What Data Should You Be Following to Understand COVID-19 in North Carolina?

This week we’re continuing to see a downward trend in the 7-day rolling average of the percentage of new positive tests. We continue to see the percentage hover between 7% and 5%, but not right at 5% like NCDHHS and other statewide officials would like it to be at.

We’re starting to take a deeper look at hospitalization rates in North Carolina over the last six months. When Gov. Roy Cooper implemented his statewide shut down it was to avoid overtaxing hospitals. In an April 6 press release on the need for social distancing, N.C. DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen saying: “We need to continue to do everything in our power so that fewer people get sick at the same time, while also surging the capacity of our health care system so those that do need hospital care will have it. Please stay home now to save lives.”

Then, on July 16 during a COVID-19 briefing, Cohen said, “As you may know, hospital bed capacity goes up and down with the season and various things that are going on … I would say it changes over the course of the year. But I think we’re about at where we would see capacity (70–80%).”

According to stats from the COVID-19 Tracking Projects and NCDHHS, inpatient bed use across the state for all patients, not just COVID-19 patients, peaked in the summer months, with 63% of inpatient hospital beds being filled on June 23, one day before Gov. Cooper announced a statewide mask mandate.

Since then, the 7-day rolling average for hospital capacity has since stayed steady in the mid- to low-50% range. We’ll have more analysis, along with graphs in the coming days for you to see for yourself.

We’ll continue to follow the data, where they lead us. Having this data at our fingertips allows us to make the best decisions for ourselves and our families.

On a daily basis, we’re being flooded with information and data about new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19. We need to listen and watch the signals that data tells us while also tuning out the noise.

To do that, there are two key metrics to watch:

· The seven-day rolling average of the percentage of new positive COVID-19 tests

· The seven-day rolling average of daily death numbers

We’re committed to using clearly sourced data, no matter what story they tell us — good, bad, or ugly. We need to watch it all so you can make informed decisions about returning to school or visiting loved ones who are at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19.

All of this data is publicly available through the COVID Tracking Project or the Department of Health and Human Services dashboard. These are tools you can use.

The graphs below help cut through the noise of the daily headlines talking about “records” or “increased cases.” We need to know what the state is facing without the noise of social media. Just the facts.

Seven-day rolling average of the percentage of new positive COVID-19 tests

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Why is this important? This number gives us a signal of how the virus is spreading in North Carolina. It’s a clear way for us to understand the trends of positive cases in the state while cutting through the headlines about increased testing.

NOTE: On Aug. 12, NCDHHS announced that 221,444 tests were mistakenly added to the total of North Carolina’s tests. The tests did not impact the total number of positive tests but did impact the cumulative total of tests conducted. After doing an analysis of the corrected data and what had previously been reported, the 7-day rolling average did not shift substantially. That is one of the reasons why the 7-day rolling average is such an important metric. It allows us to see beyond any mistakes in the data.

Seven-day rolling average of daily death numbers

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Why is this important? Watching this number gives us a sense of just how lethal the virus strain is and whether our efforts are helping or hurting. This, at times, can be a lagging indicator as deaths take time to be reported and investigated. According to DHHS, death data for the last two weeks may not be reported yet, which is data for that time period can fluctuate.

This data will continue to change as the pandemic continues. That means we’ll continue to update these stats as we go along and add additional metrics we think are important. Please check back here a couple of times a week to see where North Carolina stands. If you have other key indicators that you’re watching, please share and let us know.

The official Medium account for N.C. Senate Leader Phil Berger’s press office.

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