RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — When state public health officials made a significant update to North Carolina’s running COVID-19 death total, they also included a couple of strong claims.

Despite the addition of more than 1,100 deaths to that count, they gave the state credit for keeping the death rate relatively low.

But how well do those numbers add up?

THE CLAIM: A statement from the state Department of Health and Human Services says “North Carolina has the lowest per capita rates of COVID-19 deaths in the Southeast and ranks among the lowest in the nation.”

THE FACTS: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks each state’s COVID-19 death rates on the basis of every 100,000 people who live there.

ClarLynda Williams-DeVane, the director of the state center for health statistics, calls the per capita death rate “the great equalizer.

“It takes into account the size of the state as well as the number of individuals in the state,” she said.

And it’s timely to look at those rates now, with the U.S. approaching its 1 millionth COVID-19 death.

North Carolinians have accounted for nearly 25,000 of them, after the state’s switch to an electronic reporting system resulted in another 1,146 deaths that took place between Jan. 1 and March 31 being added to the cumulative total.

The rate in North Carolina is 234 COVID deaths per capita — and that does, in fact, rank the lowest in the Southeast. It’s slightly better than Virginia, where 237 people have died of COVID for every 100,000 residents, and Maryland (239).

But the second half of that statement may be a bit of an overstatement.

North Carolina’s rate is the 13th-lowest in the U.S. — which doesn’t even put the state in the top 25 percent. 

So it might be a stretch to say it ranks among the nation’s lowest — even if it is low compared to its immediate geographic neighbors.

What’s worked so well here?

Wlliams-DeVane points to the state’s emphasis on health equity to combat a pandemic that has had a disproportionate impact on minorities.

“Making sure that those vulnerable populations have access to testing and also access to vaccines, but then also making sure that vaccine messaging is appropriate for all of those communities and particularly the vulnerable communities,” Williams-DeVane said.


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.