October spike in COVID-19 cases surpasses July peak in North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- After a September of loosening restrictions and declining metrics, North Carolina's COVID-19 cases have continued to spike throughout the month of October.

With one day left in the month, North Carolina has thrice broken the record for most COVID-19 cases recorded in a single-day during October. The previous record was set in July, when the state reported 2,481 new cases on July 18.

In fact, the state reported 61,198 cases in October, 3,720 more than North Carolina saw in July.

However, that increase in cases was also met with a spike in testing. In July, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 847,069 tests, but in October, the state recorded more than 964,000 new tests.

Testing also dipped in August, when state officials said laboratories were experiencing long testing turnaround times. Since then, the state has erected more free testing sites and worked to bring down the time patients have to wait to get their results.

Additionally, the average percentage of positive tests dropped between July and October. In July, the state reported 8.8% of tests coming back positive; in October that number is down to 6.3%. However, that is an increase from an average of 5.7% of tests returning positive in September.

However, unlike in July when the state's mask mandate was in its first few weeks, health officials have repeatedly said October's spike has been linked to smaller social gatherings among friends and extended family members.

RELATED: Charlotte church ordered to cease gatherings following large COVID-19 outbreak

In a news conference Wednesday, Gov. Roy Cooper reminded North Carolinians to wear a mask and stay at least six feet apart when around people that do not live in the same household.

"Contact tracers are finding that many cases come from smaller gatherings of extended family and friends - youth group outings, family meals, church," Cooper said in the news conference. "We too often let our guard down when we are with people we know and trust. But knowing and trusting doesn't stop the virus."

RELATED | Mask psychology: How to approach a person who won't wear a face covering

But even though there are some positive takeaways from the month's increase, an undeniable negative is the spike in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 -- the highest monthly average so far in the pandemic.

Additionally, deaths usually follow high hospitalizations. North Carolina has reported 800 deaths from COVID-19 so far this month, roughly in line if not a slight increase from August and September. However, with increased cases and hospitalizations this month and because deaths are a lagging indicator, it's likely this number will spike again in November.

Many states across the country also saw a surge in COVID-19 metrics this month--particularly in more rural areas of the midwest.

As temperatures cool and holidays approach, North Carolina officials urge residents to continue to practice social distancing and wear a mask whenever around someone outside of one's household.

INTERACTIVE | What is the COVID-19 risk for these holiday gathering ideas? Play our interactive game.
Copyright © 2020 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.