RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Here's the latest news and information on COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines.
The Wake County government said it broke its own personal best for number of free COVID-19 tests performed in a single day.
On December, 23, the county performed 12,322 tests at public health sites.
The flood of tests came as people set off to gather for the holidays with their families and friends; all while cases tick up across the country due to the omicron variant.
FRIDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Word of God Fellowship church on Rock Quarry Road in Raleigh is offering last minute COVID testing Friday, December 24 from 7:00am to 3:00pm.
Wake County COVID testing sites will be closed Friday and will reopen on Monday, December 27.
Mako Medical is setting up the site to help with increased demand of testing before the holiday. Pre- registration is required.
United Airlines has canceled at least 120 flights nationwide for Christmas Eve.
An airline spokesperson told ABC11 that the "nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation."
United said it is notifying affected customers in advance of them going to airports.
"We're sorry for the disruption and are working hard to rebook as many people as possible and get them on their way for the holidays," the spokesperson added.
There was no immediate word on how many flights out of RDU may be affected.
Delta Airlines has also canceled 90 Christmas Eve flights citing Omicron and the potential for bad weather.
As always, the best advice is to check your flight before you leave for the airport.
READ MORE: Raleigh family's cautionary tale: Stuck abroad for the holidays after a positive COVID test
Long lines were seen across the Triangle as people raced to get COVID-19 test results before Christmas.
One testing site in Wake County saw more than 700 people Thursday and plans to do it again Friday beginning at 7 a.m.
Terri Blanc was one of those who got her nose swabbed in the parking lot of Word of God Fellowship Church.
Blanc, a Wake County grandmother, like many others across the state was in a hurry to get a COVID-19 test before Christmas.
"I just found out about an hour ago that I was exposed on Tuesday," Blanc said. "I don't expect that I have it. I am fully vaccinated and boostered."
Being vaccinated and having a booster shot is no guarantee that you won't get COVID-19. However, ample data shows the measures do greatly reduce the risk of serious illness or hospitalization.
Nevertheless, a positive test could jeopardize so many holiday plans.
Blanc is scheduled to serve hot chocolate at her church and spend time with her children and grandchildren on Christmas Day.
"It depends on the result," she said. "If it's a negative, then no it hasn't. If it's a positive then it will change my plans."
Across town at a testing site on Kidd Road, there was bumper-to-bumper traffic, with some drivers in line for hours.
That's where we found Juliana Card patiently waiting her turn.
"Just trying to make sure that we are negative before we have family come in," said Juliana Card, one of those patiently enduring the line.
There were no major lines outside of Word of God Fellowship. Still, the demand prompted Mako Medical, the provider, to reopen this free testing site on Christmas Eve.
Military veteran Douglas Washington made it just in time Friday before heading to South Carolina for the holiday.
"Trying to keep the spread of this virus down, said Washington, a Wake County resident. "Better safe than sorry."
Testers said Washington and others could get their results within 24-28 hours.
Here's where to sign up for testing at Word of God.
-- Reporting by ABC11's Tim Pulliam
A federal judge in Florida on Wednesday blocked President Joe Biden's requirement for federal contractors to receive coronavirus vaccines, adding to a series of legal setbacks for the mandate.
U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday wrote that Florida's lawsuit against the rule demonstrated a "substantial likelihood" that the White House did not have the authority to set the requirement.
The preliminary injunction in Florida comes after a federal judge in Georgia this month had already blocked enforcement of the rule nationwide. Judges in Missouri and Kentucky have issued similar rulings.
The decision marks one of the latest victories for Republican-led states challenging Biden's vaccine mandates, which the White House argues are necessary to protect Americans during the pandemic. Florida, along with other GOP states, conservative organizations and businesses, have also filed suit against White House vaccine mandates for health care workers and companies with more than 100 employees.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has railed against Biden's pandemic policies and recently signed legislation that requires businesses to let workers opt out of coronavirus vaccine mandates. DeSantis is running for reelection and is widely considered to be mulling a 2024 presidential run.
The requirement for federal contractors stems from a September executive order issued by Biden in September. Florida sued the following month.
Separately, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday said it will hold a special session in just over two weeks to weigh challenges to the White House vaccine requirements for businesses and health care workers.
The Marine Corps discharged 66 Marines in the past week for refusing to get the coronavirus vaccine as mandated by the military. The Corps continues to outpace the other services at discipline related to the shots, with the total number of Marines booted out for vaccine refusal now at 169. The latest actions come as COVID-19 cases surge across the country as a result of the omicron variant. The infection rise also hit close to the Defense Department's No. 2 leader. The Pentagon says seven staff members who traveled with Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks last week have tested positive. Hicks and members of her personal staff have so far tested negative.
Preliminary data suggests that people with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus are 50% to 70% less likely to be hospitalized than those with the Delta strain, Britain's public health agency announced Thursday in a finding that one researcher called "a small ray of sunlight."
The findings from the U.K. Health Security Agency add to emerging evidence that Omicron produces milder illness than other variants.
Based on cases in the U.K., a person with Omicron is estimated to be 31% to 45% less likely to go to a hospital emergency department compared to someone with Delta, "and 50 to 70% less likely to be admitted to hospital," the agency said.
It cautioned that the analysis is "preliminary and highly uncertain" because of the small number of Omicron patients in hospitals and the fact that most were in younger age groups. As of Dec. 20, 132 people had been admitted to U.K. hospitals with confirmed Omicron. Fourteen of them died, all between the ages of 52 and 96.
Countries around the world are looking closely at Britain, where Omicron is now dominant and where COVID-19 cases have surged by more than 50% in a week.
Experts not involved with the analysis called it encouraging.
"To me, it's a small ray of sunlight among all the dark clouds," said Dr. Jonathan Li, director of the Harvard/Brigham Virology Specialty Laboratory.
The findings add to similar data from South Africa, added Dr. Bruce Walker, director of the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard.
Walker said there are still unknowns, such as the relative severity of omicron in someone who's been vaccinated compared with someone who's had COVID-19 before or someone who is unvaccinated and has not had the disease.
Vaccination remains crucial, he said.
"The bottom line is the best way that somebody can prepare for this new wave is to get immunized, and if somebody is already immunized, to get a booster," said Walker, who is an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also supports The Associated Press' Health and Science Department.
THURSDAY MORNING HEADLINES
In the latest update from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, officials noted that 24% of cases in the week ending December 11 were post-vaccination. While that seems high--this marks a decrease from the previous week. Since January 1, 88% of cases have been in unvaccinated individuals.
Overall, of the more than 5.3 million North Carolinians who have been vaccinated since January 1, just 2% have tested positive for COVID-19.
Last week, approximately one out of every six people in the hospital for COVID-19 was fully vaccinated, according to the data. About 12.6% of people in the ICU for COVID-19 were vaccinated.
To help meet rapidly increasing community needs, Wake County Public Health is doubling the number of daily COVID-19 testing appointments starting Thursday, bringing the total number of slots to roughly 13,000 daily across all five drive-thru testing sites.
This new capacity is in place for Thursday, meaning nearly 7,000 new appointments are now available for Thursday.
The public can immediately begin booking those appointments online at WakeGov.com/vaccine. All sites are open Thursday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and will re-open Monday, after the Christmas holiday.
Test results from these Wake County Public Health sites continue to come back in fewer than 12 hours and require no cost, no ID and no insurance.
Joining in the effort to address the recent COVID-19 surge in Wake County, the NC Department of Health and Human Services is also opening a drive-through testing site Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Word of God Fellowship Church, 3000 Rock Quarry Road. right off I-40 in southeast Raleigh. There are no out-of-pocket costs for testing at this site. Registration is required, and insurance information, if available, should be completed in advance. Test results at this location should be returned within 12-36 hours.
You can also request a free at-home testing kit. It will be shipped to you overnight via FedEx.
Texas A&M will not participate in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl because of COVID-19 issues and season-ending injuries within the program, leaving Wake Forest without an opponent as officials try to find a replacement team, it was announcedWednesday.
The game is scheduled for Dec. 31 in Jacksonville, Florida.
Wake Forest still wants to play, but the No. 17 Demon Deacons (10-3) would need another team to be freed up from a bowl game if another team were to drop out.
The Gator Bowl said it was "aggressively" working with the NCAA to find a replacement team over the next few days. Wake Forest said it also is working in collaboration with the Gator Bowl and the ACC to help find an opponent.
Illinois (5-7), which was officially eliminated from bowl contention once all eligible teams were selected on Dec. 5, is open to the possibility of playing in a bowl game, sources told ESPN. Marshall, which lost to Louisiana last week in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, also is interested in being a replacement opponent, sources told ESPN.
"Waiting by the phone.... #ILL #famILLy," Illinois coach Bret Bielema posted on Twitter on Wednesday.
Tweeted Marshall coach Charles Huff: "Someone said one more game???...
The Halifax County Health Department reports 66 new cases since Dec. 16 of COVID-19 for a total of 8,227 total positive COVID-19 cases since March 2020.
One additional death has been added for a countywide total of 146.
The daily percent positive is 6.5%, an increase from the previous week's 5%.
The Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts in Greensboro has announced updates to its health and safety protocols effective Dec. 28, which is the opening night of the touring Broadway production of "Come From Away".
- Face coverings are required inside the Tobee & Leonard Kaplan Theater.
- Food and beverage items are not permitted in the seating area.
Both of these policies will be in effect for all events until further notice. As previously announced, select Tanger Center events also require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for admission.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has announced new spring testing requirements.
The university described the extra steps it is taking for the spring semester.
1. Prior-to-arrival testing will be required for unvaccinated students.
2. Prior-to-arrival testing will be required for all students living in residence halls, regardless of their vaccination status.
3. Prior-to-arrival testing will also be strongly recommended for all undergraduate and graduate students living in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, regardless of their vaccination status.
This test will need to be completed in the window of 72 hours before arrival on campus. If you are in one of these groups, this means you will need to get a PCR test from a health care provider before returning to campus. It is important to know that some providers can take 2-3 days to get results so please plan ahead and limit your interactions after testing. For students who cannot locate a free community testing center and have to pay for a COVID-19 test, the University will reimburse testing costs for their prior-to-arrival testing up to $65 with a receipt. Please save the receipt, and we will provide more information on that process in the coming days.
Once a result is received, students will need to upload the results to the Student Requirements Dashboard on Connect Carolina. If you receive a positive result, do not return to campus and potentially put others at risk. Please isolate in your current location and notify your instructors if you will miss classes. Instructors should be as flexible as possible during these initial two weeks of the semester as we anticipate some students will be delayed in their return. The steps of the return process are outlined on the Carolina Together website as well.
Any changes to spring 2022 operations will be announced no later than Jan. 3.
COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters are available on a walk-in basis at Campus Health Pharmacy and Student Stores Pharmacy for students, faculty and staff. No appointment is necessary. Bring your insurance card, and if receiving a COVID-19 booster, your COVID-19 vaccination card. While the clinics will be closed for the holidays Dec. 24-Jan. 2, they are open through Dec. 23 and open again for regular hours on Jan. 3. The regular hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. at both pharmacies.
Wake County Public Health has confirmed outbreaks of COVID-19 at the following facilities:
- Waltonwood Lake Boone Assisted Living and Memory Care Facility at 3550 Horton St. in Raleigh. This is the facility's third outbreak. The previous outbreaks occurred in February 2021 and November 2020.
- Wake County Detention Center at 3301 Hammond Rd. in Raleigh. This is the facility's fourth outbreak. The previous outbreaks occurred in August 2021, July 2021 and August 2020.
- Wake County Public Safety Center at 330 S Salisbury St. in Raleigh. This is the facility's second outbreak. The previous outbreak occurred in December 2020.
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.
Duke University announced it would be moving all classes off campus to start the spring semester.
A message sent Wednesday to all students, faculty and staff cited "rapid spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19" as the reason why classes would be held virtually in January.
For now, all classes from Jan. 5-8 will be virtual. In-person instruction for most classes is expected to resume Jan. 10, but it's possible that some classes will remain remote.
The Atlantic Coast Conference announced Wednesday that it has modified its 2021-22 COVID-19 rescheduling policy.
If possible, games that cannot be played as scheduled will be rescheduled. If a game cannot be played and cannot be rescheduled, it will be considered a no contest.
For men's and women's basketball, a team must have a roster minimum of seven game-available student-athletes and one countable coach to play a game. If a team does not have the requisite number of participants and elects not to play, the game shall be a no contest. If a team has the requisite number of participants and does not participate, the game will be declared a forfeit. This policy shall be retroactive to any results beginning with the 2021 ACC winter sports schedule.
The Wake County Health Department said it has more than 1,000 appointments available before Christmas Eve, some as soon as today at some locations.
"We added an additional 2,000 appointments per day this week to accommodate holiday and travel testing, bringing the total available per day to 7,000," a spokesperson said.
People can make appointments online at wakegov.com/testing.
Testing sites are closed Friday and Saturday for Christmas and also closed on Sundays.
President Joe Biden plans to announce on Tuesday that his administration will distribute 500 million free at-home rapid tests to Americans beginning in January to combat the surging omicron variant.
Americans will be able to request the tests through a website that will launch next month and they will be delivered by mail.
Rapid at-home tests are also known as antigen tests. They look for antigens, or proteins from the coronavirus.
This is different from polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which are considered the "gold standard" when it comes to COVID-19 testing. They look for genetic material from the virus.