10 new mass testing sites open Wednesday in North Carolina, including 1 in Cary

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

7:45 p.m.
Because of COVID-19 protocols and an ongoing bus driver shortage, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools said three bus routes will not have a driver on Thursday morning.

  • Bus 88: Glenwood Elementary, Culbreth Middle, Carrboro High
  • Bus 103: Carrboro Elementary, McDougle Middle, Carrboro High
  • Bus 129: Glenwood Elementary, Chapel Hill High School


Families of students who ride those buses may need to make alternate arrangements for their students to get to school on Thursday morning.

Families can contact the Transportation office at (919) 942-5045 beginning at 6:30 a.m. and the school system will arrange to have a bus pick up their student as soon as one can be made available. The student will not be considered "tardy" as a result of this.

5 p.m.
Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, made the reporting of rapid antigen test results mandatory Wednesday as it experienced its deadliest day of the pandemic with 21 deaths.

State Premier Dominic Perrottet said residents who failed to register a positive rapid antigen test would face a fine of up to 1,000 Australian dollars (US$721) starting next week.

Perrottet said the registration process was simple and would help health officials provide more support to people with underlying health conditions.

The 21 deaths reported in New South Wales on Wednesday topped the previous record of 18 set on Monday. The state saw 34,759 new COVID-19 cases and 2,242 hospitalizations, including 175 patients in intensive care.

However, New South Wales also reported that for the first time, patients who are fully vaccinated make up by far the majority of hospitalizations.

The data shows that as of Jan. 9, people who are double vaccinated make up 68.9% of hospitalizations while unvaccinated patients make up just 28.8%.

Vaccinated people also made up the majority of ICU patients (50.3%).

However, the vast majority of the population is vaccinated. Among those 12 and older, 92.5% are double vaccinated and officials say unvaccinated people still have a much higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19.

4:45 p.m.
Wake County Public Health has confirmed outbreaks of COVID-19 at two facilities.

The first is at Brookdale of Wake Forest, at 611 Brooks St., Wake Forest. This is the facility's fourth outbreak. Previous outbreaks occurred in October 2021, January 2021 and May 2020.

The second is at Tower Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 3609 Bond St., Raleigh. This is the facility's fourth outbreak. Previous outbreaks occurred in August 2021, March 2021 and June 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.

1:32 p.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper announced plans to help combat staff shortages in K-12 school districts across the state during the current surge of COVID-19 cases. The policy will allow state employees to use volunteer days with supervisor approval to work in North Carolina public schools as substitute teachers, bus drivers and cafeteria staff.

"It is critical that we keep children learning in the classroom safely," said Cooper. "This policy will encourage state employees to lend a helping hand to our students at a time of severe staffing challenges for our public schools."

For much of the 2021-22 school year, many school districts have experienced a greater need for substitute teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria staff and other support personnel who can fill in for employees who need to isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19, the governor's office said.

"State employees always step up to help our state in challenging times and this policy gives our talented employees yet another way to serve their communities," said Barbara Gibson, State Human Resources Director.

Under the updated policy, state employees are eligible to use community service leave for time spent training to be a substitute teacher, substitute teacher's assistant or other substitute staff at a school or school district. State employees are also eligible to use community service leave for other volunteer activities, regardless of compensation.

"We appreciate Governor Cooper's willingness to move quickly to address the current staffing crisis caused by the omicron variant," Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras said. "This is one more tool we can use to keep our classrooms and schools open for our students."

The policy will be effective starting today and end Feb. 15.

1:23 p.m.
North Carolina reported 25,445 new cases for a total of 1,930,710 since the start of the pandemic.

A week ago, there were 20,770 cases added, and two weeks ago, the number was 9,377 cases.

The daily percent positive is 30.9%. A week ago it was 31.8%. It was just 10.2% this time last year.

There are 107 new hospitalizations, bringing the total to a record-high 4,098. A week ago, the number was 3,099.

Fifty-seven new deaths were reported for a total of 19, 763 statewide since the start of the pandemic.

11:34 a.m.
Scientists are seeing signals that COVID-19s alarming omicron wave may have peaked in Britain and is about to do the same in the U.S., at which point cases may start dropping off dramatically.

The reason: The variant has proved so wildly contagious that it may already be running out of people to infect, just a month and a half after it was first detected in South Africa.

Read more here.

11:20 a.m.
The CDC says it plans to update its mask guidance to "best reflect the multiple options available to people and the different levels of protection they provide."

The CDC did not say when its guidance will be updated. In the meantime, the CDC said in a statement, "any mask is better than no mask, and we encourage Americans to wear a well-fitting mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19." Click here for more.

WEDNESDAY MORNING HEADLINES

Ten new mass COVID-19 testing sites open in North Carolina today, including one at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.

Demand continues to rise for testing as cases surge throughout North Carolina and across the country.

The new location at WakeMed Soccer Park will provide drive-through testing from Monday-Friday 7 a.m. - 4 p.m. The location will remain open at least through the end of January.

The location provides PCR testing and will get results back to you within 24-48 hours.

Appointments are not required, but organizers say you do need to pre-register in order to get tested.

This is all part of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services' plan to combat the surge of cases. The department has also ordered 700,000 professional and at-home rapid tests.

Meanwhile, the federal government is sending 10 million additional COVID-19 tests to schools every month. The government is also working to figure out how to best use testing sites to help schools across the country remain open.

Locally, Wake County Public School System said individual schools can switch to remote learning if 20 percent or more of a school's staff is absent. However, the district wants principals to first consult with WCPSS administrators to try and figure out another option.

TUESDAY
4:50 p.m.
Durham city and county leaders asked for the public's help in slowing down the spread of COVID, stressing the importance of vaccinations and booster shots as the best protection against the virus.

Rod Jenkins, Durham County Public Health Director, said the county is experiencing a surge in cases mostly caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant and holiday activities.

In all of 2021, Durham reported 25,894 cases, averaging 2,123 a month. So far in January, Jenkins said the county has seen 5,993 cases.

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Rod Jenkins, Durham County Public Health Director, said the county is experiencing a surge in cases mostly caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant and holiday activities.



The rapid spread is happening in a community that's among those leading the state in vaccinations with 71.8 percent of the population, 5 and older, fully vaccinated.

Jenkins urged Durhamites to make sure they're up to date on vaccination and a booster if eligible, avoid gathering unmasked indoors with people from other households, stay home if sick and get tested for COVID if possible.

In the days ahead, Durham will be handing out 60,000 durable face masks and distributing 8,800 at-home tests while supplies last, Jenkins said.

-- Reporting by ABC11's Andrea Blanford

3:13 p.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is pulling all available levers to support existing testing sites, to open more sites across the state and to increase access to at-home collection kits.

NCDHHS contracted with two more testing vendors to expand local testing options and expanded the footprint of the existing 12 vendors to cover hundreds of no-cost testing sites across the state. More than a million professional rapid antigen tests, at-home rapid antigen tests and at-home collection kits are also on their way to the state.

"Before case numbers began breaking records, we already were working with our vendors to secure more testing kits and testing supplies," said NCDHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley. "With part speed and part tenacity, we continue to work to stay two steps ahead of a constantly evolving virus and crisis situation, increasing access to testing."

With the surge, NCDHHS has ordered an additional 700,000 professional and at-home rapid test kits, bringing the total on their way to the state to more than 1 million. Priority groups for test distribution in addition to schools, health departments, long-term care facilities and health centers include farmworker camps, tribal health clinics and free and charitable clinics. A number of community-based organizations also assist with distributing tests and reaching historically marginalized populations.

In addition to the tests, NCDHHS has delivered more than 250,000 swabs, antigen kits and other testing supplies to testing partners statewide. With connections to NCDHHS vendors, 10 counties have opened new sites or will open them in the coming weeks. Counties stretch from west to east and include Caldwell, Forsyth, Franklin, Halifax, Mecklenburg, Sampson, Transylvania, Wake, Wilson and Guilford - where a mass testing site at the Greensboro Coliseum that opened this weekend through a partnership between Mako Medical, Cone Health and Guilford County. NCDHHS is in the process of requesting federal support for staffing and supplies at the Greensboro site and possibly other testing locations.

1:55 p.m.
As expected, the proportion of the Omicron variant in the U.S. continues to grow. The Omicron variant is estimated to account for 98.3% of new cases in the U.S., as of Jan. 8, according to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday.

Five weeks ago, in early December, Omicron was estimated to account for 0.6% of all new cases. These figures are calculated using modeling; thus, they may not be exact and should be characterized as estimates.

The Delta variant now accounts for only 1.7% of new cases nationally, forecasters estimate.

In three areas of the country -- the deep South, the Southeast, and the New York-New Jersey region -- Omicron is estimated to account for more than 99% of new cases.

1:28 p.m.
The City of Kinston is implementing a temporary mask mandate for all visitors inside city facilities. The mandate will continue until at least Feb. 1.

12:45 p.m.
North Carolina is reporting 17,705 new COVID-19 cases and a daily percent positive of 30.5%.

There are 3,991 hospitalizations 141 new patients), the second-highest hospitalization day of the pandemic, just one patient below the record set on Jan. 12, 2021.

Some good news, the number of ICU patients is not even close to a record, ranking 79th.

There were 21 new deaths reported, for a total of 19,706 since the start of the pandemic.
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