Editorial: COVID-19 Alert System will help communities tailor local responses

Posted November 19, 2020 5:00 a.m. EST

North Carolina health officials have established a county alert map to show which counties are becoming coronavirus hotspots.

CBC Editorial: Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020; Editorial #8610
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.

COVID-19 is an opportunity-seeking infector. It doesn’t distinguish its victims by gender, age, urban, suburban, rural, county, religion or race. If COVID-19 is in a spreadable environment and a human being is there too, opportunity greets the infector.

The N.C. COVID-19 County Alert System, released Tuesday by the state Department of Health and Human Services, is a creative and helpful tool. Citizens will better understand the situation in their communities. Local health and other public officials will have a more specific understanding of the level of threat and risk.  Thus they will be able to take the best community-based steps to address the health situation.

By better identifying COVID-19 hotspots around the state, businesses, local officials and residents in those counties can take the extra steps best suited to their communities to get on top of the virus rather than waiting for a statewide mandate that may – or may not – meet the situation a specific county or community faces.

At the same time, state health officials will be working with counties to increase testing and provide the help to meet the unique local needs, Gov. Roy Cooper and Health and Human Resources Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen, pledged. “Every local community is going to have different drivers. We want to work with folks to tailor interventions that make sense,” Cohen said.

An important note about this. The map is not meant to denote places in North Carolina that might be “safer” than others. Nor is it supposed to say where officials are failing.  “Let me be clear, the whole state is experiencing widespread transmission,” Cooper said when the alert system was released. “Cases across the country are surging, forcing states to go backward. Right now our metrics are increasing, not surging. But a surge can happen quickly.”

The system illustrates three levels of COVID-19 spread: yellow – “significant community spread”; orange – “substantial community spread”; and red – “critical community spread.” Those classifications take into account three areas – case rates, percent of tests that are positive and impact of hospitalizations in the county. There are 10 counties in the red zone; 43 in the orange zone – better than half of the state.

No place in the state or nation can find any optimism in any of this. Infection spread is on the rise and there are concerns about even wider spread through the Thanksgiving holiday. The numbers speak the loudest:  11.4 million cases nationwide and 320,870 in North Carolina; 250,000 dead nationally and nearly 5,000 in the state.

Health care providers are welcoming the new tool.

“UNC Health applauds efforts by state leaders to continue finding ways to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, and to avoid further strain on North Carolina’s hospitals,” said a statement from Alan Wolf, UNC Health’s director of news. “This warning system is an important tool as this pandemic enters a critical phase across the state. Since the pandemic began, leaders at all UNC Health hospitals have worked closely with their local elected officials and public health experts to raise awareness about the situation, and the importance of following safety recommendations.”

Vidant Health serves 29 counties in the eastern part of the state. “We are concerned about the rising cases of COVID-19 in the state. Tools such as the SlowCOVIDNC app and the COVID-19 County Alert System help our communities better understand the prevalence of the virus on a local level,” said Dr. Michael Waldrum, Vidant CEO. “While most of the counties in eastern North Carolina are currently yellow or orange, we know there is about a two-week lag in terms of seeing similar spikes that happen in the central or western part of the state. It is important our communities utilize these tools and continue to remain vigilant, including wearing masks when out in public, social distancing and washing hands frequently.”

While this latest tool will help communities confront the infections spread, the best measures are those individuals can take to prevent COVID-19 spread in the first place.

As the holiday approaches, it is even more important to observe the basic proper health practices to both protect your own health – but more importantly avoid spreading the virus to loved ones or strangers.

Be vigilant and avoid crowded gatherings. Follow all safety measures – most especially wear masks and observe physical distancing from those not in your own household; download the SlowCOVIDNC app. And, don’t forget, flu season is approaching and get the vaccine.

Capitol Broadcasting Company's Opinion Section seeks a broad range of comments and letters to the editor. Our Comments beside each opinion column offer the opportunity to engage in a dialogue about this article.

In addition, we invite you to write a letter to the editor about this or any other opinion articles. Here are some tips on submissions >> SUBMIT A LETTER TO THE EDITOR