On redder NC COVID county alert map, some pockets of improvement show up

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The state’s latest COVID-19 county alert map paints a sobering picture with two-thirds of North Carolina’s counties experiencing the most severe levels of spread amid the deadliest month so far in the pandemic.

And even in the few counties that actually showed some measure of improvement, there’s very little satisfaction.

“We may not be faring quite as poorly as some other counties, but there is cause for concern,” Chatham County Health Director Mike Zelek told CBS 17 News on Wednesday.

The dominant storyline of the report released earlier this week was its abrupt reddening of the color-coded alert map — a clear indication of how the coronavirus continues to spread across the state.

Yet there were spots scattered across the state where the metrics improved enough to merit a change in the other direction: 10 counties — including four in the CBS 17 viewing area — saw a drop in their severity level on the color scale.

Six counties — Anson, Columbus, Edgecombe, Haywood, Sampson and Yancey counties — went from red to orange on the map released Tuesday, meaning their alert level went from critical to substantial as described by the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Another three — Chatham, Greene and Northampton — shifted from orange to yellow, signifying spread that is only considered significant. And Madison County on the western border with Tennessee went all the way from red to yellow.

Zelek praised the residents of Chatham County for their compliance with the mask mandate and their adherence to the three Ws — the cornerstone of DHHS’ public messaging campaign.

“But I’ll also be realistic about this,” he added. “Our numbers are trending in the wrong direction.”

Those improvements in the numbers can be tenuous.

“It can be kind of teetering yellow-orange and tip over to the orange, where this time we’re kind of on the other side of that, where we may be teetering orange-yellow and slip to the yellow,” Zelek said.

The state judge counties on three criteria — their per capita case rates, the percentage of positive tests and a combination of measurements that determine how much stress the local hospitals are experiencing.

Zelek said the lack of pressure on Chatham Hospital at the time is “what moved us from orange to yellow.”

There appeared to be little correlation between a county’s case rate and its color code.

Even the counties with improved colors still had case rates in excess of the state’s target values. Counties in the red zone have more than 200 cases during a two-week span for every 100,000 residents with at least 42 cases in that time; those in the orange zone have between 101 and 200 new cases per capita with at least 21 cases.

Of those 10 counties, Chatham had the lowest case rate — at 342.4 for every 100,000 people. Yancey County, which is in the orange zone, had 1,284 cases on a per capita basis.

The key figure appears to be the percent positive, also measured over a two-week period. For the four counties that moved into the yellow zone, that figure was less than 8 percent; the six that went orange had a percent positive in the 9 percent range.

Those metrics blend together to determine the color code: Every county in the state with a listed high impact on hospitals was in the red zone. For the 52 counties with a low hospital impact, those with a percent positive below 8 percent were in the yellow tier while those between 8 percent and 10 percent were in the orange zone and those higher than 10 percent were in the red zone.

But while the report was released Tuesday, the data covered the period from Dec. 4-18. In six of those counties, the percent positive listed on the report was lower than it was Wednesday on the DHHS dashboard.

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