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Bertie experiencing critical spread of COVID-19 cases

It’s a lofty ranking we would prefer not to have.

Governor Roy Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) announced a new COVID-19 County Alert System to pinpoint counties with the highest levels of viral spread and offer specific recommendations to bring numbers down.

This system will help give local leaders another tool to understand how their county is faring and to make decisions about actions to slow viral spread. The map will be updated every four weeks.

On Monday (Nov. 23), Bertie County was moved to the highest tier – Red – in the Alert System. That meant the county is experiencing critical community spread of the virus.

There are 20 “Red Alert” counties in the state, only two of which are in the northeastern area (Bertie and Pasquotank).

Northampton remained at second highest level: Code Orange (substantial community spread).

Gates and Hertford counties were listed at Code Yellow (significant community spread), the lowest of the three warnings.

As of Monday of this week, NC DHHS reported Bertie with 857 confirmed cases and 22 deaths (since the outbreak began in March); Gates with 197 cases and 4 deaths; Hertford with 948 cases and 39 deaths; and Northampton with 767 cases and 24 deaths.

The new Alert System shows trends in the number of cases over the past 14 days and the percentage COVID-19 tests that are coming back positive. Those numbers for the R-C area counties are:

Bertie: 101 cases; 10.4% positive;

Gates: 23 cases; 7.3% positive;

Hertford: 55 cases; 7.6% positive; and

Northampton: 136 cases; 9.8% positive.

The percentage of positive tests in North Carolina is at 8.1%, the highest it has been in several days. Health experts say they want the number to be closer to 5%.

Additionally, the alerts flag the impact on local hospitals. Bertie, Gates, and Hertford were all listed in the low impact category while the number of new cases in Northampton led to a moderate impact.

“By pinpointing counties with high virus transmission and asking everyone in those counties to work with us and do more right now to slow the spread of the virus, we can succeed,” Cooper said. “It can help bring down their case rates, keep their communities safer, save lives and keep their hospital systems working.”

“It’s going to take all of us working together to avoid tightening restrictions like so many states are now doing,” said Cohen. “The COVID-19 County Alert System gives North Carolinians an easy way to see how their county is doing and know what they can do protect their family and neighbors and slow the spread of this virus.”

The system uses metrics informed by the White House Coronavirus Task Force and North Carolina’s key metrics to categorize all counties. Red is the highest tier, meaning that county is listed with “Critical Community Spread.”

Because no one metric provides a complete picture, the COVID-19 County Alert System uses a combination of three metrics: case rate, the percent of tests that are positive, and hospital impact within the county.

The Alert System includes recommendations for individuals, businesses, community organizations and public officials in every county, as well as specific stepped-up recommendations for orange and red counties.

In addition to the normal recommendations of wearing a face covering and standing six feet apart while in public, as well as avoiding large gatherings and crowds, those in the higher risk (red and orange) counties are asked to:

Limit mixing between households and minimize the number of people in your social circle;

Avoid settings where larger crowds congregate (bars/nightclubs);

If patronizing restaurants, consider placing a take-out order or eating outdoors while socially distanced;

Those who are at a higher risk of developing serious illnesses should consider staying at home as much as possible; and

Reduce public interactions to mainly essential activities such as going to work or school, caring for family members, purchasing food, going to the doctor, or picking up medications.

In addition to wearing masks and posting signs about following the “Three W’s” guidelines, business owners are encouraged to implement teleworking if feasible and cancel non-essential work-related travel. Those who own manufacturing, construction, food processing or are engaged in the agricultural industry are encouraged to request consultation from NCDHHS on reducing workplace transmission. Call 919-707-5900 to schedule a consultation.

Community and religious organizations are encouraged to avoid in-person gatherings indoors above the mass gathering limit, which has been lowered from 25 to 10.

County officials are asked by the NCDHHS to work with the state to expand the availability of no-cost COVID testing to residents, especially prior to holiday travel; increase messaging on the risk of serious disease for older adults and for all age groups where there are underlying medical conditions and recommend those individuals stay at home as much as possible.

Additionally, county officials are encouraged to adopt ordinances that allow for the use of civil penalties for enforcement of statewide restrictions; increase enforcement of mass gathering limits and masks with local law enforcement or other local regulators; and consider adopting local ordinances to end alcohol sales for onsite consumption at an earlier time.

Doctors say coronavirus is being spread in small, intimate gatherings, when people may not think to wear masks while gathering with extended family or friends. This Thanksgiving, doctors are asking families to consider gathering with their single household for dinner, using Zoom to connect with extended relatives instead.

The daily case count in North Carolina is at a record high, to include a record 4,514 new cases reported on Sunday, Nov. 22. As of Monday, Nov. 23, the state has recorded 5,039 deaths due to the virus.

The number of hospitalizations also on the rise: 1,601 as of Monday, Nov. 23. One month ago (Oct. 24), there were 1,155 hospitalized statewide.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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