North Carolina reports highest number of new COVID-19 cases since September

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

6:40 p.m.
Methodist University announced that it is pushing back the start of the 2022 Spring Semester by one week for all students, citing health concerns.

The spring semester will now begin Jan. 18, the Fayetteville university said.

Graduate programs are not affected and will begin on the scheduled date of Jan. 10. Online programs will also begin on the original date.

5:30 p.m.
As Omicron continues to permeate through North Carolina communities, staffing again is emerging as a key issue for hospital systems because of the variant's increased transmissibility, which is infecting staffers and sending them home for a few days, even for mild symptoms.

In Johnston County, UNC Health is reporting nearly a third of all available medical and surgical beds are occupied by COVID patients across its two community hospitals in Clayton and Smithfield.

Duke Health and UNC Health are both struggling with the challenges after the holidays. Read more here.

4:15 p.m.
The pandemic continues to play chaos with the sports calendar.

The Atlantic Coast Conference announced several men's basketball schedule changes for games on Saturday.

Duke at Notre Dame has been postponed. North Carolina's game at Boston College has been moved from Saturday to Sunday at either noon or 1 p.m.

Also, Virginia at Syracuse, scheduled for Saturday at 8 p.m. has been moved to 6 p.m.

And Louisville at Georgia Tech has been moved from Saturday to Sunday at 6 p.m.

Following the ACC's modified 2021-22 COVID-19 Game Rescheduling Policy, the ACC will look to reschedule the Duke-Notre Dame game.

3:55 p.m.
With hospitalizations rising, getting a booster of the COVID-19 vaccine remains the most important thing North Carolinians can do to keep themselves and their loved ones out of the hospital, officials with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said.

Hospitalizations of COVID-19 cases in North Carolina have increased by over 20% in the last three days. Hospitals reported 331 admissions in the last 24 hours, an increase of over 40% from Monday's seven-day rolling average of 232 admissions per day.

"Now is the time to get your booster shot," said Kody H. Kinsley, Chief Deputy Secretary for Health and Incoming NCDHHS Secretary. "We have plenty of vaccine in the state, and getting a booster shot, or getting vaccinated if you aren't already, dramatically decreases the risk of severe illness and hospitalization from the Omicron variant."

NCDHHS has also adopted updated guidance from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which outlines what individuals should do if they contract or are exposed to COVID-19 to help slow the spread to others:

2:38 p.m.
Wake County Public Health is continuing to see huge demand for COVID-19 testing.

On Monday, our first day back at the county's five sites following the Christmas holiday, a single-day record was set. Then Tuesday, the county again broke the record with a few hundred more with 13,379 tests conducted in one day.

Wednesday is on pace to perhaps top that.

The Public Health staff is working to help to curb some of the traffic and delays being experienced at the most popular sites in Raleigh.

"We're asking the public to please have their QR code sent in the appointment confirmation email ready so that staff on site can scan and in seconds they can move to the next tent for their testing kit," a spokesperson said. "We continue to have availability for appointments at our sites for today and tomorrow (then we are closed for New Year's Eve day and New Year's Day). We anticipate the demand will remain steady through next week and we will continue to monitor. Radeas still continues to turn around results in less than 12 hours. You can schedule appointments seven days in advance at our sites at WakeGov.com/testing."

In collaboration with NCDHHS, three new drive-thru testing sites are open or opening to help accommodate this increase in demand.

TODAY THROUGH NEXT WEEK: The Word of God Assembly Church is offering testing Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Jan. 4.This site does not require an appointment, but does require online registration. The church is at 3000 Rock Quarry Road. Test results at this location should be returned within 12-28 hours.

STARTING FRIDAY PNC Arena is opening drive-thru testing at Gate E off Edwards Mill Road. The hours will be 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday until further notice. Again, no appointment is needed but registration will be required. Results in 12-28 hours.

Testing will run from 7 a.m. to noon on game and event days.

STARTING MONDAY Five County Stadium will go live with a testing site. This site will be open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. until further notice. Results in 24-28 hours. Registration will be required.

12:40 p.m.
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 9,377 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, the highest number of new cases since September 11. While the percentage of positive tests dropped from yesterday's record high, it still remained high--the third highest recorded since the start of the pandemic--at 17.3%.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 also continues to rise again, topping 2,000 for the first time since mid-October with 2,122 people in the hospital statewide. Of those patients, 484 adults are in the ICU.

WEDNESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Another busy day of testing is expected as Wake County is reporting some sites are completely booked. Across the county, nearly 13,000 appointments are available each day; but some sites, like the Vision Church RDU Parking Lot on Departure Drive are completely booked for Wednesday. Appointments are required, and the county is reporting that some people are attempting to cut the line without an appointment. These people are being asked to step out of line and make an appointment, then get back in line.

But county health departments aren't the only places no-cost testing is available--those who want a test can also try for drug stores like Walgreens and CVS, as well as community testing events.

At home tests are even harder to come by--ABC11 checked several stores around Raleigh for a test and found empty shelves.

TUESDAY



11:09 p.m.
Wake county will have more testing sites open Wednesday for residents who are still in need of a COVID test.

Wake county recently doubled the amount of daily COVID-19 testing appointments, allowing roughly 13,000 people to be tested daily across each site. Residents are encouraged to make an appointment on the wake county site.

Five drive thru testing sites are available across the county to help residents choose a time and location that works best for them.
All drive thru sites will be open 7 a.m. - 7 p.m., except for their New Year's hours: CLOSED on New Year's Eve and 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. on New Year's Day.

Additional signs have been put out at the testing location to help control the flow of traffic and to help improve wait times.
Residents will be provided with a QR code after scheduling their appointment. The code will be sent to their confirmation email and will need to be displayed at check in.

7:13 p.m.
The first updated COVID-19 numbers in North Carolina since Christmas show a significant jump in cases, but state officials and physicians remain confident that vaccines and therapeutics will flatten the curve of severe disease.

"Looking at that hospitalization metric is going to be really important," Dr. Susan Kansagra, Acting Senior Deputy Director for Division of Public Health at NC DHHS, told ABC11. "But the majority of people that are coming into our hospitals and requiring ICU level care are still those that are unvaccinated."

The newly release metrics from North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services show the highest daily percent positive rate ever recorded - 21.9%. January 4, 2021, was the previous record at 17%. That rate is more than double what it was just a week ago, and it's four times as high as the state's goal of 5%. In previous months, North Carolina spent week after week at or under that 5% goal.

The total death toll of the virus increased by 75 to a total of 19,308.

"Early on, when we didn't have vaccines or therapeutics, you took your chance in the COVID lottery and the odds were not fantastic," said Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease expert at UNC Health. "So now the chances of losing the COVID lottery are slimmer for those of us who have vaccines available and getting therapeutics like we have in this country. So we're moving to a point now where most, most, most of us are unlikely to get really, really sick from COVID19, including from Omicron."

According to new forecasts from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, North Carolina could hit its peak of the Omicron surge in late February 2022. The models, moreover, show a potential explosive rise in cases - by some estimates, more than 90,000 active daily cases - but again, hospitalizations and deaths either meet or only slightly exceed North Carolina's earlier records in the Delta and winter 2021 surges.

"The writing is on the wall," said Dr. Wohl. "The data is there. You can't deny it. People don't die as often if they're vaccinated and boosted."

12:10 p.m.
The first updated COVID-19 numbers in North Carolina since Christmas show a significant jump in cases.

The newly release metrics from North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services show the highest daily percent positive rate ever recorded. January 4 was the previous record at 17%. Today's update shows a positivity rate of 21.9%.

That rate is more than double what it was just a week ago, and it's four times as high as the state's goal of 5%. Moreover, months ago, we spent week after week at or under that 5% goal.

The raw number of cases reported today (3,698) were similar to the raw number reported on this same day last year (3,888).

The updated metrics also showed 312 more people hospitalized with the virus. That's an 18% increase in hospitalizations since last Tuesday. Pediatric hospitalizations increased by 1.3%, up from 0.8%.

The total death toll of the virus increased by 75 to a total of 19,308.

To take a look at the metrics yourself, click here.

11:40 a.m.
Long lines build up for COVID-19 testing in Wake County.

Chopper 11HD flew over the Kidd Road location around 11:30 a.m. and found cars lined up down the road for at least a mile.

High demand for testing following the Christmas holiday weekend has forced many people to wait hours to get tested.

Ian Miller is from Canada, but he's in town visiting family and needs to get tested before heading back home.

"My wife's sister lives here, and as far as travel restrictions go, we needed to get tested before we get back," Miller said.

10:15 a.m.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said the nation should consider a vaccination mandate for domestic air travel, signaling a potential embrace of an idea the Biden administration has previously eschewed, as COVID-19 cases spike.

Fauci, President Joe Biden's chief science adviser on the pandemic response, said that such a mandate might drive up the nation's lagging vaccination rate as well as confer stronger protection on flights, for which federal regulations require all those age 2 and older to wear a mask.

"When you make vaccination a requirement, that's another incentive to get more people vaccinated," Fauci told MSNBC on Monday. "If you want to do that with domestic flights, I think that's something that seriously should be considered."

Full story

TUESDAY MORNING HEADLINES

As omicron spreads ever more gloom around the globe ahead of New Year's Eve, governments are moving at different speeds to contain the scourge, with some reimposing restrictions immediately and others hesitating to spoil the party again.

Locally, First Night Raleigh is taking the unprecedented step of moving everything outdoors, requiring proof of vaccine or negative test, and charging for tickets.

"We felt that this was a happy medium between a full cancelation and an event that was high risk because it was indoors," said Cameron Laws, program director at Artsplosure, who puts on the event.

This comes as the CDC updates its guidance for people who test positive for COVID-19 or were exposed to someone with COVID-19.

The new guidance shortens isolation and quarantine periods. View the full details here.

MONDAY
10 p.m.
Raleigh's 'First Night' will go on New Year's Eve but with some slight changes.

You'll need proof of a COVID vaccination or a negative test to attend in addition to a ticket to see any part of the event.

Everything has also been moved outdoors because of the spreading omicron variant but masks are not required.

"We felt that this was a happy medium between a full cancelation and an event that was high risk because it was indoors," said Cameron Laws, program director at Artsplosure, who puts on the event.

In years past, tickets were not required to get onto city plaza but that has changed.

In order to ride the rides or see the art exhibits, you'll need to purchase a $12 ticket.

"I really felt people need this," said Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin. "They needed this celebration. I think it's a good compromise to move everything outdoors and still let people gather because we need something to celebrate."

An outdoor event is better, but you can still get infected, according to Dr. David Wohl, an infectious diseases specialist at UNC Health.

"Even if you're outdoors but within inches or a foot or two, maybe with Omicron with another person screaming, yelling or singing, I'd be nervous," said Dr. Wohl.

Wohl said if you are going to go, mask up and ensure you're boosted.

"We always say to have a 'happy and healthy new year,'" said Dr. Wohl. "There are things we can do to keep it healthy. Just use your smart brain, use the tools at your disposal so we can have a future New Years without having to worry about this."

Susan was out with her kids Monday night in Downtown Raleigh. She said she's been to First Night in years past but wouldn't go this year with her daughter Lula unable to be vaccinated.

"I would be wearing my N95 and I'd be making the children wear N95s also," said Susan. "I guess I'm a little extreme but to each their own."

2 p.m.
First Night Raleigh will be held completely outdoors for the first time ever.

Public Health officials, Mayor Mary Ann Baldwin, and Artsplosure--the group that organizes the event--agreed that due to rising COVID-19 cases, the event should take extra precautions this year.

All indoor performances will shift to take place outside.

In addition, every person ages 6 and older must provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from an official Wake County testing site within 48 hours of the event.

Mask wearing will not be required outside, but it will be strongly encouraged as an extra safety measure.

8:55 a.m.
NC State will require all unvaccinated students, faculty and staff to provide a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of returning to campus.

All students living in University Housing and Greek Village, regardless of vaccination status, must also provide a negative COVID-19 test before returning to campus.

Anyone who tests positive within 72 hour of their scheduled return to campus should not return to campus. Instead they should upload their positive test result to the Healthypack Portal.

This comes on the heels of Duke University requiring COVID-19 booster shots for all students, faculty and staff.

Meanwhile, UNC said it will wait a bit longer to decide how it will start its spring semester.

"We believe we are in a better situation if we wait a little bit longer and wait until we have as much information and data as we can to make as informed decision as possible," said Bob Boulin, the executive vice chancellor and provost.

MONDAY MORNING HEADLINES
COVID-19 testing sites in Wake County will reopen Monday after being closed over the holiday break.

All five public testing sites will be open and accepting appointments. You can get an appointment--for both tests or vaccines--by going online here.

Coronavirus cases across the country are as high as they have been in nearly a year. That comes as the omicron variant surges, causing health experts to encourage testing both before and after large gatherings.

The surge in cases is causing problems for airlines. Thousands of flights have been cancelled, with airlines citing staff shortages due to mandatory COVID-19 quarantines.

Jet Blue and Delta have asked the federal government to reduce the required quarantine period for employees who test positive for the virus.
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