RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday warned North Carolinians that the unfettered spread of the novel coronavirus could result in snapping back statewide restrictions on businesses, but for now endorsed the idea of a more regional approach.
That included the debut of a color-coded map alerting all 100 counties in the state of their current COVID-19 predicament:
Yellow: Significant Community Spread
Orange: Substantial Community Spread
Red: Critical Community Spread
The COVID-19 County Alert System uses a combination of three metrics: case rate, the percent of tests that are positive, and hospital impact within the county.
To be assigned to the red or orange tier, a county must meet the threshold for case rate for that tier AND the threshold for either percent positive OR hospital impact.
Case Rate: The number of new cases in 14 days per 100,000 people
Percent Positive: The percent of tests that are positive over 14 days
Hospital Impact: A composite score based on the impact that COVID-19 has had on hospitals including percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations, COVID-19 related visits to the Emergency Department, staffed open hospital beds, and critical staffing shortages over 14 days
Counties that do not meet criteria for red or orange are categorized as being in the yellow tier
WATCH COOPER'S ANNOUNCEMENT HERE:
"North Carolina's COVID-19 numbers remain too high," Cooper said in an afternoon news conference, which came on another day of more than 3,000 confirmed cases.
The color-coded designations will also come with a series of actionable recommendations for county governments, including ending alcohol sales after a certain hour or limiting indoor dining.
According to the report from NCDHHS, most counties in the Triangle are in the "yellow." NCDHHS recommends wearing face coverings whenever around people who do not live in your household, getting tested if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19, keeping in-person gatherings small, and avoiding large gatherings or crowds.
WATCH: DR. COHEN EXPLAINS THE COLOR DESIGNATIONS
Many counties in the Sandhills and to the northeast and northwest of the Triangle, however, are in the "orange." Sampson County, Hoke County, Columbus County and Wilson County are in the "red."
Wilson County is one of two counties in the state where hospital capacity is running low. And even though Vance, Northampton, Halifax and Edgecombe counties are in the "orange", their numbers show them on the verge of the "red", with more than 400 cases per 100,000 residents and high percentages of positive tests.
"By pinpointing counties with high virus transmission and asking people in those counties to work with us and do more right now to slow viral spread, we can succeed," Cooper said. "It can help bring down case rates, keep their communities safer, save lives and keep their hospital systems working."
Dr. Katie Galbraith, President of Duke Regional Hospital, said its COVID-19 hospitalizations have remained stable over the past several weeks with 80 patients across three Duke hospitals.
"We've not had to make significant changes to prepare for an influx of COVID patients but we're prepared to do so if the need arises," said Dr. Galbraith.
Dr. Galbraith said the new County Alert map is a great addition and will help compile necessary data.
"Any tool that helps us at a glance be able to see what's going on in our communities and helps the public in particular be able to see that is a good tool so this aggregates the data for us," said Dr. Galbraith. "We're always prepared for a potential influx of patients. That's something even pre-Covid we had prepared for and certainly we are prepared to take care of whatever patients need our help and level of care."
As the holidays near, Dr. Galbraith knows families are struggling with staying vigilant with precautions.
FULL INTERVIEW: Dr. Katie Galbraith, President of Duke Regional discusses impact of new COVID-19 County Alert system
"We recognize that this is really hard. This is something that none of us have had to deal with before," said Dr. Galbraith. "Many are getting tired of the restrictions and getting tired of the way COVID has really upended our lives. We have to stay vigilant. We have to remember the very basics-which is we all need to be wearing our masks any time we are out in public, we all need to be washing our hands."
Cooper last week already announced that indoor gatherings would be subject to further restrictions as COVID-19 cases continue to spike across the state. Though Phase 2.5 allowed groups of 25 people to gather indoors, Cooper announced he would tighten those restrictions to 10 people as the holiday season approaches.
According to a report on COVID-19 clusters in North Carolina updated Monday afternoon, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has learned of at least 31 COVID-19 clusters stemming from social gatherings, resulting in 316 cases and four deaths. Health officials have repeatedly said the current spike in COVID-19 cases is being driven by gatherings among people who do not live in the same household.
The mass gathering limit, however, does not apply to religious services, as outlined in the extension of Phase 2. The report noted that 104 COVID-19 clusters have been linked to religious gatherings, leading to 1,460 cases and 25 deaths. However, the report added that cases associated with religious gatherings have been decreasing since peaking in October. Those attending religious services are still asked to stay socially distant and wear a face covering at all times during services.
Cooper's announcement does not affect the current Executive Order for Phase 3, which currently runs until December 4. No other aspects of the current phase will change--outdoor gathering limits will remain at 50 people, bars and movie theaters will be allowed to remain open, and all businesses will be subject to capacity limits.
With many North Carolinians planning gatherings with family and friends for Thanksgiving, health officials again urged compliance with the 3 W's to prevent an even greater spike in COVID-19 following the holiday season.