NC in the 'red zone,' but metrics are improving, White House Coronavirus Task Force report shows

BySamantha Kummerer and Maggie Green WTVD logo
Friday, August 21, 2020
NC in the 'red zone,' but metrics are improving, White House Coronavirus Task Force report shows
The number of COVID-19 cases reported each day is dropping, but leaders say there's still work to do in North Carolina.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The trajectory of positive COVID-19 cases in North Carolina, has been dropping in recent weeks, despite an uptick in new cases over the last couple of days.

However, metrics from the White House Coronavirus Task Force show that North Carolina still has work to do before we can reopen for good. ABC News obtained an internal report for governors from the White House task force, outlining recommendations for cities and counties in each state based on metrics from July and early August.

The report broke cities, counties and states up into either "red" or "yellow" zones. An area in the red meant that the percentage of positive cases was above 10% and the area reported more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents over seven days. A "yellow" designation, on the other hand, meant the percentage of positive tests fell between 5 and 10% and between 10 and 100 cases per 100,000 people, or either of those two metrics plus a metric from the "red" designation.

At the time of the report, the task force found that North Carolina reported 102 cases per 100,000 people over seven days, with an 8% positivity rate. For comparison, the US as a whole reported 114 cases per 100,000 people with a 7.1% positivity rate.

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But as state health leaders have said in recent news conferences, the situation in North Carolina is improving. Over the last seven days, according to data from the New York Times, the state has reported 90 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 98 nationwide. And while the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has reported the percentage of positive tests hovering between 7 and 8% for the past week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national percentage has dropped to just over 6%.

The report placed three central North Carolina counties in the "red zone": Cumberland, Johnston and Lee. However, data from recent weeks shows all three counties reporting fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 people and less than 10% of tests coming back positive.

Those numbers put the counties into the "yellow zone," along with almost all other central North Carolina counties. Orange, Person and Warren counties were not on the original White House list of counties in the "yellow zone," however, rising percentages of positive tests in both Orange and Person counties bumped them up into the yellow. NCDHHS did not have data available for the percentage of positive tests in Warren County.

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Additionally, multiple clusters of COVID-19 at UNC-Chapel Hill have brought the number of cases per 100,000 people in Orange County up to 176--one of the highest in central North Carolina.

On the other hand, Durham and Sampson counties, which were both in the "yellow zone" at the time of the White House Task Force report, have now dropped their percentage of positive tests below 5%.

WATCH: Durham County residents report wearing face masks most often in NC

An average of just 5% of North Carolinians reported never wearing a face covering.

For counties in the yellow zone, the report recommended residents wear a mask at all times when outside their homes and limit social gatherings to 25 people or fewer--both of which are required under Gov. Roy Cooper's Safer at Home order.

The report also recommended surging testing, particularly through community groups to improve access.