11/18/20: DARE COUNTY MOVES FROM RED TO ORANGE LEVEL OF RISK IN STATE’S NEW COVID-19 COUNTY ALERT SYSTEM; Governor Looking to Local Leaders and Public to Step Up Voluntarily.

Faced with rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations statewide and a positivity rate fast approaching 10 percent, Governor Roy Cooper introduced yesterday a “county alert system” that shows on a map where the “viral hot spots” are in North Carolina and offers “specific recommendations” to local government officials, business owners, county organizations, and the public about what they can to “help prevent the spread of the virus.”

This new tool, which employs a map for dramatic visual effect and suggests what the Governor called “strong” recommendations for action by local leaders and the public is as tough as the Governor is willing to be now. He remains very mindful of not going “backward” and re-imposing restrictions, such as a statewide stay-at-home order.

Nonetheless, he alluded yesterday to the possibility of having to impose stricter measures if improvement in COVID-19 metrics does not occur.

“If our metrics keep moving in the wrong direction,” Mr. Cooper said, “the State could impose additional orders, either at the local or statewide level.” He declined to specify what those orders might be, but he did say they would “force” changes in hot-spot areas.   

The Governor remains hopeful that county and town officials, businesspeople, and other community leaders who have neither stepped up previously to enforce the COVID-19 restrictions that he has ordered nor taken tougher measures on their own to stop the virus’s spread will step up now as their counties and towns experience COVID-19 outbreaks.

He is giving people at the local level every opportunity to safeguard their communities by working with the State to bring about change. He is looking to “bridge the gap and stop the spread” until vaccines are available on a widespread basis.

You may access the COVID-19 County Alert System here: https://files.nc.gov/covid/documents/dashboard/COVID-19-County-Alert-System-Report.pdf

There is nothing in the recommendations that the Governor has not advised before at earlier press briefings. What has changed are the COVID-19 metrics statewide.

Today, the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services reported 3,367 new cases; a record-high 1,537 COVID-related hospitalizations; an additional 46 COVID-19 deaths for a total of 4,898; and a positivity rate of 9.2 percent. (The positivity rate is the percentage of COVID-19-positive tests among the total tests performed.)

***

Like the Harvard Global Institute’s mapping of COVID-19 risk by state and county, which The Beacon reported yesterday put Dare County in the “red zone,” the North Carolina county alert system is color-coded. It is not nearly as exacting as its Harvard counterpart, however. It employs three tiers denoting the threat of transmission of COVID-19, rather than four zones of risk, and has higher cases-per-100,000-population thresholds.

Also, the Harvard mapping system calculates an average number of new cases per day per 100,000 people in a county.

According to the N.C. system, Dare County is in the middle orange tier for the Nov. 1-14, 2020 period, which means it is experiencing “substantial” transmission of COVID-19, defined as 100 to 200 new cases per 100,000 people in the past 14 days, 8 percent to 10 percent positivity, and a moderate impact on the county hospital(s).

The Harvard researchers define the red zone, its top “tier,” as 25 or more new cases per day per 100,000 people within the past seven days, and they say unequivocally that counties in this zone should have stay-at-home orders in effect.

Counties do not hit the top red tier in the N.C. system, meaning the transmission of COVID-19 is “critical,” until they have more than 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in 14 days, a positivity rate higher than 10 percent, and a “high” impact on the county hospitals.

The map shows 10 N.C. counties in the red tier, including Alexander, Avery, Columbus, Davie, Gaston, Hoke, Mitchell, Sampson, Wilkes, and Wilson counties. They are in the western and south-central regions of North Carolina. 

The lowest tier in the N.C. system is yellow, denoting a “significant” transmission of COVID-19. All of the counties in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill and the Greensboro-Winston-Salem areas, as well as Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte is located, are in the yellow tier.  

We leave to you the task of reading the recommendations for stop-the-spread action, all of which have been reported by The Beacon before as part of our coverage of the Governor’s briefings.

If we sound skeptical that these recommendations will get more than a passing nod from the people to whom they are directed, it is because we are.

Since September, the Governor has said repeatedly, as he did yesterday, that “We cannot let weariness win,” and “We have to treat the virus like the deadly threat it is,” without producing an effect. Behavior does not change, and the cases keep climbing.

“Letting the virus win now with vaccines coming so soon,” the Governor said in his most passionate moment yesterday, “is like punting at the 10-yard line. That’s foolish. We need to reach this goal line together.”

Perhaps a football analogy will bring the urgency closer to home.

“Now is not the time to give up and to let more people get sick and die,” he implored. “Now is the time to recommit to taking this virus seriously and that means changing our holiday plans to be smaller and safer.

“Let’s stick with what we know works.”

We have heard this plea, which starts with the three Ws, at every COVID-19 briefing given by the Governor for months now. We have heard the same, albeit in a videotaped, rather than live, message from Dare County’s Dr. Sheila Davies for months, too. We will be curious to see how North Carolinians respond to their latest calls for action, especially at Thanksgiving.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 11/18/20

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