Effects of Phase 2 could show up in COVID-19 data in coming days

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The effects of the state’s transition into a modified Phase Two of reopening could start showing up in the daily coronavirus statistics later this week.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen says it usually takes 2-3 weeks for an isolated event to show up in the numbers.

That’s largely because it takes an average of 4-5 days — but in some cases up to two weeks — for an infected person to show symptoms, and it takes more time for that person to take a COVID-19 test and for those results to be determined and logged into the state’s recording system.

The state moved into the second phase of the reopening process May 22. Friday marks the beginning of the third week of the phase that allowed for the reopening of restaurant dining rooms at smaller capacities, permitted slightly larger gatherings and relaxed other social distancing measures taken since March to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

And while the number of new cases continues to climb, and the state has a set a single-day record for hospitalizations for the fourth time in nine days, Cohen says there isn’t one specific number her team is monitoring closely as it gauges when to take the next step in reopening.

“We’ll obviously keep looking at the trends, but right now, we’re not seeing any one thing that we can point to,” Cohen said. “What we are seeing is a slow increase in various parts of our state, and that is what we’re going to keep our eye on going forward.”

Cohen says there is “a number (of factors) that I think we need to watch that are small, increases that could be a harbinger of something coming in the future.”

The main one figures to be the steady rise in the number of people in the hospital.

The state reported 716 hospitalizations Tuesday, the third time in seven days that the total exceeded 700. 

Each of those days represented a single-day high to that point, though Cohen has said repeatedly that the state’s hospitals have enough capacity to handle that number of patients without becoming overwhelmed.

And since nearly a month has passed since the state’s May 8 move to Phase One — which allowed people to leave home for additional reasons and permitted outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people — that falls within that window of 2-3 weeks for those effects to show up in the data.

The positive test rate — the percentage of all tests administered that wind up being positive for COVID-19 — has vacillated during the past two weeks, twice rising to 10 percent before settling at around 8 percent for three consecutive days.

That’s a positive development, though three days is far too short of a time period to judge a trend. And the state still has plenty of room for improvement to meet the World Health Organization’s recommendation that the rate should be at 5 percent or lower for at least 14 days.

“That’s why we want to watch trends,” Cohen said. “It’s never one day that we want to overreact to, but we want to see what these trends look like over a period of time and make sure that we’re acting.”

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