RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A team of researchers and public health experts says the spread of coronavirus appears to be slowing across North Carolina even though data from The New York Times has pegged the Triangle as a potential hot spot for an outbreak.
And while those observations may appear contradictory, one of the researchers says both can be true.
“Looking statewide, it’s good to see that we have a relatively flat curve,” said Dr. Pia MacDonald, the senior director of applied public health research at RTI International.
“But it’s important to also look at that in more localized areas and understand what’s going on in those communities because that is where traditional public health efforts could make a lot of difference,” she added.
Research published this week by a collaboration of researchers and experts from Duke University, the University of North Carolina and RTI indicates that the state appears to have enough capacity in its healthcare system “to warrant a gradual reopening, as long as vigilance is maintained” because overcrowding does remain a “plausible possibility,” according to the report.
Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday said he’s “optimistic” that the state can move into the first phase of its gradual reopening process next week.
According to the most recent update from the state Department of Health and Human Resources, there have been 10,509 lab-confirmed cases and 378 deaths in North Carolina due to COVID-19. And of the four 14-day metrics the state is tracking as it evaluates whether to relax social distancing guidelines, two are not trending in a way that would support such a move.
An interactive graphic by The New York Times earlier this week listed the Durham-Chapel Hill metropolitan area as a potential hot spot for an outbreak, but the publication’s most recent data indicated improvement.
According to the Times, the doubling time for COVID-19 deaths in that area had increased to 6.5 days Thursday — more than three times as long as it was on Tuesday, when its doubling time of 1.9 days was the fastest in the nation among areas with at least 20 deaths.
One possible explanation: Of the 43 deaths reported in the four counties that make up that metropolitan area — Chatham, Durham, Orange and Person — roughly two-thirds of them, 29 in all, were at nursing homes or other congregate living settings.
The report by the local researchers acknowledges “infection clusters in high-risk communities such as congregate settings” over the past few weeks.
“That’s where I would look at not what’s happening statewide, but what’s happening at a more granular level in certain communities and counties, and really understanding what’s happening there and what’s driving those cases to double faster,” MacDonald said. “Is it people working in aggregated settings that are essential workers? Is it nursing homes, jails (or) certain subpopulations?”
Durham Health Director Rod Jenkins said in a statement to CBS17.com that he is proud of the work the community has done to contain the virus.
“I am even more proud of the residents of Durham for adhering to our stay-at-home orders as it has been an effective mitigation strategy,” he said.
The local researchers’ work also concludes that one indicator of containment will be if the number of deaths per day decreases “in a sustained way over several weeks.
“We do not appear to be there yet,” the report said.