As COVID-19 omicron variant fuels latest surge, Gov. Roy Cooper urges everyone to get vaccinated

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

8 p.m.
The Wake County school board voted unanimously to continue the face-masking policy for students and staff regardless of vaccination status.

Wake County Public School System Superintendent Cathy Moore said the board is not considering a move to fully remote learning or to open seats in the Virtual Academy because of the Omicron variant surge.

Moore said the focus is on in-person learning.

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The Wake school board voted to continue the mask mandate but said there were no plans to return to virtual learning.



The school board is also looking to fill the chair position vacated by Keith Sutton, who left to become superintendent of Warren County Schools.
6 p.m.
If you're planning on getting a COID-19 test in Wake County, get prepared to make yourself comfortable if you will be testing at several sites across the county.

At Wake County's busiest location, on Kidd Road near WakeMed, some drivers were waiting for nearly 90 minutes to get tested.

"Get here early. That's all I can tell you," said Quincy Mack. "Bring some food because you're going to wait."

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Some people waited as long as three hours at one testing site.



Tuesday, long lines stretched around the neighborhood adjacent to Word of God Fellowship in Raleigh. Mako Medical representatives operate the site on Rock Quarry Road that has been open just before Christmas.

Throughout the holidays, Mako staff have been experimenting with logistics on how best to move people through the testing line.

However, some residents are finding themselves waiting nearly three hours.

"Have patience," said Sochem Mie. His reason for testing is "just to make sure I don't have it."

For others, such as Lacarus Debnam, who admittedly was not socially distant over the holidays, testing was a necessity.

"I'm going to stay here (in line) because I got to get it done," he said. "You got to deal with it. We all in this together."

Debnam's wait in line at Word of God was just shy of three hours.

Newlyweds, Laura and Brandon Kear, were waiting with a positive attitude while hopeful for negative test results.

"Just hoping it might be a cold with this cold weather moving in and people getting sick," said Brandon Kear. "It's a nice day though. It's a nice little extra day off from the weekend. We can relax in the car."

Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Susan Kansagra said North Carolina is following CDC guidance on when people should get tested.

That includes being exposed to the virus and having symptoms, even if vaccinated, plan on being around high-risk individuals, and monitoring for symptoms.

"If you are exposed to COVID-19, you should quarantine for 5 days and then get a Covid-19 test," said Kansagra.

-- Reporting by ABC11's DeJuan Hoggard

2:15 p.m.
Gov. Roy Cooper and NCDHH Secretary Kody Kinsley joined forces to again urge all North Carolinians to get vaccinated and boosted.

North Carolina set another daily percent positive record Tuesday with 29.7 percent. That number included 10,276 new positive COVID-19 cases.

Fortunately, the vaccine is working. It is keeping nearly all of the people who are fully vaccinated and boosted from having to go to the hospital for treatment.

"Fortunately, for people who have been vaccinated -- and especially those who have gotten boosters -- the new Omicron variant has been less severe than previous variants," Cooper said. "With these vaccines and boosters we have an amazing tool to save people's lives and beat this pandemic - and we'll keep our foot on the gas when it comes to getting more shots and more boosters administered."

That fact combined with the 69% of North Carolinians who are fully vaccinated is why the state has not needed to revert back to lockdown.

Kinsley was asked about what is being done to help alleviate the wait times for COVID-19 testing across the state.

He said the state was only in charge of 10% of COVID-19 testing, but said the government was working hard to procure more tests and distribute them more widely.

"Testing and wearing a mask are essential tools in slowing the spread of COVID-19," Kinsley said. "But the bottom line is that vaccines and boosters are the No. 1 thing you can do to protect your health."

Cooper also announced plans to extend Executive Order 224, which aims to curb COVID-19 by requiring vaccines or testing of state employees in cabinet agencies.

To date, North Carolina has administered over 14.8 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 69 percent of the adult population fully vaccinated. About 74 percent of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, including 95 percent of North Carolinians 65 and over. About 44 percent of eligible adults have received their booster shots.

11:25 a.m.
Lines started forming before sunrise at PNC Arena on Tuesday.

The people waiting weren't in line for a Carolina Hurricanes playoff game or an exclusive concert, instead, they were trying to get tested for COVID-19.

One thing contributing to the long lines was the fact that the facility was closed Monday because of severe weather.

"It was better than I expected, especially because we tried coming yesterday. We didn't realize the weather had closed it until we got here," Jamie Lewis-Owen said.

Long lines were also seen at Word of God Church in Raleigh and at Wake County's Kidd Road testing location.

"I figured I was going to get here a little early, the line wasn't going to be that long. But it is what it is," Larry Edwards said. Edwards' told us he ended up waiting about 20 minutes to get his test; others after him had much longer waits.

Meanwhile, the newly opened testing site at Five County Stadium barely had any cars in the area.

Click here for more info on testing in Wake County.

9:50 a.m.
Cumberland County Schools (CCS) will have students return to in-person class Wednesday.

That decision comes despite the increase in COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant.

The district's school board met Tuesday morning to discuss educational options following the winter break.

"In light of the COVID-19 metrics in our county and understanding that many of our staff, students, and their families may have been exposed to COVID-19 over the break, we felt obligated to explore all possible options upon our return from winter break," CCS Superintendent Dr. Marvin Connelly, Jr. said.

Despite some pushback from school board members, Connelly ultimately decided to move forward with in-person education starting Jan. 5.

"I do think it should be a vote because myself, as a board member, I do not agree with this recommendation," Carrie Sutton said. "I don't agree with it because we have a 22 percent infection rate."

Students and staff will continue virus mitigation efforts like hand washing, social distancing and mask-wearing. The school will also limit in-school visitors and reduce capacity at athletic events to 50 percent.

"We are confident in our ability to move forward with this option with the continuing possibility that individual classrooms and schools may need to temporarily shift to remote learning in the future based on COVID-19 conditions," Connelly said.

TUESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
The COVID-19 testing sites run by Wake County won't open Tuesday until 10 a.m.

Anyone with an appointment scheduled for before 10 a.m. can stop by the clinic anytime before 7 p.m.

The three drive-thru testing sites organized by the NC Department of Health and Human Services will open on time Tuesday. These three sites had to close Monday due to weather damage.

President Joe Biden is set to get an update today from the White House COVID Response Team.

The president will hear about personnel being sent to states to help with staffing problems. In addition, he will get updates on the push to expand access to COVID-19 treatments.

Closer to home, Gov. Roy Cooper will give a statewide update on the pandemic. He'll be joined by the state's newest health secretary, Kody Kinsley.

Kinsley is taking over from Dr. Mandy Cohen.

MONDAY
9:56 p.m.
With icy conditions possible Tuesday morning, Wake County will operate on a delay. Wake County Public Health's COVID-19 testing sites and vaccination clinics will open at 10 a.m. Public libraries, parks, solid waste facilities and other county services will operate on a two-hour delay.

Wake County Public Health's five drive-thru testing sites will not open until 10 a.m. If you have an appointment for an earlier time, you may stop by your scheduled site any time before 7 p.m. for your free COVID-19 test. Simply show the staff your appointment confirmation email with the date and time of your appointment just above the QR code. Please anticipate long lines at testing sites.

This delayed opening only applies to Wake County Public Health testing sites.

Appointments are required at the five Wake County Public Health testing sites. Results from the sites continue to come back in less than 12 hours and require no cost, no ID and no insurance. Please have the QR code from your appointment confirmation email pulled up on your phone as you drive up.

If your appointment is at Wake County's busiest site - the Wake County Health and Human Services parking lot also known as the Swinburne Building - enter the site via Sunnybrook Road. Traffic will not be allowed to enter from Kidd Road. The county has added more staff and signage, and it's already improving the flow of traffic entering the site from Sunnybrook Road.

Only vaccination appointments at Wake County's Departure Drive location will be affected by the delayed opening. All other Wake County Public Health vaccine clinics have Tuesday hours that begin at 11:45 a.m.

Anyone who has an appointment before 10 a.m. at Departure Drive can come back any time Tuesday and receive their vaccine or booster. Vaccine clinics are open until 4 p.m.

4 p.m.
The Wake County testing sites that are run by the Wake County Health Department are all back up and running.

At Wake County's busiest testing site, on Kidd Road right off Sunnybrook, some people were waiting for well more than an hour.

That's been the case for much of the day.

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Raleigh COVID-19 testing centers reopen after wintry weather slams sites. DeJuan Hoggard reports.



Earlier, tents were knocked over at the PNC Arena testing site as strong winds blew in and snow began to fall.

Testing at that site and at two other ones (Word of God Fellowship on Rock Quarry Road and Five County Stadium in Zebulon) administered by MAKO Medical closed early.

The Kidd Road site will run until 7 p.m. Other sites that closed early will reopen Tuesday at normal times.

Wake officials say to keep the line moving efficiently, come at the time of your appointment (don't come too early), don't show up without an appointment, and have your QR code ready.

-- Reporting by ABC11's DeJuan Hoggard

2:34 p.m.
Most of the sports headlines involving COVID-19 revolve around football and basketball, but non-revenue sports are dealing with the effects of the pandemic as well.

The NC State gymnastics team has withdrawn from a quad meet at North Carolina with Auburn and Bowling Green on Friday as the Wolfpack program is following COVID protocols.

2:33 p.m.
A Greene Correctional offender who tested positive for COVID-19 has died at a hospital.

"We are working hard in our ongoing efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in our prisons. The health and safety of the staff and the offenders is our top priority," said Todd Ishee, Commissioner of Prisons. "We strongly encourage all offenders to elect to be vaccinated and boosted. It's very important."

The inmate, who was in his 70s and had existing medical conditions, tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 21 and was hospitalized on Dec. 24. His condition worsened, and he died on Jan. 1. He had not received any COVID-19 shots.

An initial review indicates that COVID-19 was likely the cause or at least a contributing factor to his death. Final determination of the cause of death will be made following a review by the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

2:26 p.m.
U.S. Senators Richard Burr, R-NC, Ranking Member of the Senator Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Roy Blunt, R-MO, Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, sent a letter urging U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to detail the administration's strategy for solving the nation's severe shortage of COVID-19 tests as coronavirus cases driven by the omicron variant continue to skyrocket.

Senators Burr and Blunt noted that the nation is facing a shortage of COVID-19 tests despite Congress having provided more than $80 billion during the last two years to improve and expand testing-related capabilities.

"With over $82.6 billion specifically appropriated for testing, and flexibility within the Department to allocate additional funds from COVID-19 supplemental bills or annual appropriations if necessary, it is unclear to us why we are facing such dire circumstances now. It does not appear to be because of lack of funding, but a more fundamental lack of strategy and a failure to anticipate future testing needs by the administration," the senators wrote. "As we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that Congress, and the American people, have an understanding of the administration's strategy and accounting of how the Department is using taxpayer funding."

12:30 p.m.
NC Department of Health and Human Services released new metrics Monday for the first time since Friday.

The state reported 12,989 new COVID-19 cases with a 27.4 daily percent positive rate--which is well above the 5% goal.

In addition, 335 more people are now in the hospital with the virus and 31 more North Carolinians died over the weekend from COVID-19.

10:10 a.m.
The U.S. is expanding COVID-19 boosters as it confronts the omicron surge, with the Food and Drug Administration allowing extra Pfizer shots for children as young as 12.

Boosters already are recommended for everyone 16 and older, and federal regulators on Monday decided they're also warranted for 12- to 15-year-olds once enough time has passed since their last dose.

Full story

9:45 a.m.
Three Wake County COVID-19 testing sites have decided to close Monday due to weather.

MAKO Medical operates Wake County's testing sites at PNC Arena, Word of God Assembly Church, and Five County Stadium. Those are the three sites that will not operate Monday.

MAKO Medical said people already in line for tests will be tested, but the sites will then promptly close.

Those three sites are scheduled to open for regular hours Tuesday (7 a.m. - 4 p.m.).

Wake County said its other five testing sites are open Monday. They had to delay their opening because of the weather, but as of 9:45 a.m., they were all open and testing people who had appointments.

7:30 a.m.
COVID-19 testing sites in Wake County will not open on time Monday.

The heavy rain, strong wind and potential for snow have caused officials to delay opening all five of the Wake County COVID-19 testing sites.

The sites were supposed to open at 9 a.m. but now will not open until at least 9:30 a.m.

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