State News

What NC's key COVID-19 metrics say about the state's readiness to reopen

Posted May 5, 2020 2:40 p.m. EDT
Updated May 5, 2020 9:20 p.m. EDT

— Gov. Roy Cooper provided more details on his phased reopening of North Carolina Tuesday afternoon. But he's said the timing of that reopening will largely depend on a collection of seven metrics tracking the extent of COVID-19's spread in the state.

Here's a look at each one and where North Carolina stands, based on the latest information early Tuesday afternoon.

ED visits

Is North Carolina seeing a continued downward trajectory of COVID-Like Illnesses in its surveillance systems?

The trendline for COVID-like illnesses is still broadly pointing upward, according to the state's health surveillance network, despite a few dips in the downward direction.

It's worth noting, however, that this data was last published April 28, so it's about a week old. We're expecting a new update from the state's surveillance report Tuesday by 4 p.m.

COVID-19 cases over time

Is North Carolina seeing a downward trajectory over 14 days, or sustained leveling in new cases?

The trendline for lab-confirmed cases is still broadly pointing upward, especially when you look at the rolling average.

The day-to-day numbers show a lot of spikiness because of the inconsistencies in reporting. Drops in the number of cases, in particular, are frequently pronounced right after the weekend, so checking back on this graph later in the week should provide a better picture of whether the dip we've seen over the past few days is an anomaly or the start of a trend.

Positive tests as of May 5

Is North Carolina seeing a 14-day downward trajectory of positive tests as a percentage of total tests?

North Carolina health officials want to increase testing. And the more you test, the more cases you'll likely find. To account for this, state leaders are also watching the percentage of tests that test positive, counting only results from labs that report both positive and negative results.

This trendline is pointing downward.

But it's important to know that the latest few days worth of figures are subject to significant change because of the lag in test results. Over the last week since DHHS began posted a version of this graph, we've seen newest percentages fluctuate several points.

The metric also hit a particularly high percentage in mid-April.

Cumulatively, this percentage of tests that have come back positive has been steady in recent weeks at about 8 percent, according to WRAL's analsysis. That calculation has its own caveats, since unlike DHHS figures it includes all tests and all positives (we don't know which labs are or aren't reporting negative tests). But the 8 percent figure provides at least some evidence that testing is reverting to its plateau rather than in a downward direction.

The next few weeks of data will indicate whether the downward trend DHHS is seeing will continue or whether the percentage will hold steady.

Hospitalizations

Is North Carolina seeing a 14-day downward trajectory in the number of people currently hospitalized?

That trendline of hospitalizations is heading in the wrong direction here. That's even accounting for the fact that the number itself is highly variable depending on the response rate from hospitals.

Hospitalizations are reported in a daily survey hospitals return to DHHS, and when the response rate is lower – as it frequently is Saturday through Monday – the number hospitalized appears to drop.

That's why it's more important to watch the rolling average instead of the day-to-day numbers.

Total tests reported

Does North Carolina have the capacity to test an average of 5,000 to 7,000 people daily?

The number of total tests, much like other key metrics, is spiky.

But WRAL has been tracking the rolling average of testing since mid-March to smooth that variability out a bit, and there's good news in that data.

As of Tuesday, the state is now in its third day where tests have, on average, exceeded 5,000 per day. So we're starting to be in the range state officials are looking for.

Does North Carolina have sufficient capacity to conduct contact tracing?

DHHS is reporting 250 contact tracers embedded in local health departments.

State officials want to double this number, so they haven't reached this goal yet.

PPE reserves

Does North Carolina have adequate supplies to fill requests for at least 30 days?

Newly updated data shows the state now has personal protective equipment for more than 30 days in all but one category: Gowns. For those supplies, DHHS says the healthcare system statewide has 0 days worth on hand.

The healthcare system appears good on face shields and gloves with almost about a year's supply of each.

There are enough surgical masks for about 5 months. But for the more protective N95 respirators, the state has a one-month supply – just over the threshold.

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