COVID-19 hospitalizations in North Carolina jump more than 80% in two weeks as cases surge

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

11 p.m.
The Rev. William Barber said on social media that he has tested positive for COVID-19. Barber said his symptoms so far "are very mild."

The activist, who is vaccinated, said he will notify close contacts and isolate for five days.

Barber also encouraged people who have not done so to get vaccinatged or receive a booster shot as soon as possible.

6 p.m.
A steady stream of people continued to fill Wake County's COVID-19 testing sites.

One of those people, Jorge Olea, has had a frustrating few days.

"The first day, I remember I had gotten a cold," Olea told ABC11. "The next day, it was Christmas. And I wasn't feeling good. And I was like, man why am I feeling like this?"

Olea found out that he tested positive for COVID-19 and said he got it from a co-worker at a restaurant where he works.

"Right now, I'm feeling good," Olea said Wednesday.

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Steady lines for testing continue in Wake County amid the Omicron variant surge.

On Wednesday afternoon, he was in line at a drive-up testing location at MLK and Rock Quarry Road, hoping for a better result.

"But at the same time, kind of nervous because what if I come out positive again?" he said. "I don't want to be in that situation again."

Meanwhile, in a White House COVID-19 media briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci cautioned Americans from referring to Omicron as "less severe," in an effort to get people to take it seriously.

Fauci cited hospital staffing shortages across the country.

Omicron symptoms have generally been much milder than COVID-19 caused by the Delta variant.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky spoke about at-home rapid tests.

"The FDA has authorized these rapid tests for early in the disease course, the first seven days," she said. "They've said that these tests are for qualitative purposes, not quantitative purposes, meaning we can't tell how transmissible you are based on a positive or a negative test and that negatives, you know, are often most helpful when we're using them serially multiple times in a row."

Walensky says all the pushback made it clear that people wanted to use the rapid tests for this exact purpose -- not to tell if you had COVID or not, but to tell if you were through with COVID or not.

Back in Raleigh, some people weighed on when the pandemic might transition to an endemic.

"I don't have a choice," Gerald Rich said with a laugh. "I don't have a choice at all."

Ceran DeCesaris of Raleigh also had thoughts on when the pandemic will run its course.

"I think it's 50% mindset, 50% just what it is," DeCesaris said. "Because the way we're seeing it, the way we're like visualizing it in our worlds. Or the way we're like scared of it or not scared of it, has a lot to do with it I believe."

Kristen Frandock, of Raleigh, said she decided to get tested even though she is "up-to-date" on her vaccines and booster.

"I feel like it's a requirement honestly," Frandock said. "If I've been around them, to keep everybody safe, the best thing to do is take precaution and get tested."

-- Reporting by ABC11's DeJuan Hoggard

3:42 p.m.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein encouraged North Carolinians to report price gouging related to the coronavirus pandemic to the North Carolina Department of Justice.

You can report potential price gouging by filing a complaint here or by calling (877) 5-NO-SCAM. The AG's office said it has anecdotally heard that there may be price gouging occurring on at-home COVID tests

"Even as people continue to get vaccinated, we are still very much in this pandemic," said Stein. "If you are shopping for COVID-19 tests or other pandemic-related goods and services in the coming weeks and see excessive prices, let my office know. I have already taken successful action against those who attempt to unlawfully take advantage of North Carolinians during this crisis, and I will not hesitate to in the future."

North Carolina's price gouging statute, which prohibits charging too much for goods and services during a crisis, is in effect today under Executive Order 245 and stays in effect until April 5.

3:27 p.m.
Wake County Public Health has confirmed outbreaks of COVID-19 at a dozen facilities:
  • Springmoor Life Care Retirement Community, a continuing care retirement community at 1500 Sawmill Road, Raleigh. This is the facility's fourth outbreak. The past ones occurred in June 2020, August 2021 and September 2021.
  • BellaRose Nursing and Rehab, 200 BellaRose Lake Way, Garner. This is the facility's fourth outbreak. The past ones occurred in June 2020, December 2020 and August 2021.
  • Sunrise of Cary, an assisted living and memory care facility at 1206 W. Chatham St., Cary. This is the facility's second outbreak. The last one occurred in January 2021.
  • Cadence Garner, an assisted living and memory care facility at 200 Minglewood Drive, Garner. This is the facility's second outbreak. The last one occurred in December 2020.
  • The Covington, an assisted living and memory care facility at 510 Duraleigh Road, Raleigh. This is the facility's first outbreak.
  • Tarabella Northridge, an assisted living and memory care facility at 421 Van Thomas Drive, Raleigh. This is the third outbreak for the facility, which was previously named Elmcroft of Northridge. The past outbreaks occurred in July 2020 and August 2021.
  • Swiftcreek at the Templeton of Cary, an assisted living and memory care facility at 221 Brightmore Drive, Cary. This is the facility's first outbreak.
  • The Oaks at Whitaker Glen-Mayview, a long-term care facility at 513 E. Whitaker Mill Road, Raleigh.
  • Waltonwood Cary Parkway, an assisted living and memory care facility at 750 S.E. Cary Parkway, Cary. This is the facility's fourth outbreak. The past ones occurred in June 2020, November 2020 and October 2021.
  • Sunnybrook Rehabilitation Center at 25 Sunnybrook Road, Raleigh. This is the facility's fourth outbreak. The past ones occurred in April 2020, January 2021 and April 2021.
  • Brighton Gardens of Raleigh, an assisted living and memory care facility at 3101 Duraleigh Road, Raleigh. This is the facility's second outbreak. The last one occurred in October 2020.
  • Cary Health and Rehabilitation Center, a skilled nursing facility at 6590 Tryon Rd. in Cary. This is the facility's 5th outbreak. Previous outbreaks were June, November and December 2021 and August 2021.

The county's Public Health team is reaching out to all long-term care facilities in Wake County to emphasize the proactive measures that need to be taken during this surge in Omicron cases to avoid outbreaks.

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.

2 p.m.
Fayetteville State University is pushing back the start of the spring semester a week because of the surge of COVID-19 cases.

Chancellor Darrell Allison said in a letter sent to the Bronco community, "As we continue to monitor the cases in our county and throughout the state, we are planning to move towards a more aggressive plan that will help us properly execute re-entry testing and increase vaccinations among our population."

The start date is being moved from Jan. 12 to Jan. 19.

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Fayetteville State delays opening of the spring semester after concerns about Omicron variant surge

Sophomore Jaaylen Lewis was expecting a setback.

"It's like 2020 again," he said.

Lewis said the situation wasn't great going into the winter break.

"Everybody was getting sick. Last semester, everybody had to go in this little building back here -- the ones that were on quarantine. So I'm not surprised," said Lewis.

Other protocols are being implemented on campus.

There's temporary suspension on visiting to residential halls, having fans at athletic games, using rental facilities or hosting large events, and indoor dining.

All facilities are offering food to go and ABC11 did see people walking out of the student center with containers.

One faculty member says all these steps are necessary as cases are surging with the Omicron variant.

"COVID has done a number for family, friends, everyone," said Fayetteville State faculty member Brian Thomas. "We just want to everybody to be safe, that's all it is."

University leaders said vaccinationa are a big step in keeping everyone safe.

Shots and boosters are being offered on campus.

-- Reporting by ABC11's Elaina Athans

12:33 p.m.
House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, announced the formation of the Joint Legislative Committee on Access to Healthcare and Medicaid Expansion.

The purpose of the Committee as identified in the 2021 State Budget is to consider various ways in which access to health care and health insurance can be improved for North Carolinians.

There are six Republicans and three Democrats on the committee.

"Members of the Joint Legislative Committee on Access to Healthcare and Medicaid Expansion will thoroughly investigate the healthcare needs in our state and explore all options to improve upon the state of healthcare in North Carolina," Moore said. "I have every confidence that the result of this committee's work will benefit all North Carolinians."

Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, is the co-chairman of the committee.

"Our committee will explore and seek solutions to critical healthcare issues with the goals of broadening access to quality health care for working people, lowering health insurance premiums for everyone, addressing the cost of uncompensated care especially for rural hospitals, and providing more affordable healthcare options to help small businesses retain employees," Lambeth said.

12:15 p.m.
COVID-19 metrics continue to balloon in North Carolina.

In the last two weeks, 1,400 more patients have been hospitalized with the virus--an increase of more than 80%.

That comes as the state sets new record highs for the number of positive cases and daily percent positive rate. Wednesday's numbers show 20,770 newly reported cases with a 31.8% positivity rate.

Tuesday saw Gov. Roy Cooper and NCDHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley warn that cases were surging and everybody needed to get vaccinated.

That's because vaccinated people who do catch COVID-19 have less severe symptoms and rarely need to be hospitalized for treatment.

Pediatric hospitalizations have also increased from 1% of all cases to 1.8% of all cases. These are children too young to be eligible to get vaccinated.

12:10 p.m
NC Central University announced its next three men's basketball home games will be postponed.

The games were set to be played against Mid-Atlantic Christian, Morgan State and Coppin State, but all will be played at a later date because of COVID-19 protocols for people within the Eagles program.

Rescheduled dates have not been announced at this time.

11:45 a.m.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport reports 16 flights had to be canceled this morning and 16 had to be delayed.

Those cancellations and delays are part of the ongoing staffing issues the airlines are dealing with during the pandemic.

With the COVID-19 pandemic surging once again, every day thousands of people are trying to get tested for the virus.

That high demand is causing long lines at testing sites across North Carolina. In Wake County, lines Tuesday at multiple testing sites snaked around buildings and down the road.

To help alleviate the backup, a new testing site is opening Wednesday at South Bridge Fellowship Church off Strickland Road.

This site, unlike many other Wake County locations, does not require an appointment. Testing hours are from 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Meanwhile, the CDC is updating its isolation guidance for people infected with COVID-19. The agency now says people should get tested at the end of a 5-day isolation period. If that test is positive, they should isolate for another 5 days.

If the test is negative, they can leave isolation but be sure to wear a mask until at least day 10.

Speaking of masks, children in Wake County Public School System will need to continue masking up. The school board voted Tuesday night to continue its mask policy.

In addition, WCPSS leaders said there were no plans for the district to move to more virtual learning as COVID-19 cases surge.

8 p.m.
The Wake County school board voted unanimously to continue the face-masking policy for students and staff regardless of vaccination status.

Wake County Public School System Superintendent Cathy Moore said the board is not considering a move to fully remote learning or to open seats in the Virtual Academy because of the Omicron variant surge.

Moore said the focus is on in-person learning.

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The Wake school board voted to continue the mask mandate but said there were no plans to return to virtual learning.

The school board is also looking to fill the chair position vacated by Keith Sutton, who left to become superintendent of Warren County Schools.
6 p.m.
If you're planning on getting a COID-19 test in Wake County, get prepared to make yourself comfortable if you will be testing at several sites across the county.

At Wake County's busiest location, on Kidd Road near WakeMed, some drivers were waiting for nearly 90 minutes to get tested.

"Get here early. That's all I can tell you," said Quincy Mack. "Bring some food because you're going to wait."

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Some people waited as long as three hours at one testing site.

Tuesday, long lines stretched around the neighborhood adjacent to Word of God Fellowship in Raleigh. Mako Medical representatives operate the site on Rock Quarry Road that has been open just before Christmas.

Throughout the holidays, Mako staff have been experimenting with logistics on how best to move people through the testing line.

However, some residents are finding themselves waiting nearly three hours.

"Have patience," said Sochem Mie. His reason for testing is "just to make sure I don't have it."

For others, such as Lacarus Debnam, who admittedly was not socially distant over the holidays, testing was a necessity.

"I'm going to stay here (in line) because I got to get it done," he said. "You got to deal with it. We all in this together."

Debnam's wait in line at Word of God was just shy of three hours.

Newlyweds, Laura and Brandon Kear, were waiting with a positive attitude while hopeful for negative test results.

"Just hoping it might be a cold with this cold weather moving in and people getting sick," said Brandon Kear. "It's a nice day though. It's a nice little extra day off from the weekend. We can relax in the car."

Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Susan Kansagra said North Carolina is following CDC guidance on when people should get tested.

That includes being exposed to the virus and having symptoms, even if vaccinated, plan on being around high-risk individuals, and monitoring for symptoms.

"If you are exposed to COVID-19, you should quarantine for 5 days and then get a Covid-19 test," said Kansagra.

-- Reporting by ABC11's DeJuan Hoggard

2:15 p.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper and NCDHH Secretary Kody Kinsley joined forces to again urge all North Carolinians to get vaccinated and boosted.

North Carolina set another daily percent positive record Tuesday with 29.7 percent. That number included 10,276 new positive COVID-19 cases.

Fortunately, the vaccine is working. It is keeping nearly all of the people who are fully vaccinated and boosted from having to go to the hospital for treatment.

"Fortunately, for people who have been vaccinated -- and especially those who have gotten boosters -- the new Omicron variant has been less severe than previous variants," Cooper said. "With these vaccines and boosters we have an amazing tool to save people's lives and beat this pandemic - and we'll keep our foot on the gas when it comes to getting more shots and more boosters administered."

That fact combined with the 69% of North Carolinians who are fully vaccinated is why the state has not needed to revert back to lockdown.

Kinsley was asked about what is being done to help alleviate the wait times for COVID-19 testing across the state.

He said the state was only in charge of 10% of COVID-19 testing, but said the government was working hard to procure more tests and distribute them more widely.

"Testing and wearing a mask are essential tools in slowing the spread of COVID-19," Kinsley said. "But the bottom line is that vaccines and boosters are the No. 1 thing you can do to protect your health."

Cooper also announced plans to extend Executive Order 224, which aims to curb COVID-19 by requiring vaccines or testing of state employees in cabinet agencies.

To date, North Carolina has administered over 14.8 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 69 percent of the adult population fully vaccinated. About 74 percent of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, including 95 percent of North Carolinians 65 and over. About 44 percent of eligible adults have received their booster shots.

11:25 a.m.
Lines started forming before sunrise at PNC Arena on Tuesday.

The people waiting weren't in line for a Carolina Hurricanes playoff game or an exclusive concert, instead, they were trying to get tested for COVID-19.

One thing contributing to the long lines was the fact that the facility was closed Monday because of severe weather.

"It was better than I expected, especially because we tried coming yesterday. We didn't realize the weather had closed it until we got here," Jamie Lewis-Owen said.

Long lines were also seen at Word of God Church in Raleigh and at Wake County's Kidd Road testing location.

"I figured I was going to get here a little early, the line wasn't going to be that long. But it is what it is," Larry Edwards said. Edwards' told us he ended up waiting about 20 minutes to get his test; others after him had much longer waits.

Meanwhile, the newly opened testing site at Five County Stadium barely had any cars in the area.

Click here for more info on testing in Wake County.

9:50 a.m.
Cumberland County Schools (CCS) will have students return to in-person class Wednesday.

That decision comes despite the increase in COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant.

The district's school board met Tuesday morning to discuss educational options following the winter break.

"In light of the COVID-19 metrics in our county and understanding that many of our staff, students, and their families may have been exposed to COVID-19 over the break, we felt obligated to explore all possible options upon our return from winter break," CCS Superintendent Dr. Marvin Connelly, Jr. said.

Despite some pushback from school board members, Connelly ultimately decided to move forward with in-person education starting Jan. 5.

"I do think it should be a vote because myself, as a board member, I do not agree with this recommendation," Carrie Sutton said. "I don't agree with it because we have a 22 percent infection rate."

Students and staff will continue virus mitigation efforts like hand washing, social distancing and mask-wearing. The school will also limit in-school visitors and reduce capacity at athletic events to 50 percent.

"We are confident in our ability to move forward with this option with the continuing possibility that individual classrooms and schools may need to temporarily shift to remote learning in the future based on COVID-19 conditions," Connelly said.

The COVID-19 testing sites run by Wake County won't open Tuesday until 10 a.m.

Anyone with an appointment scheduled for before 10 a.m. can stop by the clinic anytime before 7 p.m.

The three drive-thru testing sites organized by the NC Department of Health and Human Services will open on time Tuesday. These three sites had to close Monday due to weather damage.

President Joe Biden is set to get an update today from the White House COVID Response Team.

The president will hear about personnel being sent to states to help with staffing problems. In addition, he will get updates on the push to expand access to COVID-19 treatments.
Closer to home, Gov. Roy Cooper will give a statewide update on the pandemic. He'll be joined by the state's newest health secretary, Kody Kinsley.

Kinsley is taking over from Dr. Mandy Cohen.
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