The Omicron variant now accounts for estimated 98% of new cases in the U.S.

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

4:50 p.m.
Durham city and county leaders asked for the public's help in slowing down the spread of COVID, stressing the importance of vaccinations and booster shots as the best protection against the virus.

Rod Jenkins, Durham County Public Health Director, said the county is experiencing a surge in cases mostly caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant and holiday activities.

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Rod Jenkins, Durham County Public Health Director, said the county is experiencing a surge in cases mostly caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant and holiday activities.



In all of 2021, Durham reported 25,894 cases, averaging 2,123 a month. So far in January, Jenkins said the county has seen 5,993 cases.

The rapid spread is happening in a community that's among those leading the state in vaccinations with 71.8 percent of the population, 5 and older, fully vaccinated.

Jenkins urged Durhamites to make sure they're up to date on vaccination and a booster if eligible, avoid gathering unmasked indoors with people from other households, stay home if sick and get tested for COVID if possible.

In the days ahead, Durham will be handing out 60,000 durable face masks and distributing 8,800 at-home tests while supplies last, Jenkins said.

-- Reporting by ABC11's Andrea Blanford

3:13 p.m.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is pulling all available levers to support existing testing sites, to open more sites across the state and to increase access to at-home collection kits.

NCDHHS contracted with two more testing vendors to expand local testing options and expanded the footprint of the existing 12 vendors to cover hundreds of no-cost testing sites across the state. More than a million professional rapid antigen tests, at-home rapid antigen tests and at-home collection kits are also on their way to the state.

"Before case numbers began breaking records, we already were working with our vendors to secure more testing kits and testing supplies," said NCDHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley. "With part speed and part tenacity, we continue to work to stay two steps ahead of a constantly evolving virus and crisis situation, increasing access to testing."

With the surge, NCDHHS has ordered an additional 700,000 professional and at-home rapid test kits, bringing the total on their way to the state to more than 1 million. Priority groups for test distribution in addition to schools, health departments, long-term care facilities and health centers include farmworker camps, tribal health clinics and free and charitable clinics. A number of community-based organizations also assist with distributing tests and reaching historically marginalized populations.

In addition to the tests, NCDHHS has delivered more than 250,000 swabs, antigen kits and other testing supplies to testing partners statewide. With connections to NCDHHS vendors, 10 counties have opened new sites or will open them in the coming weeks. Counties stretch from west to east and include Caldwell, Forsyth, Franklin, Halifax, Mecklenburg, Sampson, Transylvania, Wake, Wilson and Guilford - where a mass testing site at the Greensboro Coliseum that opened this weekend through a partnership between Mako Medical, Cone Health and Guilford County. NCDHHS is in the process of requesting federal support for staffing and supplies at the Greensboro site and possibly other testing locations.

1:55 p.m.
As expected, the proportion of the Omicron variant in the U.S. continues to grow. The Omicron variant is estimated to account for 98.3% of new cases in the U.S., as of Jan. 8, according to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday.

Five weeks ago, in early December, Omicron was estimated to account for 0.6% of all new cases. These figures are calculated using modeling; thus, they may not be exact and should be characterized as estimates.

The Delta variant now accounts for only 1.7% of new cases nationally, forecasters estimate.

In three areas of the country -- the deep South, the Southeast, and the New York- New Jersey region -- Omicron is estimated to account for more than 99% of new cases.

1:28 p.m.
The City of Kinston is implementing a temporary mask mandate for all visitors inside city facilities. The mandate will continue until at least Feb. 1.

12:45 p.m.
North Carolina is reporting 17,705 new COVID-19 cases and a daily percent positive of 30.5%.

There are 3,991 hospitalizations 141 new patients), the second-highest hospitalization day of the pandemic, just one patient below the record set on Jan. 12, 2021.

Some good news, the number of ICU patients is not even close to a record, ranking 79th.

There were 21 new deaths reported, for a total of 19,706 since the start of the pandemic.

MONDAY

12:40 p.m.
The raw number of COVID-19 cases in North Carolina dropped to its lowest point since Wednesday, but the number remains 40 percent higher than one week ago.

For the 5th time in the last week, the daily percent of COVID-19 tests coming back positive is above 30%. That's twice the share that was coming back positive this time last year.

Hospitalizations jumped 376 since Friday. More than 1,000 patients have been added in the last week. That brings the COVID-19 hospitalization number back in line to where it was this time last year.

The good news: the weekly share of patients on a ventilator and in the ICU with COVID-19 is continuing to trend down.

But pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations are trending up--with 2.3% of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients listed as children. That's one of the highest pediatric percentages the state has ever reported.

11:30 a.m.
Some immune-compromised Americans will be eligible for a fourth dose this week.

A third dose for people with compromised immune systems was recommended by the CDC on Aug. 13. The CDC recently shortened the window of Pfizer and Moderna booster shots from six months to five months. This means immune-compromised people who got a third shot in mid-August will be eligible for a fourth dose in mid-January.

People with immune-compromised conditions make up about 3% of the U.S. population.

MONDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Wake County Public School System is still dealing with school bus delays.

Friday, COVID-19 combined with the district already having a school bus driver shortage forced 15 percent of the 636 bus routes to not have a driver. That meant that buses arrived late or failed to pick up thousands of students.

Monday is shaping up to be similar.

School leaders are working to contact parents at schools where the routes are in jeopardy. They said if parents don't receive a message, then their child's route should be running as scheduled.

However, school leaders still encourage parents to check online or use the district's smartphone app to get updates. If it says "no driver available/route uncovered," that means you'll need to make different arrangements to get your child to school.

This all comes as the omicron variant of COVID-19 cancels classes all across the country. More than 80 Philadelphia schools are going virtual this morning, blaming COVID-19 staffing shortages, and it's a similar story in the Minneapolis Public School District and Pittsburg Public Schools.
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