Mar. 22—TRIAD — The improvement in North Carolina's COVID-19 numbers has been slowing, but conditions have improved enough that Randolph County stands out starkly in the most recent update of a map illustrating viral spread in the state.
Randolph is the only county still seeing critical levels of COVID-19 spread, showing up on the map as a bright red square in the middle of a mostly yellow state.
Randolph's rate of new cases during the first two weeks of March was 385.6 per 100,000 people, and the virus is rated as having a high hospital impact in the county, according to the alert system report. A few other counties have a higher rate of new cases, but Randolph is the only county in the state still seeing a high hospital impact.
An increase in emergency department visits is behind the state's evaluation of the hospital impact, said April Thornton, the senior director of public relations for Randolph Health.
COVID-related emergency department visits is one of four metrics considered in the category of hospital impact, and for Randolph Health the percentage has increased from 18% to 21%, Thornton said. The state average is 12-14%
A total of 82 of the state's 100 counties — including Guilford, Davidson and Forsyth — have dropped to the least alarming category, color-coded yellow, of significant spread of the COVID-19 virus, while 17 still have substantial spread, colored orange.
When the alert system previously was updated March 4, 60 counties were yellow, 34 were orange and six were red.
The two-week update of the color-coded map is a more stark snapshot of the state's COVID-19 numbers than the daily updates provided on the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services' COVID-19 Dashboard, but the dashboard better illustrates trends.
Those trends show continued improvement, but the improvement may be beginning to level off.
The number of active cases is down sharply from the mid-winter peak but is similar to the levels of last summer, and the seven-day average number of new cases per day actually has increased since early March, going back above 2,000 late last week.
The number of people requiring hospital treatment dropped to 964 on Friday, but the daily improvement seen in recent weeks has slowed noticeably over the past two weeks.
The one statistic continuing to show dramatic improvement is deaths, down to fewer than 10 a day statewide, a level not often seen since last April, reflecting the benefit of COVID-19 vaccination of the most vulnerable populations.