Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday, Jan. 4, said health experts, doctors, and scientists are learning more about COVID-19, and state officials and politicians are using that knowledge to keep schools open and to avoid more onerous shutdowns and suppressions.

In a news briefing, Cooper said people have to start learning to live with the virus, which isn’t going away, and that state health experts and officials will do whatever is necessary to help residents return to relative normality. That includes encouraging masking indoors, getting vaccines and boosters, and getting tested.

At the same time, Cooper extended an executive order, first issued in July, requiring state workers in cabinet-level agencies to either to get a vaccine or submit to weekly COVID testing. “All other state and local government agencies are strongly encouraged to voluntarily adopt similar policies,” the order reads. 

Eighteen state workers have been fired over their refusal to comply with the order, The Associated Press reported Christmas Eve. “The 18 fired state employees include six workers from the Department of Health and Human Services, five from the Department of Public Safety, three from the Department of Transportation, and one each from four other cabinet-level agencies. They represent just 0.03% of the workforce Cooper’s order covers,” The AP says.

Testing sites around the state are deluged with people who want a test, although at-home tests can skew results, meaning the positivity rate is likely higher than reported. As of Tuesday, North Carolina reported more than 10,000 COVID cases. Nearly 30% of tests are returning positive. Testing last month peaked on Dec. 31 with 91,700 tests.

The omicron variant is more contagious than previous surges, but vaccines and especially boosters will likely prevent severe illness, Cooper and state Health Secretary Kody Kinsley said in the news conference.

“That is the strongest protection we have to fight this virus and live normal lives,” Cooper said of vaccines and boosters. The state, too, is working to open additional test sites, said Kinsley, who this year took over for Dr. Mandy Cohen, who resigned late last year.

North Carolina has administered more than 14 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with some 69% of adults fully vaccinated. Still, Kinsley said, the state is breaking COVID records almost daily.

Testing before you gather can help slow the spread of omicron,” Kinsley said in a statement over the holidays. “And if you test positive, quickly seeking out treatment can help reduce the risk of severe disease.” 

Many health experts are now saying the mainstream media, which tend to raise fears anyway, may be better served to focus reporting on hospitalizations and deaths, as opposed to the rise in positive cases. For instance, left-leaning news website The Guardian, reporting on comments by Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s lead COVID adviser, said it may be time to focus less on just the case count, which has soared close to 500,000 reported new daily infections.

A number of experts have questioned if such reports cause unnecessary worry, The Guardian says in its U.S. edition, and they suggest deaths and hospitalization data should better inform mitigation efforts.

“The answer is, overall, yes,” Fauci told ABC. “This is particularly relevant if you’re having an infection that is much, much more asymptomatic and minimally symptomatic, particularly in people who are vaccinated and boosted.

“The real bottom line that you want to be concerned about is: Are we getting protected by the vaccines from severe disease leading to hospitalization?”

The toll on mental health continues as well.

Cooper, in a bit of an understatement, said Tuesday, “I know many of you are weary and frustrated.”