Data showing potential for positive trends among measures tracked by DHHS

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — At least two of the four key metrics of coronavirus spread being closely tracked by the state continue to trend in an encouraging direction, a CBS 17 News analysis of the latest data has found.

Yet on the first Tuesday since March that did not see a single-day high in reported deaths in North Carolina, a team of researchers from the University of Washington tripled the number of projected COVID-19-related deaths in the state.

The state Department of Health and Human Services reported 408 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 22 deaths after a total of 10 deaths were reported on Sunday and Monday.

“We aren’t seeing significant downward trajectories on most metrics, largely because we were successful the first place preventing a sharp peak,” DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said Tuesday. “We look relatively stable on these metrics.”

Each of the past four Tuesdays have seen spikes in death totals — most recently, 36 deaths were reported a week ago — and DHHS officials and data experts have attributed those sharp rises to the numbers catching up after lags in the reporting process during weekends.

DHHS officials and Gov. Roy Cooper are following four statistical measures as they begin to move the state into the first phase of relaxing social distancing guidelines. Cooper’s statewide stay-at-home order expires Friday, and he announced it will be replaced with a modified stay-at-home order.

Of those metrics, the one that presently offers the most optimistic signs is the 14-day rolling average in the positive test rate — of the number of total tests processed, the percentage of those that are determined to be positive.

The state calculates this figure from statistics reported from labs reporting both positive and negative tests to the North Carolina Electronic Disease Surveillance System, a process designed to guarantee that positive and total tests are conducted on the same day.

According to DHHS figures, that 14-day rolling average has dropped from about 11 percent on April 27 to roughly 8 percent Tuesday.

The data also showed a drastic drop in the number of total cases Sunday and Monday, followed by a spike Tuesday — a likely reflection of an increased number of tests. The state processed almost as many tests in Tuesday’s reported number (5,361) as it did Sunday and Monday combined (6,964), 

An independent calculation by showed that 14-day average has leveled near 370 during the past week with the most recent measurement at 379.

State officials have said they want to see either a downward trajectory over a 14-day period or sustained leveling.

The state is tracking two other critical metrics — the number of hospitalizations, and the number of people who visit emergency departments with COVID-like illnesses.

This chart shows the COVID-19-related hospitalization statistics in North Carolina, with the blue bars representing the daily numbers and the red line the 14-day rolling average. has been tracking the hospitalization numbers since March 27 and gathered enough data to calculate the 14-day rolling averages since April 9. Since then, the rolling average of hospitalizations has climbed every day, to its current average of 492, though it also appears to be flattening.

Cohen cited that relative stability in those numbers to count the hospitalization numbers as a positive.

The percentage of ER visitors with COVID-like symptoms is updated weekly in the COVID-19 Surveillance Summary and its next update is due Thursday evening.

Meanwhile, researchers at Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation — whose model has consistently been optimistic in its estimates during the pandemic — revised their projections for the U.S. and each state, increasing their projected death total in North Carolina to reach 1,169 by Aug. 4 after predicting 394 fatalities by that day a week ago.

The state’s actual death count surpassed that figure over the weekend and is at 452, according to DHHS.

The Washington researchers — whose revised death total for the U.S. is more than 134,000, up from approximately 74,000 —- say they’ve revised their model to account for more statistics.

Those include adding the number of hospitalizations,“smoothing” their trending model by averaging some daily death total calculations more frequently and factoring in changes in people’s mobility due to a possible lack of social distancing rules.

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