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With NC Coronavirus Numbers 'Too High,' State Launches Hotspot Map


North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday that the state’s coronavirus numbers are “too high,” and the state health department has launched a hotspot map system to better pinpoint and address regional surges of COVID-19.

The state on Tuesday reported 1,501 COVID-19 hospitalizations, its highest number to date. State data on Tuesday also showed an increase in the seven-day rolling average of reported new daily cases. Last week, the number of reported cases surpassed 3,000 for the first time since the pandemic began.

Of note with the hospitalization numbers, however: The state changed the way it reports hospitalizations late last week under direction from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC now requires that hospitals report the entire time a person is in the hospital because of COVID-19 rather than just the time that a person spends in isolation with the virus.

North Carolina officials also announced at a press conference on Tuesday that the state will now produce a monthly hotspot map report or "county alert system." It categorizes each of the state’s 100 counties into “red,” “orange” and “yellow” levels based on certain coronavirus metrics.

In the reported released on Tuesday, which covers the two weeks of November, 10 counties in the state, including Gaston County, were in the red category, indicating "critical community spread." Mecklenburg County was yellow, the lowest of the three color tiers, meaning "significant community spread." Cabarrus, Catawba, Cleveland and Iredell counties were all listed in the orange category for "substantial community spread."

The state Department of Health and Human Services will use three metrics to determine the color each county receives: the number of new COVID-19 cases in two weeks per 100,000 people; the percent of tests that are positive; and the impact on hospitals, which includes the number of available staffed hospital beds. Officials said the hotspot map will be released on a monthly basis.

“Right now, North Carolina’s metrics are increasing, not surging, but a surge can happen quickly,” Cooper said Tuesday. “If officials, business, community and faith leaders — the people who live in these orange and red counties — can work with us to take effective action to bring down their numbers, we can protect our state’s hospital system and save lives.”

The map is an effort to target the state’s coronavirus response, according to officials, and avoid reimplementing restrictions statewide. The state has remained in Phase 3 of its reopening plan, though last week Cooper issued an executive order that reduced the limit on gatherings to 10 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.

North Carolina officials have cited several causes for the worsening COVID-19 trends including pandemic fatigue and cooler weather, which leads to more indoor gatherings. The virus is believed to spread more easily indoors, particularly when people do not wear masks or remain six feet apart.

Copyright 2020 WFAE.  For more visit WFAE.org

Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literture and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. In her free time, Claire likes listening to podcasts and trying out new recipes.