RALEIGH, N.C. -- Here's the latest news and information on COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines.
As cases rise in the colder months and amid concerns of a new COVID-19 variant, President Joe Biden looked to boost his struggling administration's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by announcing a plan Thursday for a winter coronavirus strategy that includes making at-home rapid tests free, extending the mask requirement on public transit and requiring more stringent testing protocols for all international travelers.
The latest plan does not include more aggressive measures like requiring testing for domestic flights or mandating testing for passengers after their arrival in the U.S.
Shanessa Vansluytman said she supports Biden's plan to extend the mask requirement on public transportation, including airplanes.
VanSluytman, who was traveling through RDU, told ABC11 that she thinks "it's a good idea."
"The more mask mandate there is, hopefully, people will wear them. And it should help you know, with the variant and everything," she said. "My immune system is sensitive. So I gave my sister a kidney, and then I just had knee surgery, and then I had surgery on my chest."
Another traveler, Margaret Lange, just flew back to North Carolina from Hawaii
She also said she agreed with the masking requirement and making at-home rapid tests free.
"I think it's great," said Lange, a Southport resident. "I think we're finally getting on the right track about taking kind of the necessary steps that other countries have taken that have proven very successful in reducing the number of cases of COVID."
But Tim Zapawi, a traveler from Michigan, a state which has faced harsh restrictions, said he would like to see more studies about whether masks really work.
"You just get used to it. It's been a year, year and a half. I find it painful," Zapawi said. "I find it painful that people don't see this for what it is probably."
Kristin Parks Fuqua flew from Massachusetts to the Triangle to visit a friend.
She also said she supports the masking requirement and the free home tests.
"It's not a political issue. It's a safety issue," Parks Fuqua said. "And if people would wear the masks, I mean, masks are horrible. I agree. They're uncomfortable, they're hot. But if they're going to keep you safe, they're are a whole lot better than being in an emergency room or in a hospital on an intensive care unit."
Reporting by ABC11's Gloria Rodriguez
The Halifax County Health Department reports 8,069 total positive COVID-19 cases since March 2020.
It also reports 42 new positive COVID-19 cases since Nov. 18 and a total of 144 COVID-19 related deaths countywide since the start of the pandemic.
North Carolina added 3,780 new coronavirus cases, up from 2,350 cases a week ago.
It's the second day above 3,000 cases, mirroring mid-October numbers.
In total there have been 1,540,824 cases in the state since the start of the pandemic,
The daily percent positive is 7.4%, up slightly from the previous day (7.3%).
A week ago, it was 4.9%. The percentage is climbing and staying high but is still not as high as what we saw last year post-Thanksgiving.
Hospitalizations are at 1,214, a daily increase of 57 people. That's compared to 1,087 a week ago.
A total of 31 new deaths were reported, giving the state a total of 18,807 attributed to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
As for vaccinations, 61% of the full NC population is vaccinated; 73% of the adult population.
About 27% of people who are fully vaccinated are also boosted.
A person in California became the first in the U.S. to have an identified case of the omicron variant of COVID-19, a U.S. official told The Associated Press on Wednesday. It comes as scientists continue to study the risks posed by the new strain of the virus.
The Biden administration moved late last month to restrict travel from Southern Africa where the variant was first identified and had been widespread. Clusters of cases have also been identified in about two dozen other nations. The official could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was moving to tighten U.S. testing rules for travelers from overseas, including requiring a test for all travelers within a day of boarding a flight to the U.S. regardless of vaccination status. It was also considering mandating post-arrival testing.
Officials said those measures would only "buy time" for the country to learn more about the new variant and to take appropriate precautions, but that given its transmissibility its arrival in the U.S. was inevitable.
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 3,039 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, surpassing 3,000 new cases for the first time since October 21.
The surge in new cases still doesn't represent cases related to Thanksgiving gatherings among unvaccinated family members, which won't appear for at least another week or two.
The percentage of positive tests dropped to 7.3%, still much higher than the state's goal of 5%, indicating community spread is rampant.
Additionally, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 increased for the second day.
WEDNESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Starting today, anyone who would like to get a COVID-19 test at a Wake County Health and Human Services testing site must make an appointment first.
According to the department's website, the change in policy is to ensure tests go to high-risk individuals, those who have been exposed, and those who are having COVID-19 symptoms.
If you're going out of town or have to get a test for your school or job, you will still be given priority for testing.
The change only affects test sites run by Wake County Health Department--many other sites offer walk-up testing.