Gov. Roy Cooper speaks about the COVID-19 pandemic as families prepare to gather for the holidays

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

8:13 p.m.
President Joe Biden released a statement on 800,000 American deaths from COVID-19.

"As we mark the tragic milestone of 800,000 American deaths due to COVID-19, we remember each person and the lives they lived, and we pray for the loved ones left behind. I know what it's like to stare at an empty chair around the kitchen table, especially during the holiday season, and my heart aches for every family enduring this pain.

To heal, we must remember. We must also act. That's exactly what we have done over the past 11 months. We stood up a historic vaccination program, and 240 million Americans have stepped up and gotten at least one shot. As a result, we have saved over one million American lives, and spared families in every community across the country the incalculable loss that too many others have suffered.

Today, more than 200 million Americans are fully vaccinated, and each day, more people are getting boosted than ever before. As we head into the winter and confront a new variant, we must resolve to keep fighting this virus together. This means getting vaccinated and getting your booster shot, and taking other prevention measures, such as masking.

The vaccines are safe, effective, free, easy, and our best tool to prevent more loss and pain. If you were fully vaccinated before mid-June, please go get your booster shot as soon as possible. And if you haven't already - please get yourself and your school-age children vaccinated.

I urge all Americans: do your patriotic duty to keep our country safe, to protect yourself and those around you, and to honor the memory of all those we have lost. Now is the time."

3 p.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen provided an update on the state's COVID-19 key metrics and trends.

"As new variants emerge and COVID continues to circulate, getting vaccinated and then boosted is the best way to protect yourself and get us out of this pandemic," said Cooper. "Vaccines and boosters are widely available, and you can make an appointment today to give yourself this protection and more peace of mind."

North Carolina's key metrics have all been increasing, including people going to the Emergency Department with COVID-like symptoms, cases, the percent of tests that are positive, and hospitalizations. In addition, the state is once again classified as red by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating high community transmission.

With the holidays approaching and people getting together, there is greater risk of getting and spreading COVID-19.

"People who are unvaccinated are vulnerable to COVID-19. Almost all hospitalizations and deaths are in people who are not vaccinated," Secretary Cohen said. "If you haven't got vaccinatedyet, pleasetalk with a doctor, nurse or other medicalprofessional. With the holidays, colder weather and the potential of a new variant approaching, please don't wait any longer to get vaccinated."

Cooper and Cohen also highlighted changes in federal law that make obtaining health insurance more affordable. In North Carolina, as many as 116,500 uninsured people are newly eligible for lower premiums, while 112,600 more may be eligible for coverage at no cost. The funding for this is through the American Rescue Plan, which became law in March.

The deadlines to enroll and to take advantage of lower premiums are fast approaching. Those who need coverage in place by Jan. 1 must sign up by Wednesday. Open enrollment ends Jan. 15, with coverage taking effect at later dates. At HealthCare.gov, North Carolinians can compare plan benefits, costs and other features. Plans include essential health benefits and preventive care, in addition to mental health care, emergency room care and maternity coverage, not limited by caps or pre-existing conditions.

To date, North Carolina has administered over 14 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 69 percent of the adult population fully vaccinated. 73 percent of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, including 94 percent of North Carolinians 65 and over.

2:30 p.m.
The National Hockey League announced that, as a result of four additional Carolina Hurricanes players entering the NHL's COVID Protocols, the team's game tonight against the Minnesota Wild will be postponed.

The decision was made following consultation by the NHL's, NHLPA's and Club's medical groups. The League will provide a further update Wednesday.

The Hurricanes organization has followed, and will continue to follow, all recommended guidelines aimed at protecting the health and safety of its Players, staff and community at large as set by the NHL, local, state and national agencies, the league said.

12:15 p.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper will be joined by state health officials at 3 p.m. to speak about the COVID-19 pandemic.

The press conference comes just 11 days before Christmas, as many families in the state prepare to gather with loved ones.

Cooper and health leaders are expected to talk about mitigation efforts all families should undertake to make sure they have a fun and safe holiday.

12 p.m.
North Carolina reports first flu death of the season.

The person who died tested positive for the flu and negative for COVID-19. They were from the western part of the state.

7:30 a.m.
A new COVID-19 treatment could potentially be authorized by the end of the year, according to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

Bourla said the company is submitting data to the FDA on its COVID-19 pills, which likely also work against the omicron variant.

TUESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
One year ago, on Dec. 14, 2020, Sandra Lindsay, an intensive care nurse from Northwell Health, became the first American to roll up her sleeve and receive a COVID-19 vaccine, following the green light from federal authorities.

"That day, when that needle pierced my arm, all I felt was this huge boulder, this weight just roll off my shoulders. I'm always optimistic, but my light got even brighter that day," Lindsay told ABC News.

Lindsay's image rapidly circulated across the country, a symbolic representation of the light at the end of the tunnel after the pandemic had forced families apart, shuttered businesses and schools and confined millions of Americans to their homes.

"I just felt hopeful for myself, for the entire country, for the world -- that yes, the day that we've waited so long for healing is coming," Lindsay said.

The country's unprecedented creation and rollout of the vaccine was once considered a nearly impossible feat, given that vaccine development is often a long and arduous process, requiring years of regulatory and manufacturing hurdles to be overcome before it can be made available to the general public.

However, leaning on years of prior research on vaccine technology and with support from the federal government, the process was expedited, allowing for emergency authorization of the shots less than a year after work began.

"When the vaccine first became available a year ago, it seemed miraculous that a vaccine could be developed, rigorously tested in large clinical trials and ready to go in less than a year after the virus was identified," Dr. Stephen Morse, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, told ABC News. "That's an amazing accomplishment considering that we really didn't have the infrastructure for a rapid national mass vaccination campaign when we started."

Nevertheless, hundreds of millions of Americans are now inoculated -- but tens of millions of others remain completely unvaccinated, an ongoing hurdle that experts say will likely result in the loss of tens of thousands of more lives.

MONDAY
1:50 p.m.
COVID-19 cases continue to increase in North Carolina, according to data from NCDHHS.

Hospitalizations are also increasing, but the increase of COVID-19-related hospitalizations is slower than it was a week ago.

There were 34 people who died over the weekend. That's right in line with the number that died the weekend before.

MONDAY MORNING HEADLINES

It's been one year since the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shipped across the country.

To date, more than 200 million people are fully vaccinated, with another 54 million being fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot.

Now, some teens in the Triangle will be able to get their booster shots.

Wake and Durham counties will start giving out Pfizer booster shots to 16 and 17 year olds Monday.

Appointments are available at all health department clinics in Wake County. Durham County Department of Public Health said it is also accepting appointments or the teens can arrive during walk-in hours: Monday, Wednesday or Thursday from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. & Tuesday from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Anyone getting their booster dose is asked to bring their vaccination card with them.

FRIDAY
10:50 p.m.
Infectious disease experts weighed in with ABC11 now that the first case of the Omicron variant has been reported in North Carolina.

Earlier today, UNC Charlotte said a student has tested positive for the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The student, who was fully vaccinated, traveled out of state during the Thanksgiving break. They have since recovered from their symptoms.

Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an Infectious Diseases Specialist at Duke University Hospital, said there is still a lot we don't know about the Omicron variant

WATCH: Dr. Wolfe discusses Omicron with ABC11's Josh Chapin
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Infectious disease experts weighed in with ABC11 now that the first case of the Omicron variant has been reported in North Carolina.



He said it does appear to be more infectious and maybe will make you sicker faster -- but perhaps not "as sick."

Omicron might be correlated to more breakthrough infections, but that's unclear right now, Wolfe said.

"Whether it truly outcompetes our current Delta issue is unknown," Wolfe said. "It certainly appears to be doing that in South Africa, but we have a Delta issue in the United States. It's not yet an Omicron issue. Again there's no reason being fully vaccinated and boosted won't help you get away with a really mild illness if you get sick at all."

He urged people to get booster shots if they are eligible.

"What this should be is a good alert to people to say we are coming into winter, we know cases are on the rise of Delta, so use this as a pre-Christmas travel plan to get boosted, and if you feel sick get a test because we know these are coming," Wolfe said.

Dr. Katie Passaretti is an infectious disease expert at Atrium Health in Charlotte, which had a news conference minutes after the university's announcement.

"Again early reports out of South Africa suggest the severity of the illness might be a bit less, which is a very good thing, but we are still very early in what we are learning, and we need to continue to monitor that over time," Passaretti said.

Wolfe said any large surge in cases will hit the healthcare system in ways "that make it more complicated."

"It is with some anxiety that you see the rates of hospitalizations in North Carolina have plateaued and as winter and Thanksgiving and we're coming into Christmas, they've drifted back up again," Wolfe said.

He had a message for those who have not been vaccinated.

"If you're unvaccinated at this point, you have to start thinking about when you get COVID, and what is that going to mean for you," Wolfe said. "What does that mean to take 10 days out of work as you recover or not be allowed to go back to any small business."

He said he hopes Omicron proves to be "mild" as early data suggests, but "I don't think we know that yet."

-- Reporting by ABC11's Josh Chapin

5:16 p.m.
More than 50 million Americans have now received a booster shot, according to newly updated CDC data, ABC News reported..

On average, federal data shows about 2.03 million total shots are being administered each day. More than half of those shots -- 1.1 million -- are booster doses.

The data also shows that more than half of fully vaccinated people 65 years and older have received a booster.

3:13 p.m.
The Durham County Department of Public Health will begin offering booster doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines for people ages 16 and 17.

To receive a booster vaccination at DCoDPH, all eligible individuals may call (919) 560-9217 to schedule an appointment, or visit the clinic at 414 E. Main St., Durham during our walk-in hours Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Tuesdays 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

In addition to booster vaccinations for all people 16 or older, DCoDPH also continues to provide first second dose vaccinations for all people ages 5 and older, and third dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccinations for people who are moderately to severely immunocompromised.

2:45 p.m.
Eligibility for Pfizer's COVID-19 booster shot has been expanded to include 16- and 17-year-olds, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends a booster for 16- and 17-year-olds following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's emergency use authorization for 16- and 17-year-olds to receive a Pfizer booster six months after the date of their second Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Recent studies indicate that while protection against severe disease and death remains strong for individuals who are fully vaccinated, people may be more likely to develop milder or asymptomatic COVID-19 over time, including 16- and 17-year-olds. A single booster dose will help provide continued protection against COVID-19. Data on Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine show they are safe and effective, NCDHHS said.

2 p.m.
It was only a matter of time, and now North Carolina has reported its first case of the Omicron variant.

UNC Charlotte said a student has tested positive for the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The student traveled out of state during the Thanksgiving break and has subsequently recovered from their symptoms.

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North Carolina reports its first Omicron variant case and other coronavirus updates from Friday.



All close contacts were notified through the University's contact tracing protocols, and no additional positive cases have been identified.

The university said students, faculty and staff must adhere to campus face-covering requirements, and, if unvaccinated, must continue to participate in the ongoing weekly mitigation testing.

The university also said it is offering optional exit testing for students and employees who wish to be tested prior to traveling for the winter break.

1:46 p.m.
No, COVID-19 vaccines don't cause immunodeficiency syndrome.

A claim making the rounds on social media say COVID-19 vaccines are causing a new illness called "VAIDS," short for vaccine acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

VAIDS is not a real condition, nor do COVID-19 vaccines cause a syndrome matching this description, an immunotherapy expert confirmed to The Associated Press.

Widely circulating Twitter and Reddit posts falsely identified VAIDS as an emerging condition that is "similar to AIDS but caused by the shots.

"Some social media users kept their posts vague, asking, "What is VAIDS?" Meanwhile, Google searches for the term skyrocketed. A blogger identified only as "Jack" also claimed to have coined the term, writing on Nov. 23 that "sometimes, a situation calls for the creation of a brand new term," and defining it as the "gradual destruction of the human immune system by vaccines."

In reality, there's no such thing as VAIDS, and research shows the available COVID-19 vaccines provide recipients with increased protection against the coronavirus.

"AIDS is a generalized body-wide compromise of a specific subset of immune cells (mostly CD4+ lymphocytes) caused specifically by infection with the HIV-1 virus," said Dr. Grant McFadden, director of the Biodesign Center for Immunotherapy, Vaccines and Virotherapy at Arizona State University. "There is no vaccine-induced counterpart of AIDS."

Given that billions of people around the world have already been vaccinated against COVID-19, McFadden said, "if such a thing as VAIDS existed, we would have detected it by now."

A search across legitimate biomedical literature found no mention of vaccine acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others shows the COVID-19 vaccines boost the immune response. The mRNA vaccines work by training the immune system to recognize the spike protein on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19, allowing it to generate an immune response, experts say.

12:45 p.m.
North Carolina is reporting 3,606 new coronavirus cases for a total of 1,566,269 since the start of the pandemic.

The total is down from a week ago but well up from two weeks ago when 1,988 cases were added

Despite today's lower number, the average weekly average is increasing (3,180 new cases a day this week vs. 2,265 last week).
The percent positive stands at 7.4%. It remains high but stable as the previous day saw 7.1%.

Hospitalizations are at 1,493, with 20 new ones added. Since Thanksgiving, 455 more patients have been hospitalized.

Twenty-one new deaths were recorded, bringing the state total to 18,976.

As for vaccinations, 62% of the full NC population is at least vaccinated; 73% of the adult population

NCDHHS said 58% of the state's population is fully vaccinated; 69% of the adult population is fully vaccinated

11:43 a.m.
Wake County Public Health will be expanding its COVID-19 vaccine offerings on Monday to administer single-shot boosters of Pfizer-BioNTech to 16- and -17-year-olds.

"This is another step forward in extending protections against COVID-19 for everyone in Wake County," said Wake County Associate Medical Director & Epidemiology Program Director Dr. Nicole Mushonga. "Now is the perfect time before the holidays to better protect your teenagers before they travel or attend family gatherings."

Wake County has been administering Pfizer booster doses since September and Moderna boosters since November to anyone 18 years of age and older. Now, the CDC is expanding those eligible for Pfizer booster doses by recommending booster shots for all vaccinated people ages 16 years and older.

Residents 18 years and older will be able to receive any authorized brand of the COVID-19 vaccine for their booster shot. Some people may prefer the vaccine type they originally received, and others may prefer to get a different brand of the booster.

Those seeking a booster shot can go to any provider that has COVID-19 vaccine as long as it has been six months after their initial series of Pfizer or Moderna, and two months after their first dose of Johnson & Johnson. Recipients do NOT need to go back to the place where they received the first two doses. All five of Wake County Public Health's vaccine clinics will be offering all brands, with appointments six days a week, including evening and Saturday hours. Walk-ins are no longer permitted. You can also call the N.C. COVID-19 Help Line at (888) 675-4567.

There is no cost, no ID, no insurance and no proof of medical condition or employment required. You must bring your vaccine card. Staff will check the N.C. COVID-19 Vaccine Management System to confirm your vaccination record. You will be asked to self-attest that you are from the eligible populations for Pfizer and Moderna boosters.
Copyright © 2022 ABC11-WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved - The Associated Press contributed to this report.