Truth tracker: Did Cohen overstate how NC’s numbers compare to rest of Southeast?

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Dr. Mandy Cohen and other state leaders have taken pride in the way North Carolina has handled the COVID-19 pandemic when compared to other states.

But in speaking to lawmakers earlier this week, did Cohen overstate how the state’s key pandemic metrics stack up against others in the region?

THE CLAIM: “If you look at our other Southeastern state partners, we have less cases, less deaths, less hospitalizations,” Cohen said. “And I think it’s because of the work that we’ve done over this year.”

THE FACTS: Cohen is mostly, but not completely, accurate. 

CBS 17 News compared the cases, deaths and hospitalizations in North Carolina to those in 11 other states in the region, from Maryland to Louisiana.

Because there is no standard for all states to follow when reporting their data, numbers from The New York Times and the COVID Tracking Project were used to compare the states. Bigger states generally bigger numbers across the board, so rates for every 100,000 people in a state were used to standardize the comparisons.

We found North Carolina ranks near the top in all three measures, but at the top in only one.

The state has has the fourth-fewest cases per capita, with 8,113 for every 100,000 people. Maryland (6,249), Virginia (6,643) and West Virginia (7,262) each rank better, while Tennessee (11,043) was last in the region.

Virginia has the fewest deaths per 100,000 people, with 90, with Kentucky (104) also better than North Carolina (105).

But the state’s hospitals have held up well. 

North Carolina is one of three states in the region not to report the cumulative number of COVID hospitalizations — only daily totals. So we determined the average daily number of hospitalizations by dividing each state’s daily hospital numbers by the total number of days, then factored in the state population to calculate the average daily hospitalizations for every 100,000 people.

In that measure, North Carolina ranks best in the region with 14, followed by 15 for West Virginia and 16 for Maryland.

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THE CLAIM: Cohen also compared our state’s hospital situation specifically to Florida’s, saying that state “was shipping patients out of their state because they couldn’t handle it. They had hundreds of hospitals that closed to being able to take patients. They overwhelmed their ICUs and they had more deaths because of it. We did not have that situation here.”

THE FACTS: As COVID-related hospitalizations hit record highs last month, facilities in Florida and other states frequently discussed contingency plans to deal with the possibility of patient overflow, though CBS 17 News could not immediately find any documented reports of patients being transferred from Florida to other states.

In North Carolina, COVID-related hospitalizations peaked at 3,992 patients on Jan. 14, and have been steadily declining since. At the time, hospitals in the state were about 75 percent full, with many facilities postponing elective surgeries to free up space.

But during the post-Christmas surge in hospitalizations, federal data show intensive-care units in both North Carolina and Florida had filled at roughly the same rate.

Hospital capacity data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show ICU utilizations rates for both states were approximately 85 percent full for most of January.

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