The Ledger Covid-19 Data Room

Hello and welcome to THE CHARLOTTE LEDGER COVID-19 DATA ROOM. By The Charlotte Ledger, a publication providing business-y news and insights. Sign up for free here.

This is where we take a closer look at the North Carolina and Mecklenburg County numbers related to the coronavirus. State and local leaders say data will guide their decisions — so let’s see what we can glean from the numbers health officials release every day.

We’ll update this page as new data is released, with the newest information at the top. Unless otherwise noted, our sources of data are:

You’re invited to join the discussion. Paying Ledger subscribers have the ability to comment and ask questions by clicking on the word bubbles at the top and bottom of this post. Need to subscribe? Here you go:


Updated August 19, 2020, 6:35 a.m.

Local Covid numbers show progress

A bunch of new Covid numbers released by the Mecklenburg County health department this week are all moving in the right direction.

The county releases batches of Covid data on Tuesdays and Fridays. It’s helpful to examine the longer-term trends that are playing out over several days or weeks — and not get caught up in the daily ups-and-downs of statistics.

The batch of figures for Tuesday shows progress on a number of fronts:

  • The average number of patients hospitalized with Covid over the previous week fell to 160, to lowest point since early July.

  • The percentage of positive tests in the last week fell to 6.7%, the lowest since mid-May.

  • The number of new daily cases fell to an average of 116, the lowest since early June.

No single measure is perfect for understanding the spread of the virus. But taken together, it seems as though we are in a better spot than we were a month ago. North Carolina numbers are heading the same direction.

A lot of the number seem to show a peak in mid-to-late July.

Cases:

Percent positive tests:

Hospitalizations:

Are masks finally working? The virus running its course? Better social distancing? It’s probably a combination of factors.

Reopen schools? Policy-makers seem to be focusing mostly on the percentage of tests that are positive, and some have suggested that we can reopen schools if that number hits 5%, under the right circumstances. It was 5.6% on Sunday.


Updated 8/19/20, 7:05 a.m.

Total Mecklenburg deaths continue to surpass historical averages

The total number of people who died in Mecklenburg County in May of this year is about 100 more than the average of May deaths in the previous five years — continuing a trend of higher-than-usual death numbers since the pandemic started.

According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, 611 people in Mecklenburg County died in May of 2020 of all causes. In the previous five years, the average was 499.

Health officials don’t know why the number is higher. The number of deaths attributed to Covid are not high enough to account for the difference. The county reported 44 Covid deaths in May.

The increase might be explained by Covid deaths that are not attributed to Covid. But it’s also possible that there have been increases of other types of deaths. Local doctors have said that many people are delaying necessary medical care out of fear of catching Covid at doctors’ offices and the hospital.

Looking into the issue last month, The Ledger and WFAE reported that there was a similar difference in deaths in April, and that Medic has reported that more people seem to be dying at home. (See “Death in Mecklenburg: Numbers have risen, but why?”)

Here’s the chart comparing average Mecklenburg deaths by month from 2015-2019 (blue) vs. the figures for 2020 (red):


Updated 7/21/20, 4:17 p.m.

Use of ICU beds and ventilators is flat, new state data says

As confirmed Covid cases and hospitalizations have risen in North Carolinas, new figures from the state show that the number of seriously ill Covid patients is staying flat.

The number of ICU beds and ventilators used by Covid patients in North Carolina has stayed about the same in the last month. This weekend, the state started releasing much more specific data, including the number of ICU beds and ventilators over time, as well as regional breakdowns of hospitalization and bed capacity.

Here’s the use of ICU beds for the last month. There were 324 Covid patients in the ICU as of Monday, the state said, compared with 325 a month earlier:

At a Tuesday news conference, DHHS secretary Mandy Cohen said: “We have capacity in our system. ... Our usage of ICU beds has been pretty stable. The stability there is a good sign.”

And here’s the chart for ventilators in use across the state for all patients, Covid and non-Covid. The state says 887 are in use:

The numbers are notable because over the same period, the number of confirmed Covid cases has soared — as you probably have heard. The state reported its highest number of daily new cases on Saturday, at 2,481. A month earlier, the previous high was 1,768:

What it means: Together, that suggests that although the average number of daily confirmed Covid cases is rising sharply, those cases are less serious than they have been historically. The rise in confirmed cases has not led to an increase in serious cases. In addition, Covid deaths have declined (as we wrote below).

Greater shares of people testing positive today appear to have minor or no symptoms and are less likely to be hospitalized in intensive care units. County data shows that just 1 in 20 people who test positive for Covid require hospitalization. In April, the figure was 1 in 5.

Local doctors have said as much, but now there is publicly available data behind it. The Observer last week quoted Dr. Sid Fletcher, the chief clinical officer at Novant Health, who described patients in the hospital with coronavirus:

They have tended to not be quite as sick, and their age range has been a little bit lower. In addition, the length of stay has been lower and the number of ICU beds has been lower.


Updated 7/21/20, 5:55 p.m.

If you get Covid, what are your odds of dying?

We’ve known for a while that older people who contract Covid tend to have the roughest time and are at greatest risk of death. But how much greater?

A lot greater.

Using numbers from the state, we took the number of Covid deaths by age and divided them by the number of confirmed Covid cases by age. This yields what epidemiologists call the “case fatality rate,” which is the percentage of people with a disease who die from it.

It’s a little tricky, because we don’t actually know with precision how many people have or have had Covid — we just know the data for those who have been tested. (The actual number of people who have had Covid could be as great as 6 to 24 times the number of confirmed cases, according to a new CDC study this week.)

Of those who tested positive in North Carolina, about 1.6% have died. But there are massive differences by age:

You’ll see that of people aged 75+ who contracted Covid in North Carolina, about 1 in 6 has died.

Aged 65-74? About 1 in 20.

Aged 50-64? A little more than 1 in 100.

Aged 25-49 is more like 1 in 500, and any younger than that is 1 in 10,000.

Statewide, just three people under age 25 have died of Covid, according to state numbers.


Updated 7/5/20, 11:21 p.m.

Covid deaths keep falling in N.C., mirroring national trend

The daily number of North Carolina residents dying of Covid-19 fell in late June to the lowest figure in more than two months — even as the number of confirmed Covid cases in the state rose sharply and hospitalizations increased.

That might sound confounding, given the recent attention to the reinvigorated spread of the coronavirus.

But figures from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services show that the 7-day moving average of daily Covid deaths fell to 12.3 on June 21. That’s down from an average of more than 20 a day at the end of May and the lowest figure since April 14:

The state considers data on deaths from the last week of June to be unreliable so far, since deaths can be reported days after they occur.

The drop is especially notable because the number of confirmed cases has surged since around the beginning of June, from about 700 new cases a day on June 1 to more than 1,200 a day by June 22:

N.C. hospitalizations have also been increasing steadily since early May:

What it means: Ordinarily, you would expect increases in cases to lead to increases in hospitalizations and then to increases in deaths, with some lag between those measurements. Instead, a big increase in cases is leading to a smaller increase in hospitalizations and a drop in deaths.

That indicates that the much-publicized surge in new cases are cases identified through increased testing that tend to be less serious than earlier stages of the pandemic — and that the cases serious enough to result in a hospital stay are less likely to lead to death than they were earlier.

A similar trend is playing out nationally. The New York Times reported over the weekend that some states “are seeing some of their highest numbers to date” of Covid diagnoses but that “the virus appears to be killing fewer of the people it infects.”

National data from the New York Times:


Updated 6/27/20, 7:15 a.m.

Mecklenburg hospitalizations still rising

The number of Covid patients hospitalized in Mecklenburg County continued to inch up this week, according to new data from the county health department.

There were 140 Covid patients in the county as of Wednesday, up from 132 a week earlier:

Statewide, hospitalizations have fallen slightly. There were 892 Covid patients hospitalized in North Carolina on Friday. The numbers were in the 900s earlier in the week:


Updated 6/25/20, 6:46 a.m.

What is a Covid ‘hospitalization’?

Some readers have asked if it’s possible that hospitalization numbers are rising because of the way hospitals count Covid patients. If somebody who tests positive sprains an ankle and goes to the ER, is that a “hospitalization”?

We put the question to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. The reply:

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations being reported on the DHHS website comes from a survey response provided by the hospitals in the state. The survey asks for the number of COVID-19 positive in-patients being treated within the hospital.

Many hospital systems are using their electronic medical record (EMR) systems to build reports to help answer this question daily. The hospitals have indicated that they can use a combination of methods within their EMR systems to determine the total number of COVID-19 positive patients on a given day. 

These methods include: 

  • If a patient is on infection prevention precautions related to COVID-19

  • If they have a lab positive result and/or have a diagnosis code for COVID-19. 

It is possible that the original reason a patient presents to the hospital is due to a medical concern that does not seem to be COVID related (e.g. chest pain or even for a surgery) but they are included in the COVID hospitalization count if, after clinical assessment, it is determined they need to be placed on infection prevention precautions as a result of a COVID-19 positive test and/or diagnosis code. These are clinical decisions often made by the Infection Prevention team within a hospital as the admissions are made.


Updated 6/23/20, 4:21 p.m.

Daily Covid deaths are falling in N.C.

By now, you’ve certainly heard the mantra: North Carolina’s Covid numbers are heading the wrong way. Hospitalizations keep rising. The number of cases is up. The percent testing positive isn’t falling.

But there’s one state number that does seem encouraging: deaths.

According to a Ledger analysis of state health data, the number of Covid deaths per day started falling from a peak around June 1 and kept falling through June 10. After that, the numbers become unreliable because they are incomplete, since the state continues receiving information about Covid deaths perhaps as long as a week or two after they happen.

The blue line is the actual number of deaths each day, as reported by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, through June 10. The red line is the seven-day average.

Here’s the official chart from the state, with the same numbers as the blue line (the state does not calculate the 7-day average):

The state considers the area shaded in gray to have incomplete data. (It starts on June 11.)

The drop in daily deaths is interesting because there is no previous corresponding drop in the number of statewide hospitalizations, which have been increasing steadily for weeks.


Updated 6/23/20, 12:27 p.m.

Hospitalizations stabilize as fewer positive cases go to hospital

Mecklenburg County released new Covid data on Tuesday that seems to show the number of hospitalizations flattening. The figure was 130 on Saturday, about the same as it was six days earlier:

Another part that is noteworthy is that in the county’s news release, it says: “About 1 in 15 reported cases were hospitalized due to their COVID-19 infection.”

That’s important because in April, the county was saying the figure was about 1 in 5.

In plain English, that means that far fewer people who test positive in Mecklenburg are winding up in the hospital — which is yet another reason why it’s unhelpful to focus on the number of cases.

Testing has not only increased, but it has increased to encompass people who are younger and healthier than those who were tested two months ago. From the data, we now know that:

  • More people are being tested

  • A lot of those are still testing positive (around 10%, higher than health officials want)

  • BUT those who are testing positive are not going to the hospital as often as before

Why it matters: Even if the numbers of confirmed cases continues to rise, and the percentage of positive tests doesn’t fall … those numbers don’t really matter that much if we’re not experiencing huge spikes in hospitalizations. “Flattening the curve” was intended to conserve hospital resources. That might be happening even if cases keep increasing and the percentage of positive tests doesn’t drop.


Updated 6/22/20, 7:58 a.m.

Is N.C. moving too quickly to reopen, or too slowly? You can marshal facts for either view; ‘surge’ or ‘flat’?

Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to make some big decisions this week on the state’s response to the coronavirus. Chief among them: Will we all be required to wear masks in public? And can North Carolina move forward with reopening businesses such as movie theaters, bowling alleys, bars and gyms?

Cooper and state health officials say repeatedly that data and science are guiding their decisions. While that sounds straightforward, the decisions that state leaders will make this week will also include factors such as politics and their own personal preferences. That’s the way decision-making works.

As a thought experiment, we’re going to write two short news stories about Gov. Cooper’s pending decisions this week. Each is 100% accurate and based on the real state health statistics. But they are very different in the facts they are choosing to include and exclude.

Additions and omissions: Writing and editing is the process of making choices: what to write about, what to include, what to omit. It is easy to slant articles based on those choices — which incidentally is why you should gather information from multiple places to be an informed citizen.

Here we go. Article #1:

As Covid cases surge, Cooper faces a choice

As the number of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to jump to new highs, Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to decide this week whether to continue reopening businesses or follow a more cautious approach that could slow the spread of the disease.

The number of Covid patients in North Carolina hospitals, which reached 845 on Sunday, has hit new highs five out of the last seven days. The numbers have risen 80% since mid-May, when many restaurants and other businesses started reopening. On Sunday, the state said there were 1,412 new confirmed cases, for a total of 52,801, and that a total of 1,220 people have died.

State officials had considered opening bars, gyms and other businesses last month at the same time that they reopened restaurants for indoor seating, but they held off because the number of confirmed cases and other indicators were rising faster than expected. Since then, the number of cases has continued to spike, and hospitalizations and the percentage of tests that are positive have risen sharply, while social distancing has decreased.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services, said this month: “I am very concerned about these trends moving in the wrong direction.”

Mecklenburg officials have said models anticipate a peak of cases in late August or early September.

That gives you one version of reality — completely accurate.

Here’s another, Article #2:

As economy struggles to recover, Cooper faces a choice

Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to decide this week whether to take steps that would help additional businesses reopen, which could help combat the state’s record-high employment and put people back to work.

The state’s unemployment rate hit 12.9% in May — the 19th-worst rate in the country, the Labor Department said Friday. Businesses including movie theaters, bowling alleys, gyms and yoga studios remain closed under a state order set to expire Friday. Those businesses have pleaded for Cooper to allow them to reopen with safety precautions, as other businesses have been allowed to do.

State officials say the numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have been increasing in recent weeks but that hospitals are in no danger of being overwhelmed. State data shows hospitals have about 3,800 empty beds as of Sunday. The number of Covid patients hospitalized in the state fell by 4% on Sunday, to 845.

North Carolina has not experienced the levels of cases and deaths that were forecast in early April, when researchers at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill predicted at least 250,000 cases by Memorial Day. Through Sunday, the state had recorded 52,801 Covid cases and 1,220 deaths. About 65% of the deaths are in long-term care facilities. North Carolina’s population is 10.5 million.

State officials say the key to slowing the spread of the disease is frequent hand-washing, social distancing and wearing face coverings. Cooper said at a news conference this month: “The priority is getting our children in school in August, and we want to do that. We also want to continue taking steps to ease restrictions to reignite the economy.”

Those are two different views — both legitimate, both accurate. The first one accentuates the increases in numbers, while the second contrasts those increases against bigger numbers and higher earlier predictions and economic figures. Data can be ambiguous and point in different directions.

When Cooper announces his decision this week and says it is based on data and facts, the real question is, “Which ones?”


Updated 6/5/2020, 7:35 a.m.

Mecklenburg hospitalizations flattening?

According to new data released by the county this week, the number of hospitalizations looks as though it could be starting to stabilize after rising from its low point nearly a month ago.

The county said 84 patients were hospitalized as of Sunday, the lowest figure in six days:

Other notable numbers from the report:

  • The percentage of people testing positive has risen in the last 14 days, to 9.4%.

  • Only 1 in every 10 people who tested positive have been hospitalized. This figure has been decreasing. When the pandemic first started, the figure was 1 in 5.

  • 62% of cases are connected to long-term care facilities.

  • Residents aged 60+ accounted for 94% of Covid deaths in the county.


Updated 6/5/2020, 7:25 a.m.

State Covid numbers aren’t falling

State leaders have said repeatedly that data and science will guide their decisions on reopening the state’s economy. Although they have expressed hope that the numbers would be flat or declining, the truth is that many of the figures look to be inching higher.

That doesn’t mean there’s an imminent “second wave” approaching, and it is impossible to know how much the increases stem from the pace of the reopening so far. It does mean that there continue to be steady numbers of hospitalizations and other numbers that the state says it is eyeing to make decisions.

Cases: Three months into this pandemic, we’re accustomed to hearing about the numbers of cases, and the media continue to report them dutifully. But we would expect cases to go up because the state has loosened testing requirements, and many more tests are available today than a month or two months ago, so that’s an unhelpful measure of the spread of the disease.

Hospitalizations

Instead, it is better to examine hospitalizations. Here is a chart with state hospitalization figures:

The numbers aren’t really spiking, but they’re not going down, either.

Percent positive tests

Also, the percentage of positive tests isn’t falling. When the state started doing more testing, this number initially fell, but that decline has stopped, and it has moved back up:

Maybe you could argue that the numbers are flat, or flattish. You could also say they are increasing a little.


Updated 6/5/2020, 7:18 a.m.

State figures on deaths look better than they are

If you go to the state’s Covid dashboard, you can see the number of Covid deaths by date. At first blush, it looks encouraging and the the numbers are mercifully headed downward:

The numbers look as though they are falling, and that the state recorded only three deaths statewide on Wednesday, the lowest number in two months.

But the chart is deceptive. The state doesn’t receive all the death information in real time. Instead, each day, it goes back and enters data from previous days. Here is the chart from Monday:

You can see that the number for May 30 also looked to be the lowest since early April. But with a few days of additional numbers recorded, the actual figure rose (in the first chart).

The best way to look at these charts is to disregard data from the last week or so.


Updated 5/24/20, 9:46 a.m.

Some Covid numbers are inching upward — or are they stable?

Several measures that public health officials are watching to gauge the spread of the coronavirus have headed back upward in the last few days.

The number of new confirmed cases, both in Mecklenburg and statewide, has been increasing — which officials have said they expected as testing increases. The state recorded a record high number of new cases on Saturday, as media widely reported (“highest one-day spike,” “state tops 1,000 new cases in a day”). But other measures, too, have increased off their floors, such as hospitalizations and the percentage of tests that are positive.

This doesn’t mean that the numbers are spiking or that there’s an imminent second wave about to hit. The upturn does seem to indicate that the virus isn’t about to disappear, either.

Why it matters: Policymakers do not look at any single measure in isolation. They have said they are looking at a variety of figures to assess whether to continue opening the state’s economy. If they judge the number to be stable or flat, they are more likely to continue into “Phase 3” of the reopening, which would allow larger gatherings and the opening of movie theaters, bowling alleys, gyms and other businesses that are still closed.

Let’s take a look:

Hospitalizations

County: Mecklenburg County on Friday released new hospitalization that showed 70 patients in local hospitals as of Wednesday, the highest number since April 29. It’s still below the peak of 111 on April 9:

State: The state on Saturday reported 589 hospitalizations, the highest number yet. Still, the number of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 has stayed between 400 and 600 for the last month:

Percent testing positive

County: In Mecklenburg, the percentage of positive tests seems to be staying flat:

State: In North Carolina, though, the percentage of positive tests seems to be headed upward, based figures released Saturday:

Deaths

Officials haven’t said they are looking at the trends in the daily number of deaths, but it’s encouraging to note that the numbers have been falling recently. We would expect these numbers to level off or increase a little in the next week or two, since hospitalizations are rising. Deaths lag behind hospitalizations.

County: Mecklenburg had a 7-day period earlier this month in which it reported zero deaths in six out of seven days. More recently, though, the number of deaths has picked up. The county has reported 10 deaths in the last week:

State: North Carolina reported four new deaths on Saturday, its lowest figure in a month:


Updated 5/23/20, 10:22 p.m.

In per-capita numbers, Mecklenburg isn’t the worst

Surely, you’ve read the line: Mecklenburg has the most Covid-19 cases in the state, twice as many as the next county. It leads North Carolina in deaths.

Sounds pretty grim, right? That the epicenter of coronavirus in North Carolina is in Charlotte?

Well, the numbers might look bad … until you control them for population.

By that measure, the figures make Mecklenburg look more average. The county ranks #38 in Covid deaths per capita, at 7 per 100,000 residents, according to the latest analysis of county-level data by the New York Times. On confirmed cases, it ranks #24, at 298 per 100,000. The state has 100 counties.

The N.C. county with the highest number of deaths per capita is Northampton County, outside Rocky Mount. Its population is about 20,000, and it has had 12 deaths. In other words, it has 1/55th the population of Mecklenburg but 1/6 the number of Covid deaths.


Updated 5/20/20, 7:30 a.m.

Does the state’s data support a move to Phase 2?

Today, Gov. Roy Cooper and DHHS secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen are expected to announce that the data show that North Carolina is ready to move to Phase 2 of the reopening on Friday.

Does it?

The state has said it would look at four data points to guide the decision. Those are:

  • The appearance of patients with Covid-like symptoms in emergency rooms

  • The percentage of positive test results

  • Hospitalizations

  • The number of new daily confirmed coronavirus cases

The first two are clearly declining and meet the state’s goals.

But the last two are a little more open to interpretation.

Hospitalizations

Hospitalizations are still inching up, hitting 585 on Tuesday, a new high. However, you could argue that the trend is “flat.” That’s probably what Cooper and Cohen will do. Here’s the Ledger’s chart with hospitalization numbers:

The state takes the same data, compresses the Y-axis, smooths it with a seven-day moving average and starts in mid-April:

Confirmed cases

Cases are going up. But expect the state to explain that that’s expected, since testing is increasing. And they’ll stress that there’s plenty of hospital capacity, just in case cases continue to rise:


Updated 5/20/20, 7:20 a.m.

N.C. daily deaths declining

North Carolina has started releasing additional information on Covid deaths in the state.

It added a new chart to its coronavirus dashboard that shows the number of daily deaths is decreasing:

It also provided additional details on the age of Covid victims who die from the disease: 63% are aged 75+.


Updated 5/20/20, 7:05 a.m.

Health disparity: White residents account for 2/3 of Meck Covid deaths

You might have seen the national and statewide stories examining the outsized effect the coronavirus has on minority populations.

But when it comes to Covid-19 deaths in Mecklenburg County, the victims are overwhelmingly white.

According to the latest data released by the health department, whites account for 65% of the 66 deaths recorded through Monday. White residents make up just 46% of Mecklenburg’s population.

Black residents account for 30% of the deaths and make up 31% of population. Hispanics account for 1.5% of the deaths and 14% of the population.

Why the biggest effect on white residents? Nursing homes. About 56% of Mecklenburg’s Covid deaths are connected to long-term care facilities, the county says.

UNC Charlotte epidemiologist Ahmed Arif explained to The Ledger:

This disparity is most likely related to recent deaths in long-term facilities that are experiencing outbreaks.  

I think most residents of long-term facilities are whites.  That's why there are more deaths among whites than other race/ethnic groups.


Updated 5/17/20, 10:37 p.m.

N.C. one of 8 states where new cases are increasing, NYT says

North Carolina is one of only eight states where confirmed coronavirus cases are increasing, according to an analysis by the New York Times on Sunday.

The Times analysis said the number of new daily cases is staying about the same in 28 states and is decreasing in 14 states.

North Carolina health officials have acknowledged that the number of daily confirmed coronavirus cases continues to rise. On Saturday, the state said 853 people tested positive for Covid-19, a one-day record since the pandemic started in March. Overall, 18,512 people in North Carolina have tested positive through Sunday.

But state officials say the increase results largely from additional testing, and that the increases are expected.

Effect on reopening? The increase in cases doesn’t necessarily derail plans for the state to move to Phase 2 of its reopening, which could take place as early as Friday. The second phase of Gov. Roy Cooper’s reopening plan would allow bars, restaurants, gyms, hair and nail salons and swimming pools to open with safety measures and capacity limits. An announcement is expected on that in the next few days, since Phase 1 is scheduled to expire Friday at 5 p.m. Cases were also rising when the governor said North Carolina was ready for Phase 1.

One of several measures: Confirmed cases are one of four pieces of data state officials are watching to track the spread of coronavirus, and they have said no single piece should be judged in isolation. It is the one measure that health officials have said is not heading the direction they would like. They would prefer to see a leveling or a decrease in the number of new daily cases.

Instead, here is the chart the state’s Department of Health and Human Services released Sunday:

State officials say they feel encouraged by other data, such as hospitalizations and percent of tests that are positive. Those figures are mostly flat.


Updated 5/16/20, 7:23 a.m.

New county data: More Hispanic cases, hospitalizations steady, no new deaths

Mecklenburg County released a new batch of coronavirus data on Friday. No huge headlines coming out of this one, but a continuation of some of the trends we’ve seen recently:

  • Hispanic cases increasing. Hispanics now account for about 1/3 of all Mecklenburg coronavirus cases, even though the county’s population is just 14% Hispanic. When the county first started releasing detailed coronavirus numbers last month, less than 4% of patients were Hispanic. The growth reflects more testing and health disparities, the county has said.

  • Hospitalization rates decreasing. With the county testing more, it is apparently catching additional less-serious cases of the disease. The data release says 1 in 7 patients require hospitalization. When it first started testing, the figure was 1 in 5.

  • Hospitalizations steady. Hospitalizations increased slightly, to 57 on Wednesday, up from a low of 48 a few days earlier. The peak was 111 on April 9. The county has said Mecklenburg has plenty of hospital capacity.

  • Cases increasing. The number of confirmed cases is swinging upward. County health officials say they expected that because more testing catches more cases. The seven-day moving average shows the county is averaging about 60 new cases a day in the last week, which is the highest it has been.

  • Social distancing decreasing. Using geolocation data, the county says social distancing appears to be decreasing as people leave their houses more, but it’s still better than it was before the pandemic began. But using geolocation from cell phones is an inexact measure of social distancing. People can leave their houses and still stay 6 feet apart. There is no great single measure that can indicate to what extent people are following recommendations to wash hands and stay apart from each other.

No new deaths: Separately, the county said Friday that the number of Covid deaths remained at 63. That means the county has reported no new deaths for five straight days and six out of the last seven days.


Updated 5/15/20, 7:17 a.m.

Harris doubles down on use of UPenn model

At a news conference on Thursday, Mecklenburg County health director Gibbie Harris defended the county’s use of a coronavirus projection model from the University of Pennsylvania — even after one of the data scientists who created the model said the county was using it inappropriately.

In an interview last week with WFAE, Michael Draugelis, chief data scientist at Penn Medicine, said that the model should be used for forecasting only in the early stages of an outbreak. “He said the model wasn’t designed to work when cases begin to plateau, which is where Mecklenburg has been for roughly a month,” WFAE reported. County health officials and local hospitals had been using the UPenn model to forecast peaks of Covid-19 cases, which seem to be regularly pushed off into the future. This month, the county said the forecasts called for a July 14 peak, after previously forecasting peaks in June and mid-May.

On Thursday, though, when questioned by reporters, Harris said she believes it is appropriate to use that model because cases in the county have not peaked, since most people could still contract the virus. And, sounding exasperated, she again likened health forecasting to predicting the path of a tropical storm and said it will never be precise.

She said: “There is no data at this point in time to support that we have peaked here in Mecklenburg County.”

Therefore, she added, using the UPenn model is entirely appropriate: “If you consider that that model was meant to be used until a peak happens, and I mentioned the fact that we have not peaked yet, I think it’s very reasonable for us to continue to use that model.”

She acknowledged that “our trends, at this point, are stable.”

Still, she said the county does not plan to issue new projections anytime soon. Instead, she said, health officials will focus on the data they have and be on alert for any surges.


Updated 5/14/20, 8:37 p.m.

No Meck Covid deaths reported since Sunday

Mecklenburg County has reported zero deaths from coronavirus in five out of the last six days, as new deaths in the county hit a low that has not been achieved since early April.

The county said on Twitter on Thursday evening that there have been 63 deaths in Mecklenburg connected to Covid-19 — the same number as it reported on Sunday:

In a news conference on Thursday, health director Gibbie Harris briefly noted that there had been no deaths in several days. Most of the news coming out of the news conference seemed related to other Harris statements, including her belief that the county has not yet reached its peak of Covid-19 cases.

Yet the drop in the number of Covid-19 deaths is significant, because Harris has said it is one of the key numbers she and other health officials are watching to help determine the severity of the virus locally. The other measure, she has said, is hospitalizations, which sank to a low of 48 countywide as of Sunday. The number of confirmed cases, which is rising, is becoming less relevant because there is more testing than before. Health officials expect more tests to yield more confirmed cases. The number of people who have had the virus far exceeds the number who have tested positive.

Here is the number of daily Covid-19 deaths reported by the county. There have been none since Sunday:

And here is the rolling seven-day average, which shows a better look at the drop-off:

Nobody knows where the numbers are going, but it’s an encouraging sign that the county has reported no deaths since Sunday and hospitalizations are low.


Updated 5/14/20 3:29 p.m.

State data looks on track for Phase 2 next week

The state’s data looks as though it’s in good enough shape to move to the second phase of the reopening next week.

At a news conference Thursday, N.C. Health and Human Services secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said the data looks “relatively stable” — which was the same assessment she gave to authorize the move into the first phase of the reopening.

Confirmed cases

“When you look at our seven-day rolling average … we look like we’re beginning to level. … We’ve been doing a lot more testing, so the fact we are seeing a slight increase in cases is expected.”

Percentage of positive tests

Cohen: “It is going down and is now leveling.”

Hospitalizations

Cohen: “Hospitalizations continue to be overall stable. We have the capacity to meet increased demand should it become needed.”

We’re now in Phase 1, with retailers able to be open. Phase 2 would allow the opening of restaurants, barbershops, hair and nail salons, gyms and pools. It could start as soon as May 22.


Updated 5/14/20, 1:31 p.m.

The Ledger sees the future

From The Charlotte Ledger, May 8, 2020:

More testing, [county health director Gibbie] Harris cautioned, will yield more positive tests. In other words, brace yourself for more scare headlines about “spikes” and “jumps” in new cases — even though that measure is becoming increasingly unhelpful in understanding the pace of the disease’s spread.

Headline, The Charlotte Observer, May 14, 2020:

“As it boosts COVID-19 testing, Mecklenburg sees 116 new cases — the largest jump so far”


Updated 5/13/20 7:27 a.m.

What can we learn from Georgia and South Carolina?

South Carolina and Georgia, our neighbors to the south, are ahead of North Carolina on the pace of reopening.

  • Georgia’s governor allowed gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys and movie theaters to reopen on April 24, nearly three weeks ago. The decision was widely criticized, including by President Trump.

  • South Carolina’s governor allowed restaurants to serve meals on patios starting May 4, a little over a week ago. Dine-in restaurants opened Monday, and gyms and salons can open this coming Monday.

If you look at the same numbers that we’ve been looking at for North Carolina, you’ll see that the figures in South Carolina and Georgia don’t seem to be dropping, but they’re not spiking, either. Maybe it’s too early, but fears that reopening will lead to a new wave of coronavirus cases does not seem to be happening — or at least it’s not happening yet.

Georgia

Here is the chart from Georgia showing cases over time. The results from tests in the last couple weeks aren’t back yet, so we don’t know about that data. But there is almost a week of good data after the reopening of salons and tattoo parlors that shows the number of cases stable:

You’ll see that the number of new daily cases has been mostly level since early April. (See the chart for yourself here.)

The new number of daily deaths also appears level. It’s not plunging, but it’s not spiking, either.

Fewer hospitalized: The state also said this week that its numbers of Covid hospitalizations and use of ventilators fell to their lowest levels since April 8.

South Carolina

In South Carolina, the data is not as helpful, since the moves to reopen are more recent and don’t provide quite enough time to see a clear picture. So far, the data seem to show neither a decline nor a surge.

The Columbia newspaper The State examined the data in an article yesterday. Although the tone of the article was that cases could increase with the reopening, none of the data it cited shows that is actually happening. The new number of cases per day fluctuates, just as it does in North Carolina:

A Clemson health sciences professor said: “We are not rising, we are not on the uptick, but we are not declining yet.”

Bottom line: We of course don’t know what reopening businesses will mean in North Carolina. But in neighboring states, there is no evidence so far that reopening has led to a second wave of coronavirus cases.


Updated 5/13/20, 6:58 a.m.

New Meck data: Hospitalizations down, cases up, Hispanic share of positives rises

Mecklenburg County released a bunch more data on Tuesday about coronavirus cases in the county. It does this a couple times a week, and the data provide a more complete picture about the spread and effect of the virus than the mere case counts released daily.

Some of the highlights:

Interestingly, the county did not provide a new projection on the supposed “peak” of cases that it anticipates this summer. The creator of the county’s model told WFAE the other day that the county is using it wrong, which calls into question whether there will be a new peak at all.


Updated 5/11/20, 7:47 a.m.

State hospitalizations fall, cases level

The number of N.C. patients who are hospitalized in North Carolina fell to a two-week low on Sunday, to 442, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said.

It’s an important number, because hospitalizations are one of the main numbers the state is looking at to determine the pace of reopening businesses. Entering “Phase 2” — the reopening of bars, restaurants and hair salons and lifting the stay-at-home order — could happen as soon as May 22.

The state has said it would like to see hospitalizations and other measures level off. That seems to be happening.

Number of cases: Last week, the one measure that state officials said did not appear to be leveling off was the number of daily new cases. Now, even that number seems to be flattening. In the week ending Saturday, the state recorded 2,851 cases, down from 2,967 the week before.


Updated 5/7/20, 7:41 a.m.

The data behind the entry to ‘Phase 1’ of reopening

N.C. Health and Human Services secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen ran through the state’s coronavirus numbers on Tuesday, saying that it had hit most of its goals — which provides cover to go ahead and start with Phase 1 of the state’s reopening on Friday.

You’ll recall that the state was looking for progress on four different measures of the virus’ spread. Last month, the state said it wanted to see the numbers declining or leveling. This week, it eased off that standard and said it is OK to move ahead with reopening some businesses because the numbers are “relatively stable.”

Here are the highlights of Cohen’s presentation on Tuesday, which was part of Gov. Roy Cooper’s news conference:

We have to look at the data in the context of North Carolina.

We did something that every state and country is trying to achieve: We flattened the curve. That means we have to look at our metrics a bit differently.

We aren’t seeing significant downward trajectories on most metrics largely because we were successful in the first place preventing a sharp peak.

We look relatively stable on these metrics that I’ll go through, and that’s a good sign.

Covid-like cases in ERs

The first metric: people who come to the emergency department with Covid-like symptoms. This metric serves as an early-detection mechanism. … It shows a continued decline, and that’s great news. I’d draw your attention to that yellow line. … We are in good shape there.

Confirmed positive tests

When we look at laboratory-confirmed tests, we are looking at that yellow line again. … We see a slight increase. But you can even see toward the right-hand side, it’s starting to level. We are going to keep watching this. And remember: We’ve been doing a lot more testing, so the fact that we see a slight increase in cases is expected.

Percentage of positive tests

You’ll see how the previous graph and this intersects. You’ll see the increased testing play out here. The percentage of those tests that are positive, you’ll see by the yellow line, is going down. That’s a good thing. So while we are seeing slightly more positive cases with the increased testing, the percent positive continues to go down, and that’s good.

Hospitalizations

The last is our day-over-day hospitalizations. This graph shows that we are largely level, and we have the capacity that we need to meet increased demand if more people become ill. Also a good sign.

Cohen said the state hit three of the four goals. The only one coming up short, she said, was the trajectory of cases:


Updated 5/7/20, 6:35 a.m.

New site tracks virus growth rate

A Ledger reader passed along a website started by the founders of Instagram that calculates how quickly the coronavirus is spreading in each state.

The site, rt.live, has all kinds of charts showing the pace of virus growth, or “Rt.” As TechCrunch explains:

“Rt” measures the average number of people who become infected by an infectious person. The higher above the number 1, the faster COVID-19 races through a population, while a number below one shows the virus receding.

The latest figures for North Carolina show the growth rate slowing:


Meck health department: Hospitalizations keep falling; percentage of positive tests down; ‘peak’ now July 14

The number of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 in Mecklenburg County dropped to a month-long low of 54 on Sunday, the health department said on Tuesday:

It is the latest piece of data that indicates that the number of serious cases locally seems to be receding. The figure peaked on April 9 and has been declining mostly ever since.

Testing percentage: The county also said: “an average of 8 percent of individuals who were tested were positive for COVID-19. This represents a slight decrease over the last 14-days.”

Later ‘peak’: In addition, the county pushed back the date of the projected peak, to July 14. A graph included with the data suggests that the number of hospital beds will be adequate but that Mecklenburg will be short of ventilators and ICU beds:


Update: 5/5/20, 7:54 a.m.

New cases low as state preps for reopening decision

State and local numbers of new cases came in pretty low on Monday: The state reported 184, an increase of 1.6%. Mecklenburg reported 23, or a 1.3% increase. State hospitalizations were up +23, to 498.

The low state number should provide some momentum to the idea of starting Phase 1 of North Carolina’s reopening. As we have noted below, not all of the data is indisputably meeting the benchmarks Gov. Roy Cooper set last month.

The News & Observer also noted in a piece this week that some of the numbers seem to be falling short.

On Monday, Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio said the state seemed to be shifting from wanting to see a decline in some of the numbers. Instead, she said, the state seems happy if the numbers are leveling off.

Cooper said Monday that he expects to announce a decision on the pace of the reopening Tuesday or Wednesday. It would likely include the reopening of many retailers, but residents would still be urged to stay at home.


Updated 5/3/20, 4:22 p.m.

Sunday state cases low after big Saturday

The state recorded just 155 new cases on Sunday, the lowest figure in three weeks — just a day after recording a record high 586 cases on Saturday.

That volatility underscores that it is tough to detect trend lines by looking at daily cases. Instead, the state will probably examine the numbers over a longer period of time. That might indeed show a trend toward “sustained leveling” that the state wants to see before proceeding with opening up the economy.

The state also announced 4,360 tests were completed. It has been hoping to consistently report 5,000+ per day.


Updated 5/2/20, 6:41 p.m.

What is the definition of ‘leveling,’ anyway?

Mecklenburg County reported 26 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, ending one of the lowest weeks of new cases in the last month.

Saturday’s figure brought the total for the week to 225. That’s about the same as the weeks ending March 28 and April 18. Not much of a pattern to discern here:

The total for Mecklenburg is 1,680 cases and 50 deaths. The most recent figure for hospitalizations, as of Wednesday, is 73.

Different fates: One of the emerging storylines from the data in the last week or so has been the different directions of Mecklenburg and the state. North Carolina on Saturday reported its most daily new cases ever, 586, as the number of tests continued to surpass 5,000 for the fourth straight day. We would expect the number of positives to rise as testing increases, but state has said it would like to see the number of new daily cases decreasing or leveling off before moving into “Phase 1” of the reopening.

Does that look like a leveling to you? It depends on what the meaning of “leveling” is. Webster’s definition of the verb “level”:

to make (a line or surface) horizontal make flat or level

A few days ago, we noted that the percentage of Mecklenburg cases as a total of state cases has been declining.

Remember that the state’s stay-at-home order ends Friday — so officials will have to decide whether some numbers that are moving higher actually qualify as “sustained leveling.” That’s the standard they’d like to see on most of the data.

State hospitalizations did fall, to 502, off a high of 551 three days ago. Is this a “sustained leveling”?


Updated 5/1/20, 4:01 p.m.

Columbia Epidemiologist on NC’s Data: 'I Can Only Share Your Befuddlement'

Steve Harrison of WFAE shares this article that he wrote today for his “Inside Politics” newsletter. It is reprinted with permission:

The governor of a Southern state said he’s “hopeful” that reopening can start in a week — even as Covid-19 hospitalizations and the number of new cases are near all-time highs.

Sounds reckless. Is this Georgia? Tennessee? South Carolina?

It’s actually North Carolina.

On April 23, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper said it wasn’t safe to end the stay-at-home order, which he extended by 10 days to May 8. The state said it would be using data-driven benchmarks to see if it was ready to re-open.

But as Cooper said on Thursday he’s “hopeful” the state can move to Phase 1 next week, the state is arguably doing worse on three of the four metrics.

The state, however, says it’s meeting its goals in two of the four metrics. But in one critical metric — hospitalizations — the Department of Health and Human Services changed how it presents the data, making N.C. appear to be doing better than it is.

Jeffrey Shaman, a Columbia University epidemiologist, reviewed for WFAE how DHHS has presented Covid-19 data over the last several days. He said he has “befuddlement” as to why the state changed its charts on hospitalization.

”I can only share your befuddlement,” Shaman said. “Either it is an honest mistake or an attempt at spin to help justify reopening.”

In a news conference Friday, DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said she wasn’t aware that her department was using a different scale when presenting data on hospitalizations.

While a new scale may make it appear that hospitalizations are flat, Cohen said the important factor is that the state has enough hospital beds to treat Covid-19 patients.

Here are the four metrics:

1. Hospitalizations

This is arguably the most important statistic because the main goal of social distancing is to flatten the curve so hospitals aren’t overwhelmed. When Cooper said the state wasn’t ready to reopen, there were 486 COVID-19 patients in N.C. hospitals. When he said he was optimistic the state could move into Phase 1 on Thursday, there were 546 COVID-19 patients. The day before, there was an all-time high of 551 patients.

Health and Human Services' Cohen says she wants to see a “decreasing or sustained leveling” of hospitalizations.

Here is how the state charted hospitalizations on the DHHS website on Thursday.

That is certainly not decreasing. And it does not look like “sustained leveling.” In fact, it shows that the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals has increased by more than 60% since mid-April.

And on April 23, when the state announced it was extending stay-at-home, DHHS charted hospitalizations with a chart with a Y-axis ranging from 0 to 500. Charting hospitalizations that way showed a steady increase, and the state said “there has not been a downward trajectory over the past 14 days.”

The chart NCDHHS used last week to show that hospitalizations have been increasing.

But during a news conference on Thursday — and with a formal decision on reopening looming — the state used a different graphic, with a Y-axis that goes from 0 to 1,000.

The chart NCDHHS used Thursday to show that hospitalizations have been "leveling" — with a different Y-axis.

Cohen said this slide shows that hospitalizations are leveling — even though there are more Covid-19 patients in hospitals than there were when stay-at-home was extended on April 23.

2. A Decline In The Percentage Of ER Visits For Covid-19-like Symptoms.

This is seen as an early indicator of a problem, even before testing. It’s been trending downward, but ticked up this week.

3. Laboratory-Confirmed New Cases

In North Carolina, the number of new cases is increasing steadily. The state had an all-time high of 551 new cases on Wednesday, and there were 546 new cases on Thursday.

Cohen said the state doesn’t need to see the number of new cases going down, but it wants to see them level.

That’s not happening.

It should be noted that the state kept the same 0-600 Y-axis on this graphic for its news conference.

4. Percent Positive Of Tests
As testing increases, the number of positive cases is also likely to go up. In the past, people with mild symptoms would not get a test.

Now they are more likely to be tested, so the percentage of positive tests going down would be an indicator that the spread of the virus is declining.

The state wants to see the average percent of positive tests go down over two weeks. And that’s happening.

Here is the chart:

So that’s clearly one trend moving in the right direction. There are two trends going the wrong way.

And the fourth trend – hospitalization – gets close to leveling, so long as the Y-axis is changed to hide larger changes over time.

The state is also charting three other areas.

Can it increase testing? Can it hire more contact tracers? And does it have enough PPE to withstand a second surge of cases?

Cohen said the state is making progress on testing and hiring contact tracers, but still doesn’t have enough PPE.

At the top of the newsletter, I compared North Carolina to Southern states with Republican governors who have been criticized for opening too soon.

It should be said that North Carolina has a much slower reopen plan than Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina.

North Carolinians want to reopen. It appears the governor does too. Mecklenburg County — perhaps taking a cue from the state — has changed its tone, saying the county is “ready” for Phase 1 while just a week ago saying a longer stay-at-home was essential.

N.C. has said it’s going to rely on the data to guide its reopening. What will the state do if the data doesn’t break the state’s way?

You can sign up for Steve’s “Inside Politics” newsletter here.


Updated 5/1/20, 2:17 p.m.

Mecklenburg hospitalizations flat at 73, county says

New county data just released here.

Quick Twitter take:


Updated 5/1/20, 11:46 p.m.

Friday state numbers: Hospitalizations steadily high; testing in the range

The main thing everybody wants to know is are the state’s coronavirus numbers on track to start reopening businesses next week?

The answer, really, is it’s debatable.

On Friday, the state released new numbers that showed hospitalizations up 1 from the day before, to 547. That’s just 4 shy of the all-time high set two days earlier (551). The state wants to see a “sustained leveling” or decline in those numbers. The figure is higher than it was when the state announced that standard last week, but the numbers have held steady for the last few days.

Testing has hit the 5,000+ mark for three straight days. That’s the level the state wants to see.

The number of new cases on Friday was 414, which is exactly the average of the last 7 days.

From watching the public comments of elected officials, it seems as though they are hoping the numbers show that the state can start reopening next week. They are likely to interpret the numbers in the most favorable way possible.


Updated 5/1/20, 6:45 a.m.

700+ empty beds at Atrium and Novant?

Mecklenburg health director Gibbie Harris shed some light on Thursday on the capacity at Atrium and Novant hospitals.

At a news conference, The Ledger asked her if she had any concerns about the hospitals restarting nonessential surgeries — given that the county and hospitals are still projecting a surge of Covid patients in mid- to late-June that they predict will strain healthcare resources. Her reply:

I’m not concerned at this point. We’ve been tracking the data with the hospital systems on a daily basis and watching their census and the number of Covid patients we have in the hospitals.

What we see is they’ve been running at between 60-65, no more than 70% capacity at this point in time, so they still have quite a bit of capacity. …

Right now, we are very comfortable with where we are.

The hospitals have in excess of 2,400 beds. If they are running at 70% capacity, that means they have 720 beds that are not being used. (The county’s most recent data showed that there were 70 Covid patients in the county as of Sunday.)

Typically, hospitals run at close to 100% capacity. Before the pandemic hit, they were advocating for more beds because they said needed the additional capacity.

Having 700+ empty beds is a huge financial drain on hospitals.


Updated 4/30/20, 10:42 p.m.

Mecklenburg’s share of N.C. cases is on the decline

Mecklenburg added 25 new confirmed cases on Thursday, an increase of 1.8%. So that’s pretty low. The thing about the daily numbers is sometimes they’re a little on the high side, like the 59 the day before, and sometimes they’re on the low side.

Lots of tests, fewer cases: The low figure is especially remarkable coming on a day when the state is reporting way more tests (see below). You’d think more tests would reveal more confirmed cases.

One interesting trend that has been developing in the last few weeks is Mecklenburg’s declining share of cases in the state. On March 31, Mecklenburg accounted for 28% of the cases in North Carolina. That figure has been steadily declining throughout the month of April, hitting an all-time low of 15.3% on Thursday:

In other words, the total number of cases outside Mecklenburg is growing faster than cases in Mecklenburg. So pat yourselves on the back, people.

Mecklenburg’s “stay at home” order was stricter than the state’s. But there might be other factors at play besides Mecklenburg residents’ inability to play tennis or shop for mattresses, like everybody else in North Carolina could do throughout April.


Updated 4/30/20, 11:35 a.m.

N.C. testing surges to new high; hospitalizations flat, % positive falls

North Carolina reported its highest number of coronavirus tests in a single day on Thursday: 9,596.

That figure is more than double the average of daily tests in the previous week, which was about 4,000 a day.

The number is important, because state leaders have said they want to see between 5,000-7,000 daily tests before agreeing to proceed with moving into “Phase 1” of the planned reopening.

In addition:

  • The number of hospitalizations declined by 5, to 546 — which is near yesterday’s all-time high.

  • The number of new daily cases hit an all-time high, of 561. But that number was bound to increase as testing surges. State leaders are looking for a “sustained leveling” in the number of new cases.

  • The overall percentage of people testing positive has stayed steady, around 8%. For tests reported Thursday, about 6% were positive. Officials want to see the percentage of positive tests decreasing, which seems to be happening.


Updated 4/29/20, 11:55 p.m.

Elder care facilities make up 1/2 of N.C. Covid-19 deaths

Nursing home residents account for nearly half of North Carolina’s coronavirus deaths, according to state data.

According to the state’s daily figures released Wednesday, nursing homes in North Carolina make up 154 Covid-19 deaths. The total number of deaths in the state as of Wednesday was 354. That’s 44%.

If you include the 33 deaths at residential care facilities, those amount to 53% of the state’s Covid-19 deaths.

The figures actually might be slightly higher because the state says it does not know if about 10% of the state’s deaths were in what it calls “congregate living” facilities.


Updated 4/29/20, 7:47 p.m.

Wednesday county numbers: Cases rise; closer look at hospitalizations

Mecklenburg County added 59 new confirmed cases on Wednesday, +3.9%, which is the biggest increase in a week.

With testing apparently on the rise, we might not want to get too worked up over slightly higher numbers of new cases, since we don’t know the seriousness of the cases. The county listed one more death, for a total of 46.

Meck hospitalizations by age

Twitter user Ethan Edwards — a.k.a. @LaffersNapkin — crunched some data to figure out the total number of people hospitalized (ever) in Mecklenburg with Covid-19:

In a chart, those numbers look like this:

He’s basing his numbers on the data the county included in its most recent comprehensive data dump. (I checked behind him — the math works.)

Excess beds: It’s worth noting that the 245 total hospitalizations that Edwards notes is fewer than the total number of beds that Atrium and Novant have added since the pandemic started. They usually have 2,100 hospital beds but now have more than 2,400, and of course they also freed up a bunch of beds by eliminating nonessential surgeries (which are now restarting). And by Atrium starting that “virtual hospital” you might have read about.


Updated 4/29/20, 3:57 p.m.

UNCC epidemiologist: ‘slowly leveling’

The Ledger today asked Ahmed Arif, an epidemiologist with UNC Charlotte’s Department of Public Health Sciences, what he was seeing in North Carolina’s and Mecklenburg’s numbers. His response:

I plotted a seven day average of total cases of Covid-19 on both linear and logarithmic scale. It appears that the Covid-19 cases are slowly leveling in NC & Mecklenburg County, which is a good sign. However, the increasing number of outbreaks and deaths occurring in nursing homes in North Carolina is concerning. 

The majority of Covid-19 infection is occurring among the younger population.  However, almost 90% of deaths are occurring among people ages 65 and above.

I think as North Carolina starts reopening businesses, they need to devise strategies to protect the high-risk older population. 

In his charts, orange is Mecklenburg, blue is N.C.


Updated 4/29/20, 12:21 p.m.

Wednesday: State hospitalizations hit new high; more testing

The number of Covid-19 patients hospitalized statewide hit a new high on Wednesday of 551, according the state’s daily update. The previous high was 486 on April 23.

The number tends to bounce up and down, but it’s worth watching to see if the number keeps going higher or continues to fluctuate. To start opening the state’s economy and lifting restrictions, state officials say they want to see a “decreasing or sustained leveling” of hospitalizations.

Testing also increased, according to the state’s figures. The daily number of tests was 5,688, the highest in six days. Officials said they want to see between 5,000-7,000 tests administered a day.

The number of new confirmed cases was 380 (+4%), which is about equal to the average of the previous seven days.


Updated 4/28/20, 5:36 p.m.

County +37 cases for Tuesday, right at 7-day average

Mecklenburg County said it added 37 new confirmed cases on Tuesday — which is exactly the average for the previous seven days. It’s a 2.5% increase.


Updated 4/28/20, 2:56 p.m.

UNCC tracks cases per-capita; County does it by ZIP code

UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute crunched some number to come up with a nice graphic on the number of confirmed cases per 100,000 residents by county.

You might look at it and say, “Well, no trip to Salisbury for me.” Remember, though, that confirmed cases, even on a per-capita basis, don’t fully capture the spread of the virus.

Mecklenburg’s health department has recently started releasing the same data by ZIP code. This is called “COVID-19 Cases (per 100,000 residents) Reported to MCPH by Zip Code of Patient’s Residence (as of April 26, 2020)”:

Early on, before the county adjusted the numbers by population, local reporters were asking why Ballantyne and Plaza-Midwood had the most cases. Health officials at the time said they thought Ballantyne might have more because of more travel.

Instead, it looks like 28277 and 28205 just have higher population densities.


Updated 4/28/20, 1:56 p.m.

State hospitalizations flat — what’s up with testing?

New state numbers out this morning show more of the same — hospitalizations flat (down 10 to 463). New confirmed cases are at +426, which is a little on the higher side of the last few days but not a big leap on a percentage basis (+4.7%).

The state has 826 empty ICU beds and 6,836 spare beds overall.

Testing? Last week, the state said it hoped to see between 5,000 and 7,000 tests a day. But for the last three days, the number of tests has been below 3,000. Maybe some of that is because of the weekend, but the numbers seem below the goals. Or maybe there just aren’t that many people to test.

University of Washington model update

An update yesterday to the University of Washington forecast model shows just how many extra beds North Carolina is expected to have:

And it’s putting the number of statewide deaths at 370 (now at 342):

Mecklenburg County officials have said they are aware of the Washington model but believe that it is too optimistic and doesn’t reflect conditions in urban areas.


Updated 4/27/20, 11:22 p.m.

County releases hospitalization data

Mecklenburg County released a bunch of new data this afternoon, and the big reveal is the number of daily patients hospitalized in Mecklenburg County:

The health department characterized the last 14 days as a “slight decrease.” It’s actually 36% off its peak and down about 20% in 14 days.

With numbers so low and trending downward, you can see why Atrium and Novant restarted nonessential surgeries. They must have literally hundreds of empty beds.

Also of note: Health director Gibbie Harris told The Ledger’s Cristina Bolling on Friday that the county had 91 patients in hospitals. The correct figure, it appears, was 77.

The Ledger has been asking for these figures for a couple weeks. If you want to know if our hospitals are about to be overwhelmed with patients, a sensible way is to see if the hospitalization numbers are rising or falling. It’s an imperfect number, but it’s a much better guide than relying on the number of confirmed cases, since at least 80% of those infected never step foot in a hospital.

From Steve Harrison at WFAE:

The county said that there was an average of 70 people with laboratory-confirmed cases of the coronavirus at acute care facilities in the past week. The county said there were 90 people hospitalized for COVID-19 on April 11 and 95 people hospitalized on April 16.

This is the first time Mecklenburg has released data on hospitalizations.

North Carolina said that number of hospitalizations is a key metric to determine whether the state can begin to re-open when the stay-at-home order ends May 8.

The county said about one in six confirmed cases are being hospitalized. That’s down from one in five earlier in the outbreak.

Local deaths

The county also said that all 40 Mecklenburg deaths were in people with underlying health conditions. Three were in their 50s and the rest were 60+. Here’s the breakdown:

Percentage of Covid-positive who are hospitalized falls

Another interesting tidbit in the data the county released today is that the percentage of people who test positive who wind up in the hospital is falling.

For weeks, the county has said the figure is about 1 in 5. Now, it’s closer to 1 in 6:

In the data released Monday, the rate hit an all-time low of 16.8%. That could be because there are now more tests being performed — and maybe more people are being tested who are not the sickest of the sick.

You can see the rest of the county’s data here.


Updated 4/27/20, 5:07pm:

Understanding the state’s reopening criteria

To understand the numbers the state will be looking at to judge whether it’s time to start reopening, you need to look at the April 23 presentation by DHHS secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen.

Here are data trends the state would like to see:

  • Covid-like syndromic cases: continued decreasing

  • Number of cases: decreasing or sustained leveling

  • % of positive tests: decreasing

  • Hospitalizations: decreasing or sustained leveling

The state also wants:

  • Testing capacity: 5,000-7,000/day

  • Contract tracing: about 500 tracers

  • PPE: Greater than a 30-day supply

The state releases regular data on some but not all of these measures.

New cases

Goal: Decreasing or sustained leveling

Status: Not increasing

Hospitalizations

Goal: “decreasing or sustained leveling”

Status: Between 370 and 500 since April 14

Testing

Goal: 5,000-7,000/day

Status: Falling short of that on tests administered


The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

Need to sign up for the e-newsletter? Here you go:

Got a news tip? Think we missed something? Drop us a line at editor@cltledger.com and let us know.

Like what we are doing? Feel free to forward this along and to tell a friend.

Share

Archives available at https://charlotteledger.substack.com/archive.

On Twitter: @cltledger

Sponsorship information: email editor@cltledger.com.

Executive editorTony MeciaManaging editorCristina BollingContributing editor: Tim Whitmire; Reporting intern: David Griffith