RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Data compiled by a national team of researchers suggest that North Carolina might not be ready to move through the reopening process amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Publishing their work online at covidexitstrategy.org, the researchers — a nonpartisan group that includes Marta Wosińska, the deputy director of policy at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy — boil down a mountain of data specific to each state into the same three-color evaluation system found on a traffic light, based on whether that state is meeting the gating criteria set by the White House.
North Carolina on Tuesday was one of 19 states colored red — meaning those criteria have not yet been met.
In particular, the researchers docked the state because its 14-day trend of COVID-19 cases is still increasing.
According to the latest numbers from the state Department of Health and Human Services, there were 677 new cases reported Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases to 19,700 and raising the 14-day rolling average as calculated by CBS17.com to 532 — the state’s highest total yet.
And while other factors — such as the number of deaths and hospitalizations — appear to have stabilized, that the number of cases continues to climb is concerning to another local expert in the field.
“What I look at is the number of cases growing on average every day, or are they stable or decreasing to me,” said Pia MacDonald, an epidemiologist at RTI International. “And in North Carolina, it’s worrisome to me because the number of case are on average growing rather than shrinking or stabilizing.”
The national team of researchers says North Carolina is making progress in testing but still has room for improvement. While the state has averaged 8,966 tests over the past seven days, that is only 54 percent of its share of the national target of 500,000 tests per day.
The team also gave the state positive marks for its decreasing number of people who are visiting emergency departments with flu-like sicknesses, and for being well under its capacity of beds in its intensive care units.
“Right now, when we look at some of the indicators, it looks like we’re stable and when we look at other indicators, it does not look like we are in a stable place,” MacDonald said. “That’s where it gets confusing and you need to understand what you’re looking at, and the limitations to that data.”
Gov. Roy Cooper and his staff have said they will decide during this week whether to move to the second phase of the reopening process Friday.
In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster allowed restaurants to reopen their indoor dining areas, and barber shops, gyms and other “close contact” businesses were allowed to reopen.
But there’s a major difference in one key statistical metric in those states.
The percent of tests that came back positive in South Carolina has consistently been lower than in North Carolina.
South Carolina’s daily rate has been below 4 percent in seven of the last nine days, with a trend line that points below 3 percent.
In North Carolina, however, that daily percentage has dipped no lower than 5 percent this month, according to figures posted on the DHHS dashboard.
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