North Carolina reported a record spike in cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, boosted no doubt by the highly contagious Omicron variant following holiday gatherings and expanded availability of testing. 

The state reported nearly 21,000 new cases of the virus, or about 2,000 more cases than was reported Friday, which had broken the previous daily record. About 32 percent of all tests conducted were returned positive, also another record high since the start of the pandemic. 

However, although the Omicron variant appears to be more contagious, cases of the virus have been less severe. North Carolina’s hospitalization rate has remained relatively low—about 3,100 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19—compared to earlier surges in the pandemic. 

Since March 2020, 19,542 people have died after contracting the virus. 

As of Wednesday, 70 percent of adults in the state are fully vaccinated, and 74 percent have received at least one dose of a vaccine. 

On Tuesday, Governor Roy Cooper and newly appointed Department of Health and Human Services director Kody Kinsley urged residents to get vaccines and booster shots if they have not yet done so. 

“For people who have been vaccinated and especially for those who have gotten boosters, the new Omicron variant has been less severe than previous surges,” Cooper said in a statement. “With these vaccines and boosters we have an amazing tool to save people’s lives and beat this pandemic – and we’ll keep our foot on the gas when it comes to getting more shots and more boosters administered.” 

Residents are still advised to wear masks while indoors in public spaces. 

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