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

Update for Oct. 21, 2020:

For the past few weeks, we’ve been bombarded by media coverage of increases in daily case counts and “record-breaking” numbers. However, there are some bright spots that we’re seeing despite increases. The metrics we’re watching are starting to level off. We continue to have the hospital capacity to deal with any COVID-19 patients. In fact, hospital capacity has leveled off as well.

The seven-day rolling average of positive new cases is still just above 6%, but it remains steady in the 6.0 to 6.4% range. That’s a silver lining during a time when headlines are focusing on “record” daily cases. Despite daily increases, the rolling average remains steady, although over the 5% target state officials want us to be at. After seeing the seven-day rolling average of daily deaths trending up, we’re seeing some decreases there, moving from the low 30s to mid-to-low 20s.

The seven-day rolling average for hospital capacity for inpatient beds remains steady at just over 60%, and ICU capacity also remains steady in the low 50% range. 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

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.

Seven-day rolling average of hospital capacity

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.