RALEIGH, N.C. -- Here's the latest news and information on COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines.
As Orange County sees its first case of the seemingly mild but easily transmittable Omicron variant, what can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones?
If you're wondering where to get a test or the availability in Wake County leading up to the holidays, there are plenty of appointments available early next week. However, you have to reserve your spot at a pharmacy or through the county.
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen is encouraging people to get vaccinated if they haven't and if they have to go get boosters.
Cohen, who said she has had both her children vaccinated, said she knows there will be more hospitalizations but they're trying to ensure hospitals have the manpower to handle COVID cases and other illnesses.
She's also worried about the older population.
"I worry about what getting COVID for them will mean," Cohen said. "Maybe some with a good immune system is generally healthy and they say, 'oh well I'm vaccinated, I'm fine,' great, good.
"We have tools, the tools are getting vaccinated and boosted, getting tested and wearing masks," she added. "So, go out and get vaccinated: even if you can't get all the way to booster. Getting some protection does help you even with those more contagious variant on the way."
Brent Eischen, of Cary, got vaccinated and then got a breakthrough case in April. He said he believes the vaccine prevented him and his wife from getting seriously ill.
"I think we all want to get back to normal but I do think people should do the right thing and get vaccinated. I think it's a patriotic duty," Eischen said. "I think it's still a serious thing I think it's serious but it's not something people are going to be that worried about. I think people who are not vaccinated should definitely be worried about it."
Jessica Kornegay is going home this weekend to visit family. They have a newborn so she wanted to get a test.
"I want to make sure I'm in the clear and not bringing anything to their household, keep everyone safe," Kornegay said.
She's vaccinated and getting a booster next Friday, she said.
She had to drive from Durham to north Raleigh to get a test.
"I just went to the closest place I could, I wanted to get it done today to make sure I was in the clear for this weekend," Kornegay said. "I'm not panicked, but I'm definitely concerned especially with the new variant and seeing it's more easily spread than others."
Wake County recently switched to an appointment-based system for COVID-19 testing.
"There is availability to schedule ahead if folks would like to," Wake County spokeswoman Leah Holdren told ABC11. "Residents can check out all of our testing sites, hours and make an appointment online at wakegov.com/testing. We also have a list of other community partners who offer testing if there's not a time/date that works for someone's schedule at our sites."
The Wake County Public Health has administered 1,003,860 tests from June 2020 through November.
Reporting by ABC11's Josh Chapin
Wake County Public Health has confirmed an outbreak of COVID-19 at Raleigh Rehabilitation Center, 616 Wade Ave.
This is the facility's fourth outbreak. The previous outbreaks occurred in June 2020, December 2020 and September 2021. 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. Because of the possibility for the rapid spread of COVID-19 in long-term settings, NCDHHS shares guidance on the steps these facilities should take following an outbreak.
Orange County has confirmed its first case of the Omicron variant.
The person is at home in isolation, has mild symptoms and is fully vaccinated but had not yet received a booster, the health department said.
There have been 344 new cases of COVID-19 in the past two weeks in Orange County, compared to 190 in the previous two weeks.
Genomic sequencing was conducted at UNC Hospitals to determine that the case was caused by the Omicron variant.
"The first case of Omicron is a reminder of the importance of vaccination, boosters, and general prevention strategies needed to protect against COVID-19," said Orange County Health Director Quintana Stewart. "Everyone 5 and older should get vaccinated and boosters are recommended for everyone 16years and older."
FRIDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Three unrelated cases of the omicron variant were discovered in Pitt County, which is about an hour east of Raleigh.
Pitt County Health Department said holiday travel and activities brought the variant to Pitt County.
It's not a surprise, since experts have said omicron appears to be highly contagious and will likely eventually become the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States.
Pitt County is the second in North Carolina to report finding the omicron variant. Mecklenburg County identified a case earlier this week.
One hundred three Marines have been discharged for refusing to take the COVID vaccine, the Marine Corps said Thursday, as the military services have begun to discharge a pool of possibly as many as 30,000 active duty service members who still refuse to be vaccinated -- even after multiple opportunities to do so past vaccination deadlines.
In late August, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered that the COVID vaccine become mandatory for all U.S. military personnel; until then it had been voluntary.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said booster shots "may not protect much against infection, but ... will go a long way to protect against severe disease."
Fauci predicted data on COVID-19 vaccines for children younger than 5 should be available early next year (first quarter 2022).
He also said the U.S. could be in for a difficult winter with the current Delta surge and Omicron, but "You can enjoy the holiday season with your family if you're vaccinated, and your family members are vaccinated"
COVID-19 metrics continue to creep up in North Carolina as the weather gets colder and new variants emerge.
NCDHHS reported 4,165 new cases, about the same as last Thursday (4,153) and the highest since early October.
The daily percent positive stands at 7.5%, down from 9.1% the previous day.
The state reported 43 more people were hospitalized for a total of 1,604. That number is up from the previous two weeks and mirrors mid-October numbers.
NCDHHS also reported 29 new deaths for a total of 19,099 since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As for vaccinations, 62% of the full NC population is at least partially vaccinated as is 73% of the adult population.