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NC health leaders plead with public to get vaccinated as state awaits influx of rapid tests, masks

Spc. Nicholas Kelly, a medic assigned to 236th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team, applies a bandage to a patient following her vaccination at the COVID-19 drive-through vaccination site at Macon County Public Health in Franklin.
Sgt. Lisa Vines
North Carolina National Guard Public Affairs

On Thursday, the state health department reported another big jump in daily COVID-19 cases. Data shows 44,833 new cases in just one day — more than 50% higher than the previous daily record of 29,069 set last week.

Before the Omicron variant, the highest daily case record was 12,000 new cases. Those hospitalized with COVID-19 increased to more than 4,200, another pandemic all-time high.

State and local health officials in North Carolina say more masks and COVID-19 tests are on their way. In Durham County, officials say they expect 60,000 N-95 masks to arrive next week.

Durham County Public Health Director Rod Jenkins says the masks will be distributed to its employees and the public. Speaking at a press conference earlier this week, Jenkins described an extraordinarily high demand for testing.

"16,321-plus COVID tests have been administered in Durham County since Dec. 26, 2021,” Jenkins said. “We have ordered 8,800 home tests with plans to distribute while supplies last. They will arrive next week and we cannot wait."

The state health department has ordered 700,000 rapid test kits that will be given to schools and health clinics. The state also recently opened more mass testing sites, including one at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. That comes as healthcare leaders across the state are pleading with the public to get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.

Plea from health care leaders

Almost 40 health care executives signed a letter released Wednesday by the North Carolina Health Care Association. It includes all the major systems in the state, including Atrium Health, Cone Health, WakeMed, Duke and UNC Health. Hospitals say they need immediate help to slow the community spread of COVID-19.

The letter describes hospitals filled with mostly unvaccinated COVID patients, putting a huge strain on health care workers trying to take care of non-COVID patients. Health care leaders say the situation is heartbreaking.

The letter says everyone five and older needs to get vaccinated, and everyone 12 and older should be vaccinated and boosted. And, they say, everyone needs to keep wearing a mask.

Blood donors 'desperately needed'

Hospitals in North Carolina are also grappling with dangerously low blood supply. The American Red Cross says it is experiencing the worst blood shortage in over a decade.

January is often a challenging time to host blood drives with people returning from the holidays and winter storms. The latest wave of COVID-19 cases is making that even harder. Dozens of appointments and drives have been canceled because of individuals getting sick or exposed to COVID, the Red Cross says. And Red Cross staff are calling out sick as the omicron variant continues to spread.

Barry Porter, who leads Red Cross operations in North Carolina from the Triangle to the coast, says blood donors are desperately needed. He says its very likely that local hospitals are already rationing blood transfusions to patients.

Celeste Gracia covers the environment for WUNC. She has been at the station since September 2019 and started off as morning producer.
Jason deBruyn is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Digital News, a position he took in 2024. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016 as a reporter.
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