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COVID-19 map cases across the state put counties on alert

By Yasmine Regester, Peacemaker Staff Writer / November 20, 2020

While COVID-19 cases are surging across the United States, North Carolina has instituted a new COVID-19 County Alert System to pinpoint counties with the highest levels of viral spread and offers specific recommendations to bring numbers down.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) announced on November 17 that the map is intended to help give local leaders another tool to understand how their county is faring and to make decisions about actions to slow viral spread. The map will be updated every four weeks.

“By pinpointing counties with high virus transmission and asking everyone in those counties to work with us and do more right now to slow the spread of the virus, we can succeed,” said Gov. Cooper. “It can help bring down their case rates, keep their communities safer, save lives and keep their hospital systems working.”

The COVID-19 County Alert System uses a combination of three metrics: case rates, the percent of tests that are positive, and hospital impact within the county. The map is categorized into three tiers: Yellow, Significant Community Spread; Orange, Substantial Community Spread; and Red, Critical Community Spread. The 14-day case rate is determined by the number of positive cases per 100,000 people. The percent positive is the percent of tests that are positive over 14 days, while the hospital impact score is based on the impact that COVID-19 has had on hospitals including percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations, COVID-19 related visits to the emergency department, staffed open hospital beds, and critical staffing shortages over 14 days.

An orange classification means there were between 100 and 200 new cases per 100,000 people in the last 14 days, the percentages of tests returned positive were between 8 and 10 percent, and there was a moderate impact on the county’s hospitals. A county classified as red, means there were more than 200 new cases per 100,000 people in last 14 days, the percentage of tests returned were more than 10 percent, with a high impact on the county’s hospitals.

Counties that are assigned to the red or orange tier, have been given recommendations on further limiting the spread of the disease through increased social distancing and reducing the number of people at gatherings. Counties that are assigned yellow are advised to continue to be vigilant about the state guidelines already in place and are encouraged to participate in “contact tracing” for the virus.

“It’s going to take all of us working together to avoid tightening restrictions like so many states are now doing,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen. “The COVID-19 County Alert System gives North Carolinians an easy way to see how their county is doing and know what they can do to protect their family and neighbors and slow the spread of this virus.”

According to the map, ten counties are currently classified as red, and 43 are classified as orange. The rest of the counties are yellow. For the initial 14-day analysis, from November 1 – November 14, Guilford County was placed on the yellow tier with a 395.6 case rate per 100,000, a 1.9 percent positive rate, and rated low for hospital impact.

As of November 18, there have been 320,862 cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina and 4,898 deaths, according to the NCDHHS.

Gov. Cooper warned that although cases in North Carolina are not surging, they are still increasing, and if the numbers continue to rise, the state could be forced to impose additional orders. North Carolina is still under the extended Phase 3 of reopening. It reduces the limit on indoor gatherings from 25 people to 10 and outdoor gathering limits remain at 50 people. Phase 3 is set to expire Dec. 4.


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Since 1967, the Carolina Peacemaker has served as North Carolina’s leading news weekly with a national reputation. Founded by Dr. John Kilimanjaro, the newspaper is published by Carolina Newspaper, Inc.

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