DAVIDSON, NC — The Charlotte metro region is projected to see "pretty significant increases" in COVID-19 cases by mid-August to early September, Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said in a news conference Friday.
As of June 12, North Carolina reported another record-setting day with 1,768 new COVID-19 confirmations, increasing the state's tally to more than 41,000 cases. Nearly 15 percent of the state's cases stem from spread in Mecklenburg County, which has been the hardest hit of North Carolina's 100 counties.
On Friday, Mecklenburg County reported 6,144 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 123 deaths. That tally included 42 confirmed cases and two deaths in Davidson, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
"The high number of new cases is not just related to more testing," Gov. Roy Cooper said at a news conference Friday. "These numbers show that the disease is spreading and more people need hospital care. This has to be taken seriously."
On May 22, North Carolina moved into "Phase 2" of easing restrictions meant to slow the spread of coronavirus -- an executive order that is set to expire June 26. Since that time, health officials are seeing an increase in community spread as residents in the area become more lax with restrictions.
"The way the numbers look now, I would be surprised if we move fully into Phase 3 [on June 26]," Harris said."We would all prefer not to go backwards. We would like to move forward, but again, it's very important for the community to help us with that."
The timing of recent increases is linked to recent relaxation of coronavirus restrictions, NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said Friday.
"It's the pace of the increase that's concerning," Cohen said, adding that North Carolina's percent of positive cases is among the highest in the nation.
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Just as on the state level, the pace of COVID-19 confirmations is picking up in Mecklenburg County. For 14 days straight, the county reported a 10 percent positivity rate, and averaged about 101 county residents hospitalized daily. As of Friday, 10 percent of all tests in North Carolina were also positive. By comparison, the World Health Organization recommends that governments have a percent positive rate of 5 percent or lower for at least 14 days before reopening.
North Carolina was one of 18 states identified as having a higher than recommended positivity rate and in need of increased COVID-19 testing capacity, Johns Hopkins University said.
"If a positivity rate is too high, that may indicate that the state is only testing the sickest patients who seek medical attention, and is not casting a wide enough net to know how much of the virus is spreading within its communities," Johns Hopkins University said. "A low rate of positivity in testing data can be seen as a sign that a state has sufficient testing capacity for the size of their outbreak and is testing enough of its population to make informed decisions about reopening."
State health officials are pleading with residents to do their part in slowing the spread.
"Physical distancing and mask wearing is not where we need it to be, and we have a number of large gatherings occurring," Harris said. "All of these factors create a great deal of statistical uncertainty." It won't be long, she said, before the decrease in social distancing is nearly what it was before the stay-at-home orders were put in place.
Predictions for the region are not all dire. While projections show the potential significant increases in the number of COVID-19 cases in mid to late- August into early September, modeling also shows the region's healthcare systems likely won't be overwhelmed, Harris said.
"The bottom line is, COVID-19 is still here," Harris said. "Yes, we've opened some things up, people have more flexibility in their lives now, which is a good thing, but we can't be fatigued by the fact we're not over, we're not done. We still have a pandemic on our hands."