NC COVID-19 cases continue to trend upward; Wake County expands testing appointments

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

4:15 p.m.
Wake County Public Health has confirmed an outbreak of COVID-19 at Universal Healthcare North Raleigh at 5201 Clarks Fork Drive.

This is the facility's fifth outbreak. The previous outbreaks occurred in July 2020, November 2020, March 2021 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. Because of the possibility for rapid spread of COVID-19 in long-term settings,

3:30 p.m.
North Carolina reported an increase in cases compared to a week ago at this time.

The state reported 2,101 new cases. Last Monday, 1,725 cases were added. Though the numbers are trending upward the past couple of weeks, there were still three times more cases reported (6,438) this week in 2020.

The daily percent positive is 7.7%, an improvement from last week's 8.3%. This time last year it was at 9.8%

A total of 1,307 hospitalizations were reported, 105 more than Friday and up from a week ago (1,077). This time last year, however, 2,247 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 related issues.

A total of 35 new deaths were recorded, bringing the state's total to 18,860.

NCDHHS reports that 62% of the state's population is at least partially vaccinated and 73% of the adult population is fully vaccinated.

About about 29% of people who are fully vaccinated have also received a booster shot.

As for the weekend, 8,568 new cases were identified. This is an increase from the previous weekend, which was Thursday-Sunday because of Thanksgiving when there were 8,172 new cases.

12:19 p.m.

Citing the holiday season and rising COVID-19 cases, Wake County is increasing testing appointments by more than 50%.

The county is adding nearly 1,900 new slots per day, six days a week, to the testing calendar to prioritize symptomatic residents and people who've been exposed to a positive case, while still accommodating those who want to make sure they're virus-free before attending holiday gatherings.

"Since we started offering free COVID-19 testing in 2020, Wake County has diligently monitored the data and changed its testing structure and capacity based on need," said Chief Medical Officer Dr. José Cabañas. "This is no different. We see increased demand on the horizon, and we're taking the necessary steps to accommodate it."

The newly added appointments are available via the county's COVID-19 website. They bring the total number of slots offered per day to nearly 4,900. The county's testing sites are open Monday-Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with clients typically receiving their results in 12-24 hours or less.

You can also request a free at-home testing kit. It will be shipped to you overnight via FedEx. Your results will be available online usually within 1-2 days after your sample arrives at the lab.

FRIDAY'S HEADLINES

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.

Copyright © 2022 ABC11-WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved - The Associated Press contributed to this report.