RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper held a COVID-19 briefing Tuesday for the first time since the discovery of a new variant of the virus.
Days after the discovery of the omicron variant in South Africa, Cooper said North Carolina is staying the course with guidance – not restrictions – when it comes to health protocols, but repeatedly urged people across the state to get vaccinated.
State leaders shared few specifics about North Carolina’s preparations for the variant, which they said likely will be in the state soon –- if it’s not already.
Cooper said he expects the state will continue without COVID-19 restrictions, with none currently in place, deferring instead to CDC guidance and leaving decisions up to localities.
“I would expect we would continue to do that,” Cooper said.
North Carolina’s top doctor said numerous questions remain about the new variant: how contagious it is, whether it makes people more sick, and how well current vaccines and treatment options will hold up.
“We still have a lot to learn about omicron,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary, who also announced Tuesday that she’s stepping down from her position at the end of the year.
Again and again, state leaders stressed the importance of vaccinations, with the latest state data showing 95 percent of North Carolinians age 75 and older have received at least one vaccine dose. But only 52 percent of young adults ages 18 to 24 have been vaccinated.
Cooper acknowledged the threat of a new variant could lead to more people getting shots.
“If this motivates people,” he said, “Please go and get vaccinated.”
North Carolina health officials will be testing for the omicron variant at the state lab, where they receive a small portion of testing samples, as they monitor what Cohen called an “evolving situation” when it comes to the virus.