RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — North Carolina’s newest COVID-19 alert map looks a whole lot less red.
Only 27 counties are in the red zone for having the most severe level of community spread — the fewest since the state Department of Health and Human Services began releasing those biweekly maps in November.
And nearly a quarter of all counties made the big jump from the red zone into the yellow zone, which while still designated as significant also marks the least severe of the agency’s three-color system.
With the statewide nightly curfew set to expire on Feb. 28, it’s unclear what the overall picture of improvement means for Gov. Roy Cooper and any decisions he faces about whether to extend that measure or add or remove any others.
Dr. Pia MacDonald, an epidemiologist at RTI International, declined to speculate on how the improving scenario could affect individual restrictions.
But lower numbers aren’t the same things as low numbers. And while the key measures have dropped across the state over the past month, they’re still on average roughly where they were in November before the Thanksgiving surge.
The state’s seven-day rolling average of 2,849 cases per day is the lowest it’s been since Nov. 16, and the 1,563 COVID-19 patients in hospitals across North Carolina are the fewest since Nov. 19.
“The transmission is still pretty active across North Carolina — 3,00 cases per day is a lot,” MacDonald said. “That’s a lot for health departments. That’s a lot of potential hospitalizations. … So while I don’t want to weigh in on X restrictions or Y restrictions, the important part is to reduce opportunities for people outside households to be co-mingling.
“So from a disease transmission standpoint, we really do want to reduce people mixing in groups outside their household, and if we can stick with that, if we can stick with refraining from mixing with lots of new people, we really can continue to drive these numbers down,” she added.
A total of 80 of the state’s 100 counties showed a decrease in their case rate per 100,000 people, with that rate dropping by at least 200 cases per capita in 36 of them. Chowan County saw the biggest drop, with it effectively cut in half from 1,276 cases per capita to 674.
And 71 counties saw a reduction in their average test positivity rate over a 14-day period. In Granville County, it fell by more than 11 percentage points to 5.2 percent, with Wayne, Chatham, and Orange counties also seeing drops of at least 9 percentage points.
“If we look at the indicators such as hospitalizations, new cases, percent positive, even deaths, what we’re seeing is really a level that was pre-Thanksgiving,” MacDonald said. “So what I think is happening is, we’re really back to the pre-holiday period, where people were not mixing as much, and then there was a change during the holidays where people really did push the limits of mixing with people outside their household.
“So I think we’re seeing improvements now in the trends, which is great,” she added.