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

Update for Oct. 7, 2020:

After seeing a downward trend in new positive cases over the last few weeks, the seven-day rolling average has started to trend up to just over 6%. The headlines have focused on daily increases but examining the seven-day rolling average shows us despite spikes, we still aren’t seeing major increases in the number of positive tests. Increases, no matter how minor, should give us pause to reassess our risk of becoming infected and take any necessary precautions to keep ourselves safe.

We have seen several spikes in deaths over the past month, but overall, the seven-day rolling average of daily deaths continues to be level mostly in the mid- to high-20s. There have also been increases in the number of hospitalizations. However, those increases have not taxed our system yet and the seven-day rolling average of inpatient bed usage remains at about 60%. The seven-day average ICU capacity is just above 50%. As a reminder, hospital capacity also includes other illnesses — so for example on any given day capacity could be at 70%, but only a fraction of that capacity could be due to COVID-19 patients.

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 three 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

· The seven-day rolling average of hospital capacity

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.

Seven-day rolling average of hospital capacity

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Why is this important? Watching hospital capacity gives us a look at how serious cases are and if our hospitals are going to be overtaxed. One of the reasons Gov. Cooper shut down the state earlier this year was because he and Secretary Cohen were concerned that COVID-19 would overtake our hospitals. The concern was so great that eventually they put up additional triage spaces and make-shift hospitals to increase capacity. We never maxed out the hospitals. 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.

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.

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