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

The latest numbers on COVID-19 testing show a continued downward trend — one we’ve seen for a little bit now after a spike in late August and early September when colleges started back up. We’re starting to see the seven-day rolling average creep down toward 5% in recent days and weeks. That’s good news.

As we noted last week, 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 Project and NCDHHS, the seven-day rolling average for inpatient bed capacity since June 24 — when Gov. Cooper announced a statewide mask mandate — has trended down from nearly 60% capacity to between 50 and 54%. Intensive Care bed capacity has also trended along those same lines, with the seven-day rolling average back on June 24 being 53% and since trending down to 46 and 49%.

Watching the hospitalization allows us to see the severity of the spread of COVID-19. We know the most serious cases of COVID-19 end up in the hospital. But, capacity doesn’t capture only COVID cases, capacity is for ALL hospitalizations, including COVID patients.

So far, it seems that hospitalizations have not overtaxed the system and there remains to be capacity.

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

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

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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