Top NC health official reflects on meeting with key member of White House virus task force

Top NC health official reflects on meeting with key member of White House virus task force
(Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

Gov. Roy Cooper and Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen met with Dr. Deborah Birx, a key member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh on Wednesday. The meeting was part of Birx’s tour of over 30 states to get a better look at their responses to the pandemic and review their efforts in tandem with the federal government response.

Cohen discussed the meeting at a news conference Thursday saying Birx spoke highly of the state’s handling of the virus, despite a White House report identifying North Carolina as a Red Zone for cases, meaning the state has one of the highest rates of viral spread in the nation. On the other hand, the state was placed in the Yellow Zone for percentage of positive tests, which continues to hover between 5%-10%. According to the report, Charlotte is in the Yellow Zone.

Cohen said the state’s dimmer switch approach to easing measures has distinguished North Carolina from other states in the Southeast.

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“While we have higher rates of cases per captia then the nation for the last seven days, we have one of the lowest rates of viral spread in the southeast region, validating the need to stay the course,” Cohen said.

BREAKDOWN OF THURSDAY’S METRICS:

  • The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 1,222 new COVID-19 cases and 26,277 more completed tests on Thursday -- a sharp increase in the number of new tests after several days of lower reporting.
  • As of Tuesday, 6.3% of tests were positive, a metric that has remained fairly level between 5.3% and 7.7% over the past few weeks.
  • As the state works to correct technical issues with hospitalization data, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 increased to 928, with 90% of hospitals reporting.

Cohen said Brix believes North Carolina has done a good job in avoiding a surge, but said continued vigilance is paramount.

“Our best evidence tool continues to be prevention, while our trends and indicators continue to show fragile but steady progress in slowing the virus, this progress is fragile and frankly not as good as me, Dr. Brix or the White House would like,” Cohen said.

According to the report, the recommendations for slowing the virus match the state’s dimmer switch approach and emphasis on the 3 W’s: wear a face mask, wash your hands frequently and wait 6 feet apart.

Cohen said Brix also recommended that any time people are around people who do not live under their roof, they should wear a mask.

Other recommendations include, revolve around boosting testing and contact tracing efforts, aggressive public messaging campaigns and the use of data to encourage local ordinances to enforce social distancing and mask mandates.

According to Cohen, they also discussed the growing number of cases stemming from the openings of colleges and universities. Cohen said the state has seen a rise in cases among people ages 18-24 since the start of the school year. Birx recommended universities implement wide-spread testing on campuses and offered federal support to surge testing for students on and off campus.

Cohen said the governor also requested federal support in several other areas including, prevention, clarity about testing guidelines and assistance for increased testing, more childrcare programs, personal protective equipment and an extension of the federal emergency nutrition assistance program.

Cohen also said Cooper asked federal leaders to be transparent about the vaccine distribution process.

“Here in North Carolina, we’ve prioritized transparency, evidence and clear expectation setting in all our actions and communications around this pandemic,” Cohen said. “This approach is what we’re going to take as we think about distributing a safe and effective vaccine.”

Cooper and Birx also participated together in the call with the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

>> Have questions about the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the Carolinas? We have an entire section dedicated to coverage of the outbreak -- CLICK HERE FOR MORE.

Note: The numbers we show you every day mean everything in how our community recovers from coronavirus -- both in terms of healthcare and the economy -- but they don’t mean much without the proper context and as much transparency as possible.

New cases vary day by day based on a lot of factors. That can include how long it takes to get results back, so a new case reported today can really be several days old.

The other big metric we watch is the percent of positive cases. This is data we can only get from the state because it’s not as simple as factoring a percent of new cases each day from the number of tests. That’s because test results take days and come from a variety of places.