In addition to the highest number of single-day COVID- cases reported in the state since the start of the pandemic, NCDHHS said the daily percent positive is at 22%.
NCDHHS said it is closely monitoring hospital capacity and is urging North Carolinians to gather safely, get vaccinated and boosted, and wear a mask indoors in public places.
Wake County Public Health has confirmed an outbreak of COVID-19 at The Laurels of Forest Glen, a skilled nursing facility at 1101 Hartwell St. in Garner. This is the facility's fourth outbreak. The previous outbreaks occurred in September 2021, November 2020 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.
Mako Medical will be operating two drive-up COVID-19 testing sites at PNC Arena in west Raleigh and Word of God church in south Raleigh on Friday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Wake County reports wait times at both sites as low, but registering for a test will save time in line. Proof of insurance is not required and there is no cost for a test.
For PNC Arena, at 1400 Edwards Mill Road, enter at Gate E off Edwards Mill Road. You can register here.
For Word of God, at 3000 Rock Quarry Road, you can register here.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 18,571 new cases, the state's highest one-day number of COVID-19 cases.
The number was 60% higher than the previous record of 11,581 set in January. The number of people visiting emergency rooms for COVID-like illness also set a record at 4,171. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has nearly doubled since the beginning of December.
NCDHHS said data suggests that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 may cause less severe illness for people who are vaccinated. However, those who are unvaccinated or who have underlying medical conditions are at the highest risk of severe illness and hospitalization.
Currently, 89% of people in intensive care are unvaccinated. Hospitalizations are likely to increase as the trend typically lags four to five days after an increase in cases.
"We are concerned that even a very small proportion of these cases ending up in the hospital could overwhelm our hospital system and increase the loss of lives of those most vulnerable," said incoming NCDHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley. "Everyone can help save lives and protect hospital capacity by getting vaccinated if you haven't already and getting boosted if you are eligible."
Because of high demand and staffing shortages, the Orange County Health Department's COVID-19 test clinics are now by appointment only.
All test sites are closed on Saturday for New Year's Day. You can find more information about testing in Orange County here
Wake County Public School System is expanding its on campus COVID-19 testing program to all of its schools starting in 2022.
Through the district's partnership with Mako Medical, students and staff will be able to get weekly tests at their school. School officials also recommend that students get tested in the days before classes start to make sure they are healthy before they come back to class.
The district also emphasized the importance of vaccinations now that vaccines are authorized for children 5 years old and up. According to the latest NCDHHS data, 38% of the Wake County population ages 5-11 has gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 68% of those 12-17 have gotten their first dose.
Read more here.
The Wayne County Health Department will not have COVID-19 testing available until further notice.
Demand for testing has increased significantly nationwide over the past two weeks, and additional test kits have been ordered from the State. At this time, testing is expected to resume by the middle of next week.
THURSDAY MORNING HEADLINES
In a news conference Wednesday, the director of the World Health Organization warned that as the Delta and Omicron variants circulate the globe simultaneously, the world could see a "tsunami" of COVID-19 cases in the coming months.
"Right now, Delta and Omicron are twin threats that are driving up cases to record numbers, which again is leading to spikes in hospitalizations and deaths," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. "I am highly concerned that Omicron being more transmissible, circulating at the same time as Delta - is leading to a tsunami of cases."
Tedros referenced studies that indicate Omicron may cause less severe disease than previous strains, however, he stressed the importance of its increased transmissibility, saying that it will still lead to increased hospitalizations and deaths.
His announcement came as the U.S. joined the list of countries that reported record high case counts--the average 7-day case count for the U.S. topped 275,000 on Wednesday according to CDC data.
The WHO recommends vaccines as the best way to slow the pandemic--recommending governments encourage 70% of their populations to get vaccinated by July 2022.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.