A Dec. 22 update of the state’s COVID-19 Alert System includes Wilkes among 27 North Carolina counties in the middle (orange) level of three tiers indicating severity of COVID-19 community spread.

The middle level is “substantial” community spread. This latest update from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is based on COVID-19 metrics for the period Dec. 5-18.

The prior update, released Dec. 8, included Wilkes with 18 counties with “significant” community spread of the virus. Counties in this level (the least severe) are colored yellow.

Wilkes was among 10 red counties with “critical” community spread of COVID-19 (most severe) when the alert system was announced Nov. 17 and remained in that category until Dec. 8.

The designations are based on three factors: number of new cases per 100,000 people in a 14-day period; percentage of positive molecular (PCR) tests for COVID-19 in the 14 days and hospital impact of COVID-19.

Hospital impact is determined by percentage of COVID-19 hospitalizations, COVID-19-related emergency department visits, staffed open hospital beds and critical staffing shortages in the two weeks.

In the 14 days from Dec. 5-18, 8.7% of COVID-19 tests in Wilkes came back positive and the county had 722 new cases per 100,000 people. The DHHS update said COVID-19’s impact on Wilkes Medical Center then was low.

For a county to be rated red, it must have more than 200 new cases per 100,000 people and at least 42 actual new cases in the designated 14 days. Either positive results on at least 10% of tests in the 14 days or high hospital impact from COVID-19 is also needed.

To be orange, a county needs 101 to 200 new cases per 100,000 people and at least 21 actual cases in the designated two weeks. Either 8-10% of the tests must be positive or moderate hospital impact is needed.

If a county doesn’t qualify for red or orange, it is listed yellow.

The Dec. 8 COVID-19 Alert System update said 7.2% of COVID-19 tests in Wilkes came back positive in the period Nov. 21 to Dec. 4. It listed Wilkes with 630 new cases per 100,000 people in that 14-day period. It said Wilkes Medical Center had low impact from COVID-19 then.

When the alert system was announced on Nov. 17, Wilkes was listed with 574.5 new cases per 100,000 people in 14 days. That first report said 10.5% of tests were positive in the 14 days and COVID-19 had a low impact on Wilkes Medical Center.

Adjoining countiesCommunity spread levels, cases per 100,000 people and percentages of positive tests Dec. 5-18 in the Dec. 22 update for adjoining counties are:

• Alexander, stayed red, 1,221 cases, 15.9;

• Alleghany, yellow to red, 1,024 cases, 11.9%;

• Ashe, orange to red, 629 cases, 11.2%;

• Caldwell, stayed red, 1,328 cases, 15.2%;

• Iredell, stayed red, 993 cases, 16.9%;

• Surry, stayed red, 1,137 cases, 15.1%;

• Watauga, stayed orange, 395 cases, 6.2%;

• Yadkin, stayed red, 1,067 cases, 16.3%.

Also in the Dec. 22 update, hospital impact of COVID-19 was listed as low in Alleghany, Ashe and Yadkin counties. It was moderate in Alexander, Caldwell, Iredell and Watauga counties. It was high in Surry County.

Recommended responsesThe alert system includes recommended responses for individuals, businesses/community organizations and public officials for counties rated red, orange or yellow.

For individuals in red and orange counties, it recommends:

• limiting mixing between households and minimizing the number of people in your social circle.

• avoiding settings where people congregate, like outdoor bars and nightspots. In North Carolina, indoor bars remain closed and indoor night spots must remain below indoor mass gathering limits;

• if patronizing restaurants, consider ordering take out from restaurants and/or eating outdoors while socially distanced.

• reducing public interactions to mainly essential activities like going to work or school, caring for family members, buying food, getting health care or picking up medications;

• people at high-risk of developing serious illness should consider staying home as much as possible.

In red and orange counties, all businesses are strongly encouraged to implement teleworking to the greatest extent possible and cancel non-essential work or travel.

The alert system recommends that businesses require all employees to participate in “Count on Me” training, which is at https://countonmenc.org/business-training/.

It recommends that community and religious organizations avoid in-person indoor meetings, events, worship services or other gatherings above the mandatory indoor mass gathering limit of ___ in one of Gov. Roy Cooper’s orders. Churches are exempted from limits on numbers of people at gatherings.

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