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COVID 19NC: Putting the Omicron variant in context with NC Health News editor Rose Hoban

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BPR News
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COVID tests are in high demand in NC as the Omicron varient triggers record-breaking case numbers.

The pandemic is showing no sign of letting up  in North Carolina. The state set another COVID  daily case  record with 29,069 new cases on Sunday (1/9). For perspective, BPR’s Helen Chickering checked  in with North Carolina Health News editor Rose Hoban.  (and check out the NC Health News look ahead for health in 2022  here)

RH: I mean, it's insane. I did say this on Twitter back in December,  that basically  Omicron’s going to get you,  it's so contagious. It does replicate better in the upper part of your respiratory system. Not so well in your lungs. Right? So there's one study out of  University of Hong Kong that shows that Omicron replicates like 70 times better than Delta in your nasopharynx. And then there's this sort of compelling stuff suggesting that the antigen tests, the rapid tests, aren't doing such a good job. There was a study where the oral swabs  picked up more. So,  it might be that  - this is not proof, but indication that  Omicron really  is centered more in the upper respiratory system than the lower respiratory system. That could help explain why our ICUs in comparison to September, when we had the Delta wave, around 30% of hospitalized patients were in ICUs. Whereas this week, the percent of patients in the ICU was only 20%.

HC: Interesting threads to follow. Meantime, North Carolina has a new health secretary who is stepping into big shoes, following Dr. Mandy Cohen.   And boy, what a time to take over with skyrocketing cases and the COVID testing crunch.  Here's a short clip of Kody Kinsley,  in his first briefing during the COVID taskforce comp news conference.

“Last week, we set a single day record for COVID 19 cases. The next day we broke it and the next day we broke it again,”

HC: Just wanted to get your take on how he did, how he's doing. And boy, what a time to start a new job.

RH: I know,  I mean Mandy Cohen had  a level of gravitas and just this incredible grasp of the situation, the science, and of course she's a physician. So, she understood  the medical implications. Kody Kinsley is  younger and everything I hear from inside NC DHHS is that his superpower is he's a logistics guy. We're working on a profile of Kinsley. I interviewed the state Medicaid head, Dave Richard. He was telling me that in early 2020, when tests were really a problem and then in early 2021, when getting vaccines out the door was an issue -  each time they called on Kinsley. If you remember, North Carolina did a pretty good job compared to other states of getting people, vaccine it quickly getting tests out there. So, I'm hoping that that's the thing that he brings to the table. These logistics chops that he supposedly has, let's hope that he's able to do that. He's only  been in his job a week.

HC: What will you be watching in the next week when it comes to, to COVID numbers, hospitalizations, everything.

RH: With Omicron, we are seeing everything faster. We get to symptoms faster. You get to the point where people go, I need to go to the hospital faster. So, are we going to see the deaths show up in the data a little faster? Death is always a lagging indicator. So right now, the deaths have been holding steady. So, I'll be watching to see if we see death data starting to climb daily in the coming week to two weeks.

Need a mood boost? Check out the story by Clarissa Donnelley-DeRoven mentioned at the end of the conversation, a feature on the 20th anniversary party for the Sandhills Family Heritage Association, an organization dedicated to celebrating and strengthening the relationship between rural Black residents in the Sandhills region of North Carolina and the land they call home. 

Check out the NC Health News look ahead for health in 2022  here.

North Carolina Health News is an independent, not-for-profit, statewide news organization dedicated to covering health care in North Carolina employing the highest journalistic standards of fairness, accuracy, and extensive research.

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.