RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — New cases of COVID-19 are climbing across the country — and so are your chances of being exposed to the virus.

Understanding that risk is particularly important now with people traveling all over the state and the U.S. for Thanksgiving.

It’s why a risk map created last year by researchers at Georgia Tech, Duke and Stanford remains timely even today.


The map shows that no matter where you’re going for the holiday, you face at least some risk of being exposed to COVID.

“And so we should definitely be keeping an eye on that and considering ways that we can be making our gatherings a little bit safer,” said Allie Sinclair, a researcher at Duke who is part of the team that assembles the COVID-19 event risk assessment planning tool.

The online map breaks down the chances that you could be exposed to COVID for every county in the U.S. in groups of varying sizes — from 10 to 5,000, with examples to put those numbers into context. A fitness class might include 15 people, for example, while a college basketball game would have 5,000 or more.

“What we’re trying to do here is give people these benchmarks of different sizes of events that correspond to real things that they might be doing,” Sinclair said.

(Source: Georgia Tech COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool)

The risk map for a 50-person group in North Carolina shows a slightly darker shade — indicating more risk — in the western mountains and in central North Carolina, including Wake County, where it carries a 36 percent chance of COVID exposure.

But the real variance comes when you adjust the group sizes.

A 10-person get-together in Wake County has just an exposure risk of 8 percent. But make it 100 in Currituck County and it swells all the way to 78 percent.

“If they can think about how these event sizes relate to things in their own life,” Sinclair said, “then they can think about the risk level as probability and weigh whether or not they want to engage in an event that’s that big.” The biggest reason for those differences is also the most obvious one — vaccination rates. But it’s not the only one. Sinclair says weather is also a factor, with chillier places leading more people indoors, where COVID tends to spread easier.

“You’ll see there’s pretty good correspondence. … Places that have fewer vaccinated people tend to have more cases,” Sinclair said. “But at the same time, that doesn’t account for everything.”

Experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci have said holiday gatherings should be safe as long as you and the people at those gatherings are vaccinated — but it’s wise to remain aware that risk does exist.

“If the risk of exposure is high, then you should take more precautions,” Sinclair said.

The value of those maps has to do with probabilities and the big picture, as opposed to focusing on individual people, said Dr. David Weber, an infectious disease specialist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

“You know, I think they provide general information, but I don’t think on an individual case, they’re particularly helpful,” he said. “It’s all probabilistic.”

CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.