Small percentage of NC COVID cases are Omicron subvariant, CDC data shows

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

3 p.m.
The Town of Morrisville will be lifting its mask mandate at 5 p.m. on Friday.

As a result, face coverings will no longer be required in Town facilities or anywhere else within the town. Smart Shuttle riders will still be required to wear a mask because of federal restrictions.

Employers can still require masks on their premises.

12:30 p.m.
For the eighth consecutive day, North Carolina is under 3,000 cases. On Wednesday, NCDHHS reported 3,470 cases. Just two weeks ago, the daily case number was 10,513.
The state has a total of 2,574,867 cases since the start of the pandemic.

The percent of positive tests: is 9%. Two weeks ago it was 20.2%.t

There are 2,123 people in the hospital for COVID-19. That's 92 fewer than the previous day and down from 3,812 two weeks ago.

There were 94 new deaths reported for a total of 22,390 statewide.

WEDNESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
The BA.2 omicron subvariant has been found in North Carolina, according to CDC data. While officials say the variant is not likely to cause more severe disease than the original omicron strain, it is even more transmissible than the highly pathogenic omicron variant.

CDC data showed in the four weeks ending on January 29, 0.33% of nearly 4,000 sequenced tests came back as the BA.2 variant--about 13 tests. The majority of samples sequenced as omicron (96.8%), with a small percentage of Delta variants still floating around.

Across the country, 3.8% of cases are attributed to the BA.2 variant.

Officials say the best way to prevent against all variants, including omicron and BA.2, is to get vaccinated and stay up to date on booster shots.

TUESDAY


7:02 p.m.
Hoke County Schools will go mask optional starting Thursday.

Students will still need to wear masks on the bus. Face coverings will be no longer be mandatory for extracurricular activities.

5:27 p.m.
The Wake County Public School System has passed a motion to make face masks recommended, but not required.

For athletics, the policy takes effect immediately.

For extracurricular activities, face masks become optional at 5 p.m. Friday, and for all other school activities, the policy takes effect March 7.

The decision is subject to any overriding federal or state law.

The school board also vowed to address future reimplementation of masked mandates based off COVID-19 metrics if needed.

2:02 p.m.
N.C. State University is reducing masking and testing requirements.

Effective Monday, face coverings will not be required in most indoor spaces on campus.

However, they will still be required in certain areas:
  • In classrooms and instructional settings;
  • In laboratories;
  • On Wolfline buses;
  • In clinical spaces, including the Student Health Center and the Veterinary Hospital;
  • For employees working in dining and other food-contact locations.


Also effective Monday, weekly testing will not be required for individuals who have not provided proof of vaccination to the university.

Students, faculty and staff will continue to have access to free COVID-19 testing on campus. No appointments are required. All testing locations are remaining open, although hours may be adjusted.

12:23 p.m.
North Carolina has the lowest number of COVID-19 cases since the end of November.

Just 1,716 new cases were reported for the day. A week ago, there were 2,888 and two weeks ago, there were 4,648.

The daily percent positive is 11.9%.

There are 81 fewer people in the hospital than the previous day for a total of 2,215. One week ago, there were 3,042 patients.

In all, 59 new deaths were reported for a total of 22,296 since the start of the pandemic.

TUESDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Wake County Public School System leaders will meet Tuesday to discuss making face coverings optional.

The school district has already said it would lift its mask mandate. However, it's unclear exactly when that will happen.

The mask mandate in Wake County is set to end Friday afternoon, and some parents have been pushing for several weeks to have the mask requirement eliminated.

WCPSS is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. today. Check back for continued updates this evening.

Other schools have already rolled back mask requirements, including districts in Nash, Person, Sampson and Wilson counties. Hoke County School Board meets Tuesday to vote on its mask mandate.

Orange County Schools voted Monday night to make mask optional for students and staff 72-hours after the county lifts its mask mandate. So far there's no date set for the county to lift its mandate.

MONDAY
10:20 p.m.
The Orange County School Board held a meeting and decided to make masks optional for students -- but not until 72 hours after the county's mask mandate expires. And with certain stipulations: Masks will remain required when there is High Community Transmission OR when the secondary in-school transmission cases exceed 2% of the student population for the school.

Masking would be required for a minimum of five days in those circumstances.

The board also decided that masks would be optional for staffers subject to certain conditions:
  • When the indoor mask mandate is lifted for the county;
  • When the county is not designated as being in High Community Transmission AND staff vaccination rates are above 90%.


On Fridaym Orange County officials decided to keep the county's indoor mask mandate in place for now and to continue to meet and reassess the situation on an ongoing basis.

6:56 p.m.
Wilson County Schools has voted to make face masks optional beginning Tuesday.
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Because of federal requirements, masks will continue to be required on buses and other school transportation vehicles.

5:29 p.m.
The Nash Board of Education voted unanimously to make face coverings optional for all children, staff and visitors beginning Tuesday.

Because of federal requirements, all passengers and staff must continue wearing face coverings on buses and other school transportation vehicles.

2:52 p.m.
Thanks to improvements in the local positivity rates for COVID-19 and the dropping rate of COVID-19 admissions, Cape Fear Valley Health System's facilities will loosen visitation restrictions starting Tuesday.

Patients who have not tested positive for COVID-19 will be allowed two visitors per day, between the hours of noon and 8 p.m. COVID-19 patients will be allowed one visitor per day, between the hours of noon and 8 p.m. and that visitor will not be allowed to come and go during that time.

In the Emergency Department, visitors will not be allowed in the waiting room, but one visitor will be allowed once the patient has been given a room. Visitors to patients in the Emergency Department will be allowed to leave and return.

"We believe this is the right decision at this time due to the current trend in positive test rates and COVID-19 admissions," said Chief Operating Officer Daniel Weatherly. "Masking requirements for staff and visitors will continue, and we will continue to assess the situation to possibly relax visitation restrictions further if these trends continue. Though we are seeing improving signs, we realize the pandemic is still with us and strongly encourage everyone in the community to get vaccinated and get their booster shot when it's due."

Because of the high vulnerability of Long-Term Acute Care (LTAC) patients at Highsmith-Rainey Specialty Hospital, all visitors to those patients must be able to show proof of vaccination.

The following exceptions will be made to this visitation policy:
  • Surgery and procedural patients will be allowed two visitors in the pre-op area, or their visitors may wait in the surgical waiting room if arriving with the patient. Visitors for surgery patients may also wait in the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit if they are waiting to be admitted to the hospital. Once a surgery patient or procedural patient has been admitted, two visitors can go with the patient to their room.
  • Inpatients awaiting surgery or a procedure may have two visitors during visiting hours. Care Companions may stay with the patient overnight and remain until the patient is taken to surgery.
  • Highsmith-Rainey Specialty Hospital surgical patients may have two support persons, who may wait in the lobby during the procedure.
  • Outpatient clinics and Fayetteville Ambulatory Surgical Center will allow no more than two visitors per patient.
  • Labor & Delivery: Laboring mothers may have two support people/visitors for the duration of their stay. If a support person/visitor leaves the premises for any reason, he or she will not be allowed back into the building.
  • Family Centered Care Unit: May have two visitors/support people during their entire stay. The two designated visitors/support people may leave and return.
  • Pediatric patients: A legal minor may have two parents or guardians with them and the parents/guardians may leave and return.
  • Patients who need a healthcare decision-maker or require communication assistance may have one Care Companion with them at all times. The Care Companion may be changed one time each day between noon and 8 p.m.
  • Cancer Center patients who are having a consultation visit may have two people with them.
  • End of Life patients (with or without COVID-19) may have one End of Life visit with up to four family members for a combined total visitation time of one hour. Only two visitors at a time may be present at bedside. In certain circumstances, the nursing supervisor may allow for compassionate exceptions to this rule for End of Life patients.


Even in the above situations, visitors with symptoms of a fever or respiratory illness symptoms, including cough or shortness of breath, should remain home. Visitors and patients in all Cape Fear Valley Health facilities and clinics are required to properly wear a mask provided by the health system at all times. Masks must remain on at all times, even in patients' rooms, or the visitor will be asked to leave. Cloth masks and neck gaiters are not permitted. This mask policy will be strictly enforced.

1:50 p.m.
Vance County Schools will make face coverings optional for students and staff starting February 28.

The Vance County Board of Education held a special meeting Monday and voted unanimously in favor of lifting the mask requirements.

The school district said it planned to continue to encourage students and staff to get vaccinated and boosted as well as participate in a weekly COVID-19 testing program.



12:50 p.m.
COVID-19 cases continue to decline in North Carolina.

NCDHHS reported 2,060 new cases Monday. It was the lowest single-day number of cases since December.

The percent positive also fell to 10.7 percent, down from 14.4 percent last week and 19.3 percent two weeks ago.

Hospitalizations also declined, remaining below 3,000 for the sixth straight day.

However, 89 more people died during the weekend from the virus.

12:16 p.m.
Chatham County will no longer require face coverings in government facilities, unless otherwise designated, beginning March 7.

"We are pleased to see the numbers of cases trending downward; however, it does not mean that COVID-19 is no longer a threat, particularly to the unvaccinated," said Chatham County Manager Dan LaMontagne. "Our ability to remain in a voluntary mask status depends on all of us. We ask that our staff and the public continue to maintain physical distance and take precautions in large gatherings and recognize that everyone's comfort level may not be the same."

The county continues to urge people to get vaccinated and/or boosted.

"COVID-19 will continue to be with us, but vaccines have saved many lives already and will continue to do so in the future," said Chatham County Public Health Director Mike Zelek. "I hope this recent announcement encourages some out there to get vaccinated and get boosted. Many, including me, will continue to wear masks, especially in crowded indoor settings. That's appropriate and I hope mask-wearing does not become stigmatized as we continue to adapt to the rapidly changing and complex times."

11 a.m.
The United States is reporting 2,200 new COVID daily deaths on average. While this is lower than the 3,400-peak seen last winter, it's still three times higher than the number of average fatalities recorded two months ago.

With around 60% of Americans fully vaccinated during the most recent wave, daily deaths from omicron are still relatively high, which begs the question: Who is dying of COVID-19 when there is such strong vaccination coverage?

Infectious disease doctors say it is still mainly unvaccinated people, most of whom are in their 30s and 40s with no underlying health issues, who are dying.

Read more

MONDAY MORNING HEADLINES

Lots of changes happening across the region this week with regard to COVID-19 facemasks.

The mask mandate in Cumberland County ended Sunday night. Wake County's mandate ends at 5 p.m. Friday.

But Durham and Orange counties, at least for now, plan to keep the indoor mask mandates in place.

Similar masking discrepancies are happening in area school districts.

Johnston County, Lee County, Wayne County and Roanoke Rapids school districts all will have optional masking this week.

Meanwhile, Orange County and Nash County districts are meeting Monday to discuss the future for their students and staff.

Wake County Public School System announced Friday it would soon lift the mandate, but there's no official date for when that will happen.

FRIDAY
9:55 p.m.
The Nash Board of Education will hold an emergency meeting on Monday at 5 p.m.

The board will discuss the mask mandate in a blended format: in-person, remotely and electronically.

6:26 p.m.
Moore County offices will move to a mask-optional policy effective Monday.
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The county said it took Gov. Roy Cooper's support of dropping mask requirements into consideration, along with case metrics declining, and with support of the Moore County Health Department.

This change does not include county agencies/operations that are still required by state or federal requirements to continue with "mask required" policies.

The County will continue to make face masks available to those who want them.

3:42 p.m.
The Town of Morrisville said it will host a live virtual COVID-19 Q&A session on the Engage Morrisville community engagement platform on Tuesday from 2-3 p.m.

Dr. Nicholas Turner, a Duke University infectious disease specialist, will engage with community members and answer questions about the COVID-19 virus.

The engagement session will give residents and businesses a chance to gain the latest information about COVID-19.

Attendees must visit https://engagemorrisville.com/ and register on the platform to take part in the Q&A session.

3:01 p.m.
Orange County officials have decided to keep the county's indoor mask mandate in place and to continue to meet and reassess the situation on an ongoing basis.

This decision came despite the fact that key metrics in Orange County are dropping, including the number of cases and percent positivity for test results. Officials said extending the mandate for another few weeks will ensure those numbers continue to fall.

"We have a community responsibility to minimize strain on UNC Hospital because it serves as a healthcare hub not only for Orange County but for our entire region," said Renee Price, Chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners. "We want to slow the spread as much as possible to protect children under 5 and adults who are unable to take a COVID-19 vaccine."

Hillsborough Mayor Jenn Weaver, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, and Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils joined Price in the decision.

Elected leaders and health officials will meet with other community partners in early March, including representatives from school systems, UNC Hospitals, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and first responders.

Price urged residents to get vaccinated and boosted if they are eligible.

"Most of the deaths and serious illnesses are among the unvaccinated. Vaccines provide the strongest level of protection from serious illness or hospitalizations due to COVID-19," she said.

1:15 p.m.
North Carolina has 4,871 new cases of COVID-19, 2.5 times fewer cases than last Friday.

The state has seen 2,559,793 since the start of the pandemic.

The percent positive is 10.3% also down from last Friday's 15.4%.

There are 77 fewer patients in hospitals for COVID-19 than the previous day. A total of 2,634 remain hospitalized, much lower than two weeks ago when the number was 4,492.

A total of 87 new deaths were reported. In all 22,148 North Carolinians have died since the start of the pandemic.

12:56 p.m.
A Maury Correctional Institution offender with pre-existing medical conditions, who tested positive for COVID-19, died Thursday night at a hospital.

"We are continuing our extensive efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in our prisons. The health and safety of the staff and the offender population is our top priority," said Todd Ishee, Commissioner of Prisons. "I urge the staff and offenders to be vaccinated and to get a booster dose as soon as they are eligible. It's important."

The offender, who was unvaccinated, tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 26. He was hospitalized on Feb. 2. His condition worsened, and he died late Thursday night.

The offender was a man in his early 60s who had underlying health conditions.

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.

He is the 58th North Carolina offender to die of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic nearly two years ago.

9:15 a.m.
Wake County Public School System plans to make masks optional for students and staff in the "coming days."

The district made that announcement Friday morning on the heels of recommendations from Gov. Roy Cooper and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Cooper and NCDHHS said improving COVID-19 metrics across the state meant it was safe to make masking optional in low-risk settings.

The decision also comes a day after the North Carolina House passed the Free the Smiles Act in a veto-proof, bipartisan vote.

"Today's announcement that Wake County Public Schools will no longer require masks on our children is great news for Wake County families," Rep. Erin Pare, R-Wake, said. "The announcement came less than a day after I voted with my colleagues for the 'Free the Smiles Act,' which would give parents the choice whether or not their child wears a mask in school. Parents should be making these decisions, not politicians and bureaucrats. This announcement is long overdue."

The North Carolina Medical Society issued a statement supporting the governor's recommendations. The society, whose members represent physicians and physician assistants said it's now time to use what we know to "critically and judiciously" plan the transition into an endemic.

That means more focus on individual behaviors and less toward public mandates.
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