FOREST CITY — Because North Carolina is experiencing a significant level of community spread of the coronavirus, state officials have devised a map that details where the virus is more rampant along with recommendations.

Tuesday Gov. Roy Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS), announced a new COVID-19 County Alert System to pinpoint counties with the highest levels of viral spread and offer specific recommendations to bring numbers down. This system will help give local leaders another tool to understand how their county is faring and to make decisions about actions to slow viral spread. The map will be updated every four weeks.

“By pinpointing counties with high virus transmission and asking everyone in those counties to work with us and do more right now to slow the spread of the virus, we can succeed,” Cooper said. “It can help bring down their case rates, keep their communities safer, save lives and keep their hospital systems working.”

Cohen expressed a similar sentiment.

“It’s going to take all of us working together to avoid tightening restrictions like so many states are now doing,” Cohen said. “The COVID-19 County Alert System gives North Carolinians an easy way to see how their county is doing and know what they can do protect their family and neighbors and slow the spread of this virus.”

The system uses metrics informed by the White House Coronavirus Task Force and North Carolina’s key metrics to categorize counties into three tiers:

  • Yellow: Significant Community Spread
  • Orange: Substantial Community Spread
  • Red: Critical Community Spread

Because no one metric provides a complete picture, 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.

Rutherford County ranks in the orange category, or substantial community spread.

Counties that do not meet criteria for red or orange are categorized as being in the yellow tier (significant community spread) and should continue to be vigilant to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

The Alert System includes recommendations for individuals, businesses, community organizations and public officials in every county, as well as specific stepped-up recommendations for orange and red counties.

Counties will remain categorized in these tiers through at least the 2nd week of December. Going forward, NCDHHS will publish an updated COVID-19 County Alert System report the 2nd week of every month.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, North Carolinians are encouraged to find testing sites in their communities. People who may not currently have symptoms but may have been exposed to COVID-19 or live in red zone communities should get tested.

The state has already made recommendations about Thanksgiving gatherings and Black Friday events.

“The best way to protect loved ones during Thanksgiving is to limit travel and gatherings with anyone who does not live in your household,” Cohen said. “If you do plan to get together, there are important steps you can take to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 to your family and friends.”