In the latest update to the state's County Alert System, 96% of counties have either critical or significant community spread of COVID-19, up from 92% two weeks ago.
The map divides counties into three groups based on the level of COVID-19 community transmission, calculated by the number of cases per capita and either the percentage of positive tests or the level of hospital capacity:
- Red: critical community spread
- Orange: substantial community spread
- Yellow: significant community spread
As of this week, 84 counties are red, 12 are orange and four are yellow, including three in central North Carolina: Warren, Orange and Chatham counties. Wake, Durham, Wayne and Edgecombe counties are all orange.
Since the last update on December 22, 19 more counties are red and four fewer are yellow. Health officials recommend residents in red and orange counties to limit mixing between households, minimize the people in their social circle, and avoid places where people congregate such as bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
"There's so much virus here in North Carolina and I'm very, very worried," North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said during a Wednesday news conference.
The updated figures come as Gov. Roy Cooper extends his current executive order, which requires non-essential businesses to close at 10 p.m. and businesses to stop selling alcohol for on-site consumption at 9 p.m. Cohen issued her own directive, emphasizing the importance of prevention methods like wearing a mask and staying physically distant from others, as well as urging people who spent time with others outside their household to assume they have the virus and get tested.
WATCH: Gov. Roy Cooper extends Stay-At-Home order
"There is an alarming amount of virus everywhere in our state. We are in a very dangerous position," said Cohen. "Every single North Carolinian needs to take immediate action to save lives and protect themselves and each other."
Wednesday's directive outlines immediate actions North Carolinians must take to save lives including:
- Only leave home for essential activities such as going to work or school, for health care purposes, to care for family members or to buy food.
- Avoid leaving home if you are over 65 or at high risk for developing serious illness. Use delivery services or alternative pick-up methods for food and retail.
- Avoid gathering with people who do not live with you.
- Wear a mask and keep distance from people when you leave home.
- Avoid any indoor public spaces where people are not wearing masks.
- Stay away from crowds. Avoid places where people may gather in large numbers.
The directive also says that if you have gathered with people who do not live with you, assume you have been infected with the virus and get tested for COVID-19. Those with symptoms or who have been exposed should get tested as well.
"We need to be protecting each other, helping each other out," Cohen said. "We need to really pull together as a state given our numbers."
NCDHHS said more than half of North Carolinians are at high risk for serious illness and studies are also finding that some people, including those who had mild illness, experience symptoms for weeks or months following infection.