White House task force places NC in COVID-19 “red zone”

Dr. Deborah Birx at COVID-19 press briefing
ON THE LIST: Dr. Deborah Birx, center, who heads the White House Coronavirus Task Force, met with North Carolina officials after the state made the task force's "red zone" list. Screen capture courtesy of The White House

Despite the state reporting some of the lowest COVID-19 case counts in the Southeast, the White House Coronavirus Task Force continues to place North Carolina in the “red zone.” That designation, explained N.C. Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen at an Aug. 10 press conference, means state health officials reported more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week. 

Cohen said that she and Gov. Roy Cooper had met with Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force’s head, on Sept. 9 to discuss the spread of COVID-19. 

“Our progress is fragile and is not as good as we, Dr. Birx or the White House would like,” Cohen noted. “North Carolina continues to simmer. Although we haven’t boiled over, some areas have plateaued at a high rate.”

According to Sept. 10 data released by NCDHHS, Mecklenburg and Wake counties — home to Charlotte and Raleigh — have seen the highest overall COVID-19 case counts at 26,564 and 15,999, respectively. Duplin County in Eastern North Carolina reports the state’s highest per capita rate at 358 cases per 100,000 residents, more than three times higher than Buncombe’s rate of 104 cases per 100,000 residents. 

The overall positivity rate for COVID-19 tests in the United States is 5.2%, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. North Carolina’s positivity rate is higher than the national average at 6.3%, Cohen said. 

Cohen added that Cooper had asked Birx for federal support with COVID-19 prevention, additional testing and personal protective equipment, funding for child care centers and more flexibility with school nutrition programs. 

“Our vigilance remains paramount,” Cohen said. “I know we can head back in the right direction if we all work together.” 

NCDHHS reports negative cases in Buncombe County

The NCDHHS COVID-19 dashboard reported minus 2 cases of COVID-19 in Buncombe County on Sept. 8, a glitch Stacie Saunders, the county’s health director, attributed to a “timing issue.” This is the second time the county has reported negative case counts; on Aug. 10, there were minus 1 new cases.

“The dashboards can be interesting because the timing in which they’re updated can be different based on local and state numbers and what data has been put into case investigation,” Saunders said at a Sept. 10 press conference. “My guess is that it has to do more with the timing of the upload than anything else.” 

The data reported by the state is constantly “cleaned and edited and reviewed,” added Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, Buncombe’s medical director. A case could be entered twice, she said, and often, cases from one county are first reported to a neighboring jurisdiction before being transferred back to the correct locality. 

As of Sept. 10, Buncombe had reported 2,703 total cases of COVID-19. The numbers are “steadily decreasing,” Saunders said; currently, county health officials are seeing a daily average of about 20 new cases and a test positivity rate of 3%. 

In other news

  • On Monday, Sept. 21, Henderson County Public Schools will transition to a hybrid learning model under “Plan B.” Students through second grade will attend daily in-person learning; students in grades 3-12 will alternate each week between three virtual learning days and two days of classroom instruction. The model has been approved through at least Friday, Oct. 30.
  • A detainee with COVID-19 was recently booked into the Buncombe County Detention Facility. The individual disclosed their positive result upon arrest; an additional test administered at the jail returned positive on Sept. 9, according to the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office. The asymptomatic individual remains in medical isolation. 
  • Cooper extended the expiration date of five Department of Motor Vehicles credentials — CDL licenses, CDL permits, handicap placards, state IDs and inspection mechanic licenses — until 30 days after he lifts North Carolina’s COVID-19 state of emergency order. The extension does not apply to driver licenses or vehicle registrations. 
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About Molly Horak
Molly is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and writer for Mountain Xpress. Her work has appeared in the Citizen-Times, News and Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow me @molly_horak

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3 thoughts on “White House task force places NC in COVID-19 “red zone”

  1. Alan Lipsky

    So with this information, why did Buncombe County Schools vote to reopen in 2 weeks! What is the rush ? We need to get serious and do like the Northeast did and spend the time needed to cut the infection rate down to under 1%. We are still over 3% so there is no need to rush back to school, as this will only prolong the spread of Covid-19 in our region.

    • apestaría

      It’s because North Carolina apesta (this is another way to say it stinks here). I have wondered about the need to put children into American schools. If anything they would probably develop better personalities outside of public schools. Probably they need the headcount to recieve money. You could probably learn more ordering textbooks from amazon kindle.

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