A leading UNC Health expert advises to use COVID-19 testing strategically

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

9:50 P.M.
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.

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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 on 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.

FRIDAY
6:30 p.m.
The Chatham County Public Health Department published a new resource: the COVID-19 Facts FAQ. This online tool covers questions that CCPHD staff have heard many times throughout the pandemic, such as:

  • Why should I wear a mask if I have been vaccinated?
  • Why does guidance from the CDC and other public health organizations change so much?
  • How many deaths have been caused by the vaccine?
  • Can't we trust our natural immunity to protect us, especially if we've already had COVID-19?


"More than one in five COVID-19 tests in Chatham County is coming back positive," said Chatham County Public Health Director Mike Zelek. "Testing options are available in Chatham, but with the rise in cases results may take longer than usual to get back. Consider asking for a rapid test to get more timely results."

If residents have recently been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms, there are many testing sites across Chatham County where they can be tested. A full Chatham-specific list can be found at .

These rising numbers, driven by the very contagious spread of the Omicron variant, heighten the importance of all Chatham County residents doing what they can to limit the spread and protect themselves and others: get vaccinated and boosted, wear a mask in crowded indoor public spaces, practice social distancing, and get tested if you do not feel well or are exposed to COVID-19, the health department said.

"We've received a lot of questions over the last two years, and we do our best to address these as honestly as possible while acknowledging the concerns many have," said Zelek. "With this tool, we hope to respond to these questions with a straightforward answer while also providing background and further resources for those interested.

5:33 p.m.
The Halifax County Health Department has partnered with Radeas Labs to provide a drive-thru COVID-19 testing event at The Roanoke Rapids Theater, 500 Carolina Crossroads Parkway in Roanoke Rapids. This event will begin Wednesday and will continue through Jan. 21. It will then run weekly, Monday-Friday through Feb. 18. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. No registration or appointment is required. There are no out-of-pocket costs and insurance is accepted but not required.

2:33 p.m.
The Wayne County Health Department will resume free rapid COVID-19 testing on Tuesday from 8:15-11:45 a.m. and 1-4:30 p.m. at 1320 W. Grantham Street in Goldsboro (former Food Lion building in the Little River Square shopping center.) Testing will be first come, first served in a drive-through setting. Please enter the parking lot and will follow the signage for rapid testing. Results will be provided on-site after the testing is completed. Testing was paused in December because of a nationwide shortage of test kits.

1:22 p.m.
In response to the current surge of COVID-19 cases, Wake County and its testing partners want to ensure residents are aware of all opportunities for COVID-19 testing throughout the community.

"Being fully vaccinated and boosted, as well as having access to testing, are important tools in decreasing the spread of this virus, reducing hospitalizations and severe illness," said Dr. José Cabañas, Wake County's Chief Medical Officer. "If you test positive for COVID-19, we strongly encourage you to isolate at home for five days to avoid sharing this highly contagious variant with your family, friends and loved ones."

New sites continue to be added in Wake County.

Starting Tuesday, Baptist on Mission will be moving its testing site from Southbridge Fellowship Church in Raleigh to Summit Church - Capital Hills Campus in Raleigh. It will operate Monday through Friday from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. The address is 3901 Capital Hills Drive. No appointments are necessary. There are no out-of-pocket costs and insurance will be accepted but not required.

1:15 p.m.
NCDHHS reported 35,759 new cases for a total of 2,011,302 since the pandemic began. This is the highest daily increase of the pandemic.

A week ago, there were 28,474 cases added. A year ago at this time, the case count was 9,853

The daily percent positive is 31.6%, slightly up from 30.1% the previous day.

Hospitalizations set another record with 4,381 and there are 106 more patients since the previous day. A week ago, the number was 3,474.

The percentage of COVID-19 patients in the ICU is the lowest in more than a year (18%), however,, and the same is true for patients on ventilators (11%).

There are 53 new deaths reported for a total of 19,903 statewide.

1:04 p.m.
To encourage mask usage and to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Moore County, the Moore County Health Department will host a free N95 mask distribution event. This event will be held Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 1p.m. at the Moore County Agricultural Center, 707 Pinehurst Ave. in Carthage.

FRIDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Hospitals are not immune to the weather. Local hospitals are keeping a close eye on the forecast as they continue to deal with a surge in COVID-19 cases.
UNC Health said it is prepared to treat anyone in need. The hospital group said it does not normally see an uptick in patients during storms, but it does tend to see more patients in the immediate aftermath.

"(After the storm), that's when we see the traumatic-related events of slips and falls, people trying to dig out. And so, making sure that you're being very careful in that scenario in terms of prevention beforehand as you mentioned. Having enough supplies on hand, to ensure you have medications, food (and) any other heat source that is potentially safe" said Dr. Abhi Mehrotra, the Vice Chair of Operations for the UNC Department of Emergency Medicine.

UNC Health said people should prepare now by making sure they have enough medicine and being sure to stay cautious even after the storm passes.

SEE ALSO: Triangle hospitals report highest number of pregnant patients with COVID-19 during pandemic

A new study found unvaccinated pregnant women with COVID-19 and their newborn babies have a higher risk of complications from the disease compared with those who are vaccinated.

In the study, published Thursday in Nature Medicine, researchers from Public Health Scotland looked at vaccination rates and COVID-19 outcomes in 131,875 pregnant women in Scotland between Dec. 8, 2020, and Oct. 31, 2021, when the delta variant was dominant.

They found that 90.9% of COVID-19 hospital admissions, 98% of intensive care admissions and all 450 newborn deaths were in unvaccinated pregnant women.

The study reiterates the importance of pregnant women getting vaccinated against the virus due to a greater risk of dangerous health complications from COVID-19. A growing body of research has shown the vaccines to be safe and effective for pregnant women.
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