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Data on when, how fast to reopen NC 'a mixed bag,' Duke expert says

Posted May 5, 2020 3:37 p.m. EDT
Updated May 5, 2020 7:29 p.m. EDT

— Data that could determine when and how fast North Carolina resumes business and social activities during the pandemic are "a mixed bag" right now, according to a Duke University faculty member.

Aaron McKethan, senior policy fellow at the Duke Margolis Center for Health Policy, has been working with Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, and other public health and safety officials in analyzing data on virus infections, hospitalizations and other metrics that Gov. Roy Cooper has said will determine how to proceed after his statewide stay-at-home order expires on Friday.

"There have certainly been some favorable factors and unfavorable factors in the last few weeks," McKethan said.

The seven key metrics are COVID-19-like illnesses, lab-confirmed cases, percentage of positive tests, testing capacity, hospitalizations, capacity of contact tracing and availability of personal protective equipment.

On a positive note, the rate at which the virus is spreading in the population has slowed, and testing for the virus has increased.

But the number of new infections and hospitalizations continues to rise.

"Our challenge, I think now, is to navigate a gradual reopening plan that attempts to protect as many vulnerable people as we can, both from a health and economic standpoint," McKethan said.

Although many people are becoming more frustrated after more than five weeks of business closures and limited activity outside the home, he said patience is needed for a gradual reopening to succeed and not lead to a resurgence in the virus.

"This is a long slog," he said. "While we do have some room to reopen gradually, I think we have to be very careful to not push too fast."

WRAL News investigative reporter Tyler Dukes, who has been tracking the data himself for weeks, agreed that few key measures point to a quick reopening.

"Where we stand, you can make an argument for us being good as a state for three of the seven metrics, not so good on four of these seven metrics," Dukes said.

McKethan said allowing people to interact more freely in public will likely lead to more infections and hospitalizations, which could affect officials' actions in the coming weeks.

"It’s really important to remember that data doesn’t make decisions, people make decisions," Dukes said. "There is no amount of data that is going to set up that 'if, then statement.'"

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