Gov. Cooper introduces ‘COVID-19 County Alert System’ to identify NC counties with high levels of community spread

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper said a new “COVID-19 County Alert System” is being implemented to identify North Carolina counties with the highest levels of community spread.

The system will also offer specific recommendations for how working together can bring down numbers.

Counties of concern will be designated as red, orange, or yellow using a combination of three specific metrics.

The system will take into account three main factors: case rate, percent positive, and hospital impact.

  • Case rate: Number of new cases in 14 days per 100,000 people
  • Percent positive: Percent of tests that are positive over 14 days
  • Hospital impact: Percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations; COVID-19 related visits to the ED

States will be either red, orange or yellow:

  • Red: Critical community thread
  • Orange: Substantial community spread
  • Yellow: Significant community spread

“These are from the same set of metrics we use every week to give an update on how North Carolina is doing with COVID-19,” Cooper said.

The counties currently in the red category include: Avery, Columbus, Davie, Gaston, Hoke, Mitchell, Samson, Wilkes and Wilson. 

The governor said the system will also include additional recommendations for individuals, businesses, community organizations, and public officials on actions they should take.

The governor said Tuesday he hoped the color-coded system would prompt people to look at the spread of the virus in a new way. 

“Letting the virus win now, with vaccines coming so soon, is like punting at the 10-yard line. That’s foolish!” he said. “This should send a real alarm across the county, not just the public officials but business owners, the faith community.” 

While Cooper did not announce any new restrictions Tuesday, he said that could occur if the COVID-19 metrics worsen. 

“Right now, these are strong recommendations. However, if our metrics keep moving in the wrong direction, the state could impose additional orders either at the local or statewide level,” he said. 

Cooper said the state’s COVID-19 numbers are “too high.”

“These are numbers we can not ignore,” he said.

On Tuesday, North Carolina recorded its highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations yet with 1,501.

“North Carolina hospitals are much better at taking care of COVID patients than we were, say, eight months ago,” said Steve Lawler, president and CEO of the North Carolina Healthcare Association, which represents hospitals across North Carolina.  

“While our hospitals have capacity, they’re feeling the strain, particularly in the Triad area,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Lawler said hospitals are managing a combination of patients dealing with: COVID-19, flu and complications from delaying treatments during the spring when the stay-at-home order was in effect. 

Hospital leaders have said one of their concerns is ensuring enough staff members avoid contracting COVID-19 to be able to continue serving the patients seeking care.  

“We want to avoid burnout because we think the next several months will be challenging as well,” said Lawler. 

As the state’s new color-coded map indicates, Lawler noted there’s “greater concern” in rural areas.  

He noted there have been a lot of improvements in how hospitals can care for people who are positive for COVID-19.  

As health care professionals learn more about the virus and how to treat it, Lawler said, “The severity of those patients, even though they’re hospitalized, has decreased as well.” 

That’s in part due to younger people more commonly becoming infected with the virus, he said. 

“I think we’ve seen a shift in care setting. We’ve seen increased knowledge on how to better care for these patients. And, we’ve seen the introduction of new therapies that we’re adding to our toolbox to care for these patients as well,” Lawler added.

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