UNC expert says much to understand about Omicron variant

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

10:40 p.m.

With the Omicron variant on the minds of many and the uncertainty surrounding the latest known mutation of SARS-CoV-2, ABC11 is turning to medical experts to better understand the variant.

Dr. Myron Cohen, of the UNC School of Medicine, is the director of the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases and helped start a lab in Malawi 30 years ago. Cohen was on the phone with colleagues in Africa on Monday and said there is a lot to understand about the variant.

First, whether the patients infected with the Omicron variant have been vaccinated or had the Delta variant. Cohen said researchers need to figure out what kind of illness it causes vs. other coronaviruses.

"I have no reason to believe people who acquire this virus will be sicker than if they had acquired the earlier variants," Cohen said.

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Dr. Myron Cohen of UNC talks to ABC11 about the Omicron variant. Josh Chapin reports.



Companies such as Moderna and Pfizer are already making vaccines to target this new variant, Cohen said, and anti-viral agents such as the COVID 19 pills should not be affected.

"On the one hand, take this seriously," Cohen said. "On the other hand, don't overreact and draw conclusions before you collect all the information appropriate to take the right actions, which we're trying to do."

Some people ABC11 spoke with are just taking it in stride.

Edrina Gore said she was able to gather with family for Thanksgiving.

"The new variant, I'm not trying to get it to scare me any more than what the COVID has already done," Gore said. "It doesn't look like it's going anywhere, so I just think it seems like we have to adapt and keep moving forward with it. This year we were able to fellowship together and eat, but my mom kept her mask on the entire time."

Reporting by ABC11's Josh Chapin

10:35 p.m.

As the nation emerges from a week of seeing family for the first time in a long time for Thanksgiving and where more of us are getting out of the house more, in general, there were reasons for joy amid the pandemic. News of the Omicron variant pushes against that.

But there are ways to cope.

Just like people, the holidays are complex. They can be happy. They can be cause for stress. The emerging variant adds another pandemic wrinkle But, Dr. Mehul Mankad, chief medical officer at Alliance Health, says it doesn't serve us well to put too much focus and worry on things that we can't control.

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Dr. Mehul Mankad, chief medical officer at Alliance Health, says it doesn't serve us well to put too much focus and worry on things that we can't control.



With so many unanswered questions about the potential severity of the variant, Mankad reminds us to get news from a trusted news source; avoid misinformation. Number two: if you have holiday travel plans, start thinking about a back-up plan.

"At least for my family and I, we've made a plan. It does involve travel. And we would really like to fulfill that," Mankad said. "But we also have a backup plan."

Concern and uncertainty over possible travel cancellations can be a huge holiday stressor.

"Uncertainty is something that can raise anxiety in anybody," Mankad said. "Increasing control over those things that you have control over, that can reduce that feeling of uncertainty."

At the White House on Monday, President Joe Biden said "This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic." Avoiding panic can be as simple as getting outside, says Mankad. He emphasized making the most of the shorter daytime hours: walks runs, exercise.

He says take care to see the holidays as one-time eating events, not a month-long gorge. Eating healthy in between has a big impact on our mood.

"Putting these three things together is important. And the fourth one is if you are struggling to reach out and talk to somebody," Mankad said.

Reporting by ABC11's Joel Brown

6 p.m.
South African scientists identified a new version of the coronavirus that they say is behind a recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Gauteng, the country's most populous province.

It's unclear where the new variant first emerged, but scientists in South Africa alerted the World Health Organization in recent days, and it has now been seen in travelers arriving in several countries, from Australia to Israel to the Netherlands.

While the new Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus has not yet been detected in the United States, it will "inevitably" arrive, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday.

Andrea Blanford has the latest on what we know right now:
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Latest on the omicron variant. What do we know? Andrea Blanford reports.



1 p.m.
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 1,725 new COVID-19 cases Monday, about 300 hundred more cases than the average number of cases reported the last two Mondays.

Additionally, the percentage of positive tests spiked to 8.3%, much higher than the 6.3% reported last week. The percentage of positive tests has not been above 8% in nearly two months.

Currently, 1,077 people are hospitalized with COVID-19. That's a decrease from Wednesday's report, but higher than last Monday.

Since Wednesday, the state has reported 8,172 new cases and 38 deaths.

12:24 p.m.
Today is the deadline for Red Hat associates and contractors across the U.S., including in North Carolina, to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Raleigh-based company said those who aren't fully vaccinated could be fired, though exemptions will be given in certain cases.

Red Hat is one of the Triangle's largest employers.

MONDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Wake County Public School System will begin weekly pooled COVID-19 testing of students and staff in eleven schools Monday. The voluntary tests will be free to anyone who wants one.

The district is partnering with Mako Medical. Mako staff will gently swab noses, then place swabs of two to six people in one tube. Those multiple samples are run together as one. If the test comes back positive, everyone in the pool takes another test the next day to identify who has COVID-19.

Parents can register online.

This year there have been at least 478 confirmed COVID-19 cases associated with Wake County schools, according to the district's COVID-19 dashboard.

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 24 HEADLINES


12:45 p.m.
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 2,318 new cases, nearly twice as many as yesterday. However, the percentage of positive tests dropped to 5.9% from 7.5%--though still higher than the 4-5% seen earlier in the month.

Currently, 1,113 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide. That includes 260 adult patients in the ICU. Since August, the percentage of pediatric patients in the hospital has risen sharply from 0.8% to 2.4%, a 200% increase.

WEDNESDAY MORNING HEADLINES

Durham County Health Department will offer COVID-19 booster COVID-19 vaccines to all adults starting Wednesday, in line with federal guidance announced Friday. Wake County began giving shots to all adults Tuesday, and Orange County opened their elligibility Monday.

Any person 18 years or older who received a Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at least six months ago can get a booster shot of any vaccine--though its recommended that you choose one of the two mRNA-based vaccines. Anyone older than 18 who got a Johnson & Johnson shot at least two months ago can get a booster shot of any vaccine.

No appointments are needed to get a shot at Durham County Department of Public Health, though appointments can be scheduled by calling ahead.

TUESDAY HEADLINES


12:15 p.m.
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 1,289 new COVID-19 cases, a slight decrease from Monday but still maintaining the state's plateau in the 7-day average of new cases. However, the percentage of positive tests rose sharply to 7.5%, meaning community spread could be much higher.

Additionally, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 increased to 1,112.

In total, 18,642 people have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic.

6:15 a.m.
The U.S. has reported an increase in pediatric COVID-19 cases for the third week in a row.

Nearly 142,000 children tested positive in the last week, which is a 16% increase from the week prior and a 41% jump over the last three weeks, according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association.

Nearly 6.8 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

COVID-19 cases among children remain "extremely high," the organizations said, and there have been almost 1.7 million additional cases since the first week of September.

The Midwest continues to see the highest number of pediatric cases.

Severe illness due to COVID-19 remains "uncommon" among children, AAP and CHA said. However, AAP and CHA continue to warn that there is an urgent need to collect more data on the long-term consequences of the pandemic on children, "including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects."

WATCH | Q&A: COVID-19 winter surge warning

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UNC Dr. Alexa Mieses Malchuk answers questions about the COVID-19 pandemic.



TUESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
COVID-19 booster shots are available to all adults at all five Wake county vaccination clinics starting today.

To get the booster shots, you must make an appointment.

While the boosters are now available, getting one today likely won't give you any more protection ahead of Thanksgiving, as it takes several days before your body builds the anti-bodies.

That's why doctors say all families should still be cautious when holding gatherings indoors with large groups--especially if any people in those groups are unvaccinated.

If you're looking to get vaccinated or to get a booster, click here.
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