New Wake County COVID-19 testing center pushes back opening to Monday

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

2:11 p.m.
Starbucks, which employs 288,000 people in the U.S., is no longer requiring those workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, reversing a policy it announced earlier this month.

In a memo sent Tuesday to employees, the Seattle coffee giant said it was responding to last week's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 6-3 vote, the court rejected the Biden administration's plan to require vaccines or regular COVID testing at companies with more than 100 workers.

"We respect the court's ruling and will comply," Starbucks Chief Operating Officer John Culver wrote in the memo.

Starbucks' reversal is among the most high-profile corporate actions in response to the Supreme Court ruling.

1:32 p.m.
England is ditching many pandemic restrictions.

Face masks will no longer be mandatory in public places and COVID-19 passports will be dropped for large events as infections level off in most parts of the country, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday.

Johnson told lawmakers that the restrictions were being eased because government scientists think it is likely that the surge of infections prompted by the highly contagious Omicron variant "has now peaked nationally."

While hospitals in northern England still are getting pressed by high caseloads and infections were still rising in schools, Johnson said hospital admissions and patients in intensive care units elsewhere in England were stabilizing or falling.

The government is no longer advising people to work from home, and compulsory face masks will be scrapped in secondary school classrooms starting Thursday.

Mandatory COVID-19 passes will not be needed to gain entry to large-scale events beginning Jan. 27. Face masks will no longer be legally required anywhere in England as of that day.

"We will trust the judgment of the British people and no longer criminalize anyone who chooses not to wear one," Johnson said.

The news was welcomed by businesses, especially those relying on workers re-populating city centers, as well as hospitality and tourism.

Scotland and Wales, which set their own public health rules, have also announced similar easing of restrictions.

12:32 p.m.
NCDHHS reported 17,374 new cases for a total of 2,147,777 since the pandemic began in North Carolina.

It's the lowest daily case count since Jan. 4 (10,276).

The Omicron variant continues to be highly contagious and the numbers bear that out as the daily percent positive set a record with 35.9%, surpassing the previous high recorded one day earlier.

On this day last year, the percent positive was 10.2%.

Hospitalizations also continue to set records. The total of 4,689 daily patients is the highest of the pandemic and beats the record set just one day earlier.

Also, 37 new deaths were reported, bringing the state's total to 20,037.

WEDNESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Because of the high demand for COVID-19 testing, Wake County is opening yet another testing site.

Starting Monday, Highland Baptist Church at 8524 Crowder Road in Garner will join the list of testing sites around the county. This site was scheduled to open today, but we learned early this morning that its opening would be delayed to Monday.

Appointments will be available Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. You can make your appointment here.

Please click here for a full list of Wake County testing sites, so you can make an appointment for the site closest to you.

In addition, more Americans will soon have access to N95 masks for free.

ABC News has learned the White House will be taking 400 million masks out of the strategic national stockpile and shipping them to pharmacies and community centers starting at the end of this week.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued new guidance suggesting people wear KN95 or N95 masks as opposed to cloth ones due to their effectiveness at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

TUESDAY
10:15 p.m.
Wake County School Board members were the sounding board for parents concerned about COVID-19 protocols.

The main focus of the meeting was an information item on virtual learning and why the district can't just go back to that. It was explained by attorney Jonathan Blumberg and it's because of Senate Bill 654.

The General Assembly put significant restrictions on the board's authority to shift (this is the same bill that makes districts vote on masking policy monthly). Individual classrooms or schools can shift if they don't have the staff to reach those particular rooms.

"The starting point today is when is it legal, when does the board, when does the school district have the authority to shift from in-person instruction to remote instruction under the law?" Blumberg said. "You have to meet the calendar law requirements and for you all, that's going to be 1,025 hours, so shifting to remote would that hours count."

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Parents sound off at the Wake school board meeting. Some favored the mask mandate, others did not.



Dr. Chelsea Bartel. a licensed psychologist and parent of two students in Wake County schools, voiced support for mandating masks in schools.

"Thank you for continuing to support masking requirements' there's no scientific evidence to support claims that children and adolescents are psychologically harmed by wearing masks," Bartel said. "The problem is not the masks, the problem is the pandemic and our response to the stress, fear and grief it brings us."

Another parent had a different view.

"I have been before the board before pleading with you to unmask our kids," Bruce Forster said. "Masks are effective at spreading fear. They also make it difficult for kids to learn to speak, starve kids of oxygen needed to perform well, hinder socialization."

As is required monthly, the board is expected to vote on the mask mandate's status at its meeting in February.

-- Reporting by ABC11's Josh Chapin

5:55 p.m.
At a time when the Wake County Public School System is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases following the winter break and emergence of the Omicron variant, new quarantine recommendations could keep more students learning in the classroom.

During Tuesday's school board work session, board members heard from health experts at the state and county level on the updated NCDHHS Strong Schools Toolkit regarding quarantining.

For anyone with COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status, the new recommendations follow CDC guidance to have that person isolated at home for five days; they are then allowed to return to school while masking for five additional days if their symptoms are resolving.

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At a time when the Wake County Public School System is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases, new quarantine recommendations could keep more students learning in the classroom.



For COVID exposures, anyone considered up to date on vaccination is required to mask for 10 days and should test on day five if possible.

If you are not up to date on vaccination, meaning anyone 12 and older who is eligible to receive a booster dose but has yet to do so, you have to quarantine for five days and can return while masking for five more days, testing on day five if possible.

Karen Wade, Senior Policy Advisor with NCDHSS shared updated scientific studies that are driving the change in quarantine policy from the federal level down.

The CDC looked at 113 studies from 17 countries finding THAT transmission of the Omicron variant happens early after infection and has a shorter incubation period of two to four days.

"We're seeing hospitalization and death rates are much lower for vaccinated people for all COVID-19 variants, and they're suggesting the early data from South Africa where the variant originated are that they are lower for people infected with Omicron compared to other variants so that's where this information's coming from that it's less severe even though it's more transmissible."

Health experts leaned heavily in their presentation on the importance of vaccination, booster shots, and masking as effective preventive measures.

Citing statewide data from October to December 2021, Wade said 45 percent of school districts with optional mask policies reported a Covid cluster within their schools, compared to only nine percent of districts where masks are required, such as WCPSS.

Reporting by ABC11's Andrea Blanford

3:20 p.m.
A study at Duke University Hospital shows that hospital rooms where COVID-19 patients were treated had little to no active virus contaminations on surfaces.

The finding, published online in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, concludes that contaminated surfaces in hospitals are unlikely to be a source of indirect transmission of the virus.

"Early on in the pandemic, there were studies that found that SARS-CoV-2 could be detected on surfaces for many days," said the study's senior author Dr. Deverick Anderson, professor in the Department of Medicine at Duke. "But this doesn't mean the virus is viable. We found there is almost no live, infectious virus on the surfaces we tested."

A variety of surfaces in the hospital rooms of 20 COVID-19 patients at Duke University Hospital were tested during several days of hospitalization. Samples were collected from the patients' bedrail, sink, medical prep area, room computer and exit door handle. A final sample was collected at the nursing station computer outside the patient room.

PCR testing found that 19 of 347 samples gathered were positive for the virus, including nine from bed rails, four from sinks, four from room computers, one from the medical prep area and one from the exit door handle. All nursing station computer samples were negative. Of the 19 positive samples, most (16) were from the first or third day of hospitalization.

"While hospital rooms are routinely cleaned, we know that there is no such thing as a sterile environment," Anderson said. "The question is whether small amounts of viral particles detected on surfaces are capable of causing infections. Our study shows that this is not a high-risk mode of transmission."

Anderson added that the findings reinforce the understanding that SARS-CoV-2 primarily spreads through person-to-person encounters via respiratory droplets in the air. He noted that people should concentrate on known anti-infection strategies such as masking and physical distancing to mitigate exposures to airborne particles.

1:48 p.m.
The Wayne County Health Department will not have COVID-19 testing available until further notice. Testing was resumed Tuesday morning, and all test kits have been administered. Demand nationwide for testing remains at an all-time high, and the Health Department is working with NCDHHS to receive additional kits.

Residents who need a COVID-19 test can click here to find another testing option.

1:11 p.m.
Because of more winter weather expected later this week, the Lee County Government Health Department is postponing the planned Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 booster vaccine for 12-15-year olds scheduled for Friday and rescheduling the event for Jan. 28. The vaccination clinic will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Dennis Wicker Civic Center, 1801 Nash St. in Sanford.

"Because of the impending inclement weather, we will be rescheduling our planned COVID-19 booster clinic," Heath Cain, Director of the LCHD said. "This booster vaccine will help to provide extra protection for our younger population and aid in mitigating the spread of the virus. This will allow us to continue working to improve the health of our community."

Appointments may be scheduled online or by phone at (919) 842-5744 (English and Spanish).

12:35 p.m.
COVID-19 metrics continue to set records in North Carolina.

Tuesday's update from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services saw a 33.3% positivity rate, which is the highest ever recorded, breaking Sunday's previous record of 32%.

The state reported 31,902 new cases, which is an 80 percent increase from last week and five times higher than this day last year.

Hospitalizations have also increased--up 16 percent in the last week. The good news is the number of COVID-19 patients needed to be treated in the ICU remains relatively low at 17%; ventilator percentage is also low at 10%.

12:30 p.m.
The NHL plans to stop testing asymptomatic players and staff members following the All-Star break, sources told ESPN.

The NHL and NHLPA have reached an agreement on the matter, though the sides will meet again later this month to assess the climate and formalize.

The NHL will still test all players and staffers before cross-border travel between the United States and Canada. Players who show symptoms will also be required to test.
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