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COVID-19 metrics rise in NC, as health officials prepare for omicron's arrival in Carolinas

North Carolina's coronavirus cases and patients are rising headed into December as more states confirm cases of the new omicron variant.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — While North Carolina is in better shape with its COVID-19 metrics than this time last year, the numbers are still going in the wrong direction.

About a week removed from the Thanksgiving holiday and within the transmission window for Thanksgiving-related coronavirus cases, the state is reporting several back-to-back days of above-average cases.

On Friday, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported more than 3,700 new infections, the third straight day with a case count above 3,000.

The state's two-week average for daily new cases is around 2,100, which is up from the most recent low of 1,700, seen in mid-November.

The test positivity rate is now up to 6.5% over the last two weeks, a rate above the state's 5% goal line and a rise from 4.3% about three weeks ago.

Although the COVID-19 patient rise is much more subtle, it, too, is up, sitting above 1,200 after getting as low as 1,000 last month.

Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist with Duke Health, said it is likely the metrics increases are related more to recent behaviors, rather than an undetected arrival of the omicron coronavirus variant.

"I suspect that has nothing yet to do with variant activity and everything to do with the fact that, frankly, we've eased our guard off a little bit," Wolfe said. "It's also occurring at a time when we learned from last year that covid spreads really easily."

Omicron has officially been reported in multiple states, none of which are the Carolinas. However, health officials think it is only a matter of time before it does arrive.

“When we already know there are cases in multiple countries, multiple parts of the world, the writing is on the wall that at some point omicron will likely be here,” Dr. Katie Passaretti, infectious disease specialist with Atrium Health, said.

“The most important things we can do to protect ourselves are getting our vaccination rates up, and then, I do think it makes sense going into the holidays, going into times of gathering, to think about your indoor gatherings and masking in those settings is going to, in my mind, be important in the coming months,” Passaretti said.

Contact Vanessa Ruffes at vruffes@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram