margaret Lange, just flew back to North Carolina from Hawaii

She also said she agreed with the masking requirement and making at-home rapid tests free.

"I think it's great," said Lange, a Southport resident. "I think we're finally getting on the right track about taking kind of the necessary steps that other countries have taken that have proven very successful in reducing the number of cases of COVID."

But Tim Zapawi, a traveler from Michigan, a state which has faced harsh restrictions, said he would like to see more studies about whether masks really work.

"You just get used to it. It's been a year, year and a half. I find it painful," Zapawi said. "I find it painful that people don't see this for what it is probably."

Kristin Parks Fuqua flew from Massachusetts to the Triangle to visit a friend.

She also said she supports the masking requirement and the free home tests.

"It's not a political issue. It's a safety issue," Parks Fuqua said. "And if people would wear the masks, I mean, masks are horrible. I agree. They're uncomfortable, they're hot. But if they're going to keep you safe, they're are a whole lot better than being in an emergency room or in a hospital on an intensive care unit."

Reporting by ABC11's Gloria Rodriguez

3:11 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department reports 8,069 total positive COVID-19 cases since March 2020.

It also reports 42 new positive COVID-19 cases since Nov. 18 and a total of 144 COVID-19 related deaths countywide since the start of the pandemic.

12:42 p.m.
North Carolina added 3,780 new coronavirus cases, up from 2,350 cases a week ago.

It's the second day above 3,000 cases, mirroring mid-October numbers.

In total there have been 1,540,824 cases in the state since the start of the pandemic,

The daily percent positive is 7.4%, up slightly from the previous day (7.3%).

A week ago, it was 4.9%. The percentage is climbing and staying high but is still not as high as what we saw last year post-Thanksgiving.

Hospitalizations are at 1,214, a daily increase of 57 people. That's compared to 1,087 a week ago.

A total of 31 new deaths were reported, giving the state a total of 18,807 attributed to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

As for vaccinations, 61% of the full NC population is vaccinated; 73% of the adult population.

About 27% of people who are fully vaccinated are also boosted.
Copyright © 2022 ABC11-WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved - The Associated Press contributed to this report.