Raleigh, Caroline du Nord – State officials on Tuesday rolled out a system to show North Carolina coronavirus hotspots to step up pressure on counties where the virus is spreading rapidly and is at risk of overwhelming healthcare resources.
North Carolina has repeatedly set new records in recent weeks for new infections and hospitalizations. Another 3,288 infections were reported statewide as of Tuesday, the second-highest on a day in the pandemic. The increase in the number of cases pushed the seven-day moving average to 2,865 new cases per day over the past week, surpassing the record set Monday by more than 100.
Meanwhile, the 1,501 people in North Carolina hospitals with the virus on Tuesday were also a new high, and the 8.6% positive test rate for coronaviruses was the highest in at least a month.
“These are numbers we cannot ignore,” Governor Roy Cooper said of announcing the county’s new alert system.
The system, which will be updated monthly, uses a color-coded map showing counties with the highest rate of new cases, high rates of positive tests and limited hospital capacity in red, moderate levels in orange. and lower levels in yellow.
A red county is a county with more than 200 new infections per 100,000 population in 14 days and either a positive test rate greater than 10% or a high impact on local hospitals. An Orange County is one with 101 to 200 new cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period and either an 8-10 percent positive test rate or a moderate impact on local hospitals.
The initial map has 10 counties in the “critical” red zone, including Wilson, Hoke and Sampson. 43 others, including Cumberland, Johnston, Lee, Moore, Vance, Warren, Edgecombe, Halifax and Northampton, are considered orange, with “substantial” spread of the virus.
By reporting hot spots, officials, businesses and residents of those counties can take additional steps to fight the virus, according to Cooper and Dr Mandy Cohen, secretary of the State Department of Health and Human Services. These measures include limiting personal actions to essential activities like grocery shopping, allowing more employees to work from home, and enforcing the mask mandate statewide.
“Right now the numbers for North Carolina are increasing, not increasing, but a surge can happen quickly,” Cooper said. “We hope that this open and transparent map, with all the information, can increase the level of concern in each of these counties. ”
Cooper and Cohen both highlighted efforts in Halifax County, where officials have taken a stronger stand on people wearing masks in public.
Halifax County Sheriff Wes Tripp said the companies were complying with the mask’s warrant and his deputies had only had to issue a dozen warnings and no citations so far.
“If we get a call, we respond and give verbal warnings to business owners,” Tripp said. “It depends on personal responsibility. We want to educate instead of punishing. ”
State health officials are prepared to work with individual counties by stepping up testing and providing resources to help meet their individual needs, Cooper an Cohen said.
If measures do not improve, the governor said, some county-specific restrictions may need to be enacted.
“It’s a good point today to make sure we renew our efforts, to make sure we apply what we have there and to get more buy-in from the community,” he said. .
Earlier Tuesday, Cohen urged people to take the pandemic seriously.
“North Carolina is on very volatile ground, and I am concerned as we approach the holidays,” she said to open a virtual health forum sponsored by the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.
“I want to avoid what I consider the worst wave to come,” she said, stressing that it’s easy for coronavirus rates to skyrocket out of control within days.
Cohen also reminded people to be careful during the holidays by holding small, outdoor gatherings and wearing masks at all times.
“I know how difficult it is,” she said, expressing her own disappointment at not seeing her family.
Cohen spoke of a coronavirus vaccine, which could be ready in early January, calling it promising, but warning that it will likely not be widely available until spring.
She said she was concerned the vaccine would lead to risky behavior. Even after people start getting vaccinated, masks and social distancing should remain the norm for some time, she said.
“I’m already worried that people are completely on top of this virus,” Cohen said, urging people to be vigilant and practice the “three W’s” of frequent hand washing, wearing masks in public and waiting at least six feet from each other.
Nationwide, 47 states are seeing an increase in cases of the virus, which Cooper is expected to serve as North Carolina’s “canary in the coal mine”. He too warned of pandemic fatigue.
“We cannot let weariness prevail,” he said. “Letting the virus win now with the vaccines coming so soon is like punting the 10 yard line. It’s silly. We must achieve this line of goals together. “
Last week, keeping the impact of the holidays in mind, Cooper reduced the number of people allowed to congregate indoors from 25 to 10 until at least the first week of December.
Cooper’s latest executive order also extended capacity limits for gyms, cinemas, restaurants, and outdoor areas for bars and entertainment and sports venues until 5 p.m. on December 4.
Doctors say the coronavirus is spread in small, intimate gatherings, when people may not remember to wear masks when meeting with extended family or friends. For Thanksgiving, doctors are asking families to consider reuniting with their families for dinner, using Zoom to connect with extended relatives instead.