Coronavirus omicron updates: Here’s what to know in North Carolina on Jan. 14

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We’re tracking the most up-to-date information about the coronavirus and vaccines in North Carolina. Check back for updates.

More than 4,200 hospital patients

At least 1,975,543 people in North Carolina have tested positive for the coronavirus, and at least 19,850 have died since March 2020, according to state health officials.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday, Jan. 13, reported 44,833 new COVID-19 cases, up from 25,445 the day before. Health officials said the Jan. 13 count would be higher due to more than 10,000 earlier cases that hadn’t been submitted.

At least 4,275 people were reported hospitalized with COVID-19 on Jan. 13, up from 4,098 the day before. Eighty-seven coronavirus-related deaths were also added.

As of Jan. 11, the latest date with available information, 30.1% of coronavirus tests were reported positive. Health officials say 5% or lower is the target rate to slow the spread of the virus.

Roughly 74% of adults in North Carolina have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and about 70% have been fully vaccinated. Of the state’s total population, about 59% are fully vaccinated and 63% have received at least one dose. State officials round vaccination numbers to the nearest whole number.

More than 2.7 million ”booster/additional” doses have been administered in North Carolina as of Jan. 13, the health department said. Health officials have urged those who are eligible to get boosted, as data suggests it offers increased protection against the omicron coronavirus variant.

About 99% of all new COVID-19 cases in the Southeast were attributed to the omicron variant as of Jan. 8, the latest date for which data is available, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Supreme Court halts COVID vaccine rule

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision on Thursday, Jan. 13, to block enforcement of a federal rule requiring employees at big companies to get a COVID-19 vaccine or submit to regular testing.

Justices did, however, allow President Joe Biden’s administration to move forward with a similar vaccine mandate for health care workers.

The workplace requirement would have impacted at least 1.2 million employees in North Carolina, said N.C. Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson, a Republican who has opposed the rule.

“I’m very pleased with the Supreme Court ruling, and my hope is that this vaccine mandate is finished once and for all,” Dobson told The N&O.

Dobson previously expressed concern about whether such a vaccine and testing mandate would exacerbate worker shortages, The News & Observer reported. He also said states wouldn’t be given extra funding to help with enforcement, which Dobson called “fundamentally unfair and not well thought out.”

Raleigh middle school switches to online classes

Carroll Middle School in Raleigh will be the first school in the Wake County school system since October 2020 to suspend in-person learning due to COVID-19 cases when it switches to remote learning on Friday, Jan. 15.

Principals at schools with 20% or more of staff out because of COVID-19 can consider remote instruction under a new system Wake put in place. Those principals can discuss options with the superintendent, The News & Observer reported.

Tom Benton, Carroll’s interim principal, recommended late Wednesday, Jan. 12, that the switch occur on Thursday, Jan. 13. But a district spokesperson said it was too short notice for parents.

At least 13 central office employees were sent to the elementary school to help with staffing shortages instead.

The district spokesperson said classes will operate remotely on Jan. 14 and the school will be closed Monday, Jan. 17 for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Tuesday, Jan. 18, is a teacher workday, and the school hopes to reopen on Wednesday, Jan. 19, according to The N&O.

NC residents urged to donate blood during COVID

North Carolinians are urged to give blood as donations have dropped during the coronavirus pandemic.

The American Red Cross Greater Carolinas Region is facing the worst blood shortage it has seen in more than a decade, spokesperson Maya Franklin told The Charlotte Observer. Donations tend to slow during the holiday season, and officials think the surge in COVID-19 cases also made an impact.

“By making an appointment to give blood, donors can help prevent further delays in vital medical care,” Franklin said.

In the Triangle, Duke University Hospital has about half of its normal blood supply. That means there’s enough for just over a day, according to Dr. Nicholas Bandarenko III.

”If this tightens down harder on us, we will have to operate on less than a day’s supply,” said Bandarenko, medical director for transfusion services. “Which means we have to choose who’s getting blood and who is going to have to wait.”

Inmates say Raleigh women’s prison isn’t giving booster shots

Women who have served time at the North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women say they weren’t given booster shots to help protect against COVID-19.

Susan Rouse is in medical quarantine after she said people in her Raleigh prison unit requested the extra COVID-19 vaccine doses but didn’t get them, The News & Observer reported.

“People are getting sick, and that’s not what they’re telling the news,” Rouse said. “I don’t want my obituary to say Susan Rouse died in NC Correctional Institute for Women.”

Across North Carolina, 6,600 prisoners reportedly have gotten booster shots. John Bull, a spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Public Safety, didn’t have specific data for the women’s facility but said inmates in Rouse’s unit got a COVID-19 test at least once between Jan. 3 and Jan. 11, the N&O reported.

Rent, utility aid returns to Durham during COVID

Durham residents seeking help with rent and utilities can submit applications to request aid again.

After a pause in October, city officials said the Emergency Rental Assistance Program is starting again. The program had stopped as officials handled a backlog of cases.

“This latest round of funding provides up to 18 months of rent and utility assistance to Durham residents who have experienced financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” The News & Observer reported on Jan. 13.

NC model shows omicron overwhelming rural areas

Though the omicron coronavirus variant first impacted big cities, experts think it could next overwhelm areas that are less equipped to handle a surge.

A model predicts a jump in hospitalizations in North Carolina’s rural counties starting in late January. The projection comes as 86% of intensive care unit beds in the state are full, according to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Kelly Haight Connor.

Scientists from Georgia Tech, N.C. State University and UNC-Chapel Hill teamed up to make the predictions published Jan. 12, McClatchy reported.

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