A closer look at why the new County Alert Map turned even redder


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Nearly 90 of North Carolina’s counties saw an increase in the percent of positive COVID-19 tests over the past two weeks while during that time per capita case rates increased in 57 counties.

A closer look at the metrics that provide the structure for the state’s COVID-19 County Alert System report illustrates precisely why the color-coded map is now almost entirely red.

The latest map released earlier this week showed 96 of the state’s 100 counties were shaded either red, indicating a critical level of viral spread, or orange, which means the spread is described as substantial.

There were 84 counties colored red — an increase of 30 percent from the previous report — with another 12 counties orange.

Warren County was the state’s only county to improve a level on the color chart, moving to yellow — indicating merely significant spread — after it was red two weeks ago. By comparison, the last report in December showed 10 counties improving by at least one color level from earlier that month.

The color assigned to each county depends on three metrics — case rate per 100,000 people, test positivity rate and hospital impact.

Counties in the red zone have a case rate higher than 200 per 100,000 people — the rate was higher than that in every county in the state, with Hyde County’s rate nearly 13 times higher — and meet at least one other criterium.

Every county with a positivity rate higher than 10 percent — except for Tyrrell County — was shaded red. 

Granville County, which had a positivity rate of 7.7 percent, was red because it was one of 13 counties showing a high impact to its hospitals. Two weeks ago, just nine counties had high hospital impacts.

The counties shaded orange either have a low hospital impact and a percent positive between 8 percent and 10 percent, or a positivity rate higher than 10 percent offset by a medium hospital impact.

Three counties — Perquimans, Macon and Cherokee — showed an increase of at least 10 percentage points in their positivity rates from the Dec. 22 report to the one released Wednesday. Perquimans and Macon counties each have a positivity rate that exceeds 20 percent.

That rate declined in only 11 counties, including five in the CBS 17 viewing area: Harnett, Wayne, Edgecombe, Granville and Warren — which saw a state-best drop of 7.8 percentage points to 6.8 percent.

Hyde County’s current case rate of more than 2,552 cases per 100,000 people was the highest in the state and represented an increase of 1,620 from the previous report. The 57 counties with higher per capita case rates showed an average increase of 185.4.

The cutoff for the data in this report was last Saturday, Jan. 2 — meaning it does not include the 34,309 new cases reported by the state since then, including the single-day record 10,398 on Wednesday. With the state in the early stages of a surge in its metrics caused by the late-December holidays, it’s possible in another two weeks that the color map could turn even more red.

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