From red to dark red: How rising case counts give COVID-19 heat map a color change

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Cases of COVID-19 have become so widespread in North Carolina and other states that a national team of researchers that includes one from Duke University added a fourth level of color-coded severity to its national heat map.

In one of the latest warning signs of the difficulty of containing the disease, researchers at CovidExitStrategy.org recently revised their map to add the classification of “uncontrolled spread” — marked by a dark shade of red — to account for extremes that weren’t part of the original scale CBS 17 News previously reported on in May.

North Carolina — and every state south of it — are among 21 states now colored dark red after earning the group’s most severe grade. That list includes every state in the Southeast that’s south of the Virginia border and east of Texas.

Only five states — all in the Northeast — were shaded green.

“You would have hoped that when the cases are going up to that extent that folks take a pause and start retreating and start changing their behavior,” said Marta Wosinska, one of the researchers and also the deputy director, policy at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy.

What’s hurting North Carolina’s grade is its rising case count, best illustrated by two measures tracked by the group.

The state has experienced a 23 percent increase in the number of cases during the past two weeks using a seven-day rolling average, according to the researchers. Statistics from the state Department of Health and Human Services indicate there were 27,544 new cases reported between July 9-23.

The researchers also say the state is adding 187 new daily cases per million people. For states shaded green in that measure — indicating a trend of improvement — that number is less than 40. Only seven states meet that goal — six in the Northeast plus Hawaii.

Some other metrics are trending in a more positive direction for North Carolina: Its testing average is 187 percent higher than its per capita share of the nationwide target of 500,000 tests per day. The state has processed at least 30,000 tests on six of the past nine days. Its hospital capacity — with less than 70 percent of its intensive care beds occupied — is good, as is its level of outpatient visits due to flu-like illness.

Dr. Cyrus Shahpar, an epidemiologist and one of the leaders of Resolve to Save Lives — a nonprofit run by former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden — says states that are shaded red “should have certain things in place.

“One is that people are wearing masks, of course,” he said. “It’s a combination of personal measures, that we’re supporting people to adopt them — like mask-wearing and other measures of preventing bad situations and super-spreader situations from developing.”

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