Friday, March 1, 2024

Cooper launches new county alert system, tracking Covid-19 hotspots

The state's new mapping system highlights Covid-19 hot spot areas and makes recommendations to county leaders. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy NCDHHS)
The state’s new mapping system highlights Covid-19 hot spot areas and makes recommendations to county leaders. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy NCDHHS)

N.C. Governor Roy Cooper announced a new statewide alert system detailing Covid-19 trends on a county-by-county basis at a Tuesday press conference.

The County Alert System offers specific recommendations to bring down novel coronavirus case numbers. It identifies viral hotspots, specifically counties seeing cases and positive tests on the rise.

The system is designed to alert counties with the highest levels of community spread.

“North Carolina’s COVID-19 numbers remain too high,” Cooper tweeted Tuesday.

The system intends to help communities react and make healthful decisions to slow the dissemination of Covid-19. The governor emphasized the new metric system is for everyone — commissioners, mayors, city councils, businesses, organizations, hospitals, faith and community leaders, and citizens — to work together to slow the virus.

The metric system categorizes counties as red (critical cases), orange (substantial cases) or yellow (significant cases). New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties all are marked yellow, which is considered low-impact.

Counties are rated according to three metrics:

  • Case rate — how many new cases per 100,000 were found over 14 days
  • Percent positive — how many tests were positive over 14 days
  • Hospital impact — percent of Covid-19 hospitalizations, ER visits related to the virus, staffed open hospital beds and critical staffing shortages happen over 14 days

“Our metrics are increasing, not surging, but surges could happen,” the governor added. He pointed to the need of protecting statewide hospitals and infrastructure, much like North Carolinians faced during initial shutdowns in the spring.

The percent of positive cases out of those tested has risen to 8%, higher than the 5% state health experts would like to see.

Tuesday, the state logged its highest rate of hospitalization since the pandemic began, with 1,501 people currently hospitalized. Over the last 24 hours, 3,288 tested positive for the virus in North Carolina — the highest one-day infection rate in the state to date.

“We are already seeing hospitals see some strain,” Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of North Carolina Department of Human Health Services, said, pointing specifically to the triad area.

“We have to take strong steps now, which is why we put this in place,” Cooper added.

If numbers rise, the governor said he would look at stricter orders statewide or recommendations county-wide. “We hope to avoid taking such actions,” he said, noting how the sheriff of the orange-zoned Halifax County already is beginning to enforce the mask mandate.

Dr. Cohen noted the state can provide additional support to counties via prevention messaging and testing, strategizing support of local health departments, and support services that allow people to isolate/quarantine as needed.

“Every local community will have different drivers so we want to help and work with them to tailor solutions,” Cohen said.

The state will reveal reports monthly on the metric system. Counties will stay in their colored zones for four weeks to give them time to make progress before reevaluating how they move forward.

“With promising news on the vaccine front, we need to do what we’ve done throughout the pandemic: work together,” Cooper said. “Letting the virus win now, when vaccines are coming so soon, is foolish . . . By pinpointing counties and asking everyone in those counties to work with us, we can succeed, keep communities safer, save lives and keep the hospitals safe.”

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