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."
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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%.
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.
A leading UNC health expert spoke to ABC11 about the future of the Omicron variant as well as COVID-19 testing.
Dr. David Wohl of UNC Health said if people are symptomatic, then getting a test is a good idea. But he's not sure it is worth waiting in line for testing for people who are asymptomatic.
"Unfortunately, some places are requiring people who are testing positive for COVID to test again to show that they're negative after a certain number of days, but we really don't understand how these tests work, how many days it takes to be negative, and what a positive test means as far as being infectious," Wohl said. "There are so many people with just a sniffle or no symptoms shedding virus, I don't know how testing is really going to protect us as much as it maybe would have during Delta."
Wohl advised using the test strategically.
"If the test is going to change how you interact with other people, if the test is going to change how you travel, how you do things then maybe it's worthwhile, but if it's not going to change anything, I don't think you need to be standing in that line," he said.
As for the Omicron variant, Wohl said it's fine that a lot of people got tested before and after the holiday, but it's "better to look at hospitalizations and ICU admissions; that's what we should be keeping track of; still mostly a pandemic of the unvaccinated."
So, are we just now living with COVID? Wohl thinks so.
"I think we already are," he said. "There are basketball games going on, there's bars and restaurants open, certainly different when we were at the peak of Delta, certainly different than a year ago so in many ways we've started to live with this."
He noted that proportionally we have more cases with Omicron but it's not causing as many people to be sick as previous incarnations of this coronavirus.
It's going to mean more built-up immunity that will help with the next variant. But that doesn't mean you should try to go get COVID-19 now just to "build" immunity.
"No doctor worth their stripes will say go out and get it, there's too many reasons not to do it, not to go out and find," Wohl said. "One is you may lose the COVID lottery and end up really, really sick."
Hospitals are stretched already, Wohl added, They don't need patients coming in who could have not needed care.
-- Reporting by ABC11's Josh Chapin
MONDAY MORNING HEADLINES
The state-operated COVID-19 testing sites in Wake County will not open until 11 a.m. Monday.
Those sites usually open a few hours before that, but due to lasting dangers from Sunday's winter weather, the sites decided to delay openings Monday.
The county-operated sites are closed Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
In other headlines, scientists warn that omicron's whirlwind advance practically ensures it won't be the last version of the coronavirus to worry the world.
Every infection provides a chance for the virus to mutate, and omicron has an edge over its predecessors: It spreads way faster despite emerging on a planet with a stronger patchwork of immunity from vaccines and prior illness.
That means more people in whom the virus can further evolve. Experts don't know what the next variants will look like or how they might shape the pandemic, but they say there's no guarantee the sequels of omicron will cause milder illness or that existing vaccines will work against them.