Sixty-five NC counties in the COVID-19 red zone with critical viral spread

Sixty-five of the state’s 100 counties have critical community spread of the coronavirus, and 27 counties have substantial community spread, according to North Carolina’s updated COVID-19 county alert system.

Tuesday’s updates came as the state Department of Health and Human Services reported a record 3001  COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state Monday.

The county alert designations are based on case rate, the percentage of coronavirus tests that are positive, and the impact on hospitals. The alert system shows how many more counties have moved to the red zone. On Dec. 8, 48 counties were red, or had critical community spread, and 34 were orange, with substantial viral spread.

“This is alarming,” Gov. Roy Cooper said at a Tuesday news conference. “This virus continues to spread quickly.  Don’t get numbed to these numbers.”

The news conference featured two church leaders who talked of celebrating Christmas safely.

“At the end of his unprecedented year, lets recommit to keeping ourselves and each other safe so that we can be here next year to celebrate how far we’ve come,” Cooper said.

DHHS added information on  how many people have been vaccinated to its data dashboard, along with numbers by county and demographic information. It shows that 24,500 people have received a first dose of vaccine.

North Carolina is in Phase 1a of its vaccination plan, where health care workers exposed to COVID-19 patients and long-term care facility residents and staff will be vaccinated.

The FDA has granted emergency use authorization for two COVID-19 vaccines, one produced by Pfizer/BioNTech and the other by Moderna. Each requires two doses administered weeks apart. CVS and Walgreens will begin vaccinating people at the state’s long-term care facilities Dec. 28, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, DHHS secretary.

The state is going to change to its vaccine roll-out plan based on a recent CDC advisory group recommendation that people 75 and older and front-line essential workers, which would include teachers, grocery store workers, and agriculture workers, be in phase 1b of a vaccination plan.

“We are looking at that guidance right now, and we will have changes to our prioritization,” Cohen said. “So, stay tuned as we work through that.”

North Carolina has migrant farm and fishery workers without two or more chronic conditions and who live in communal housing, frontline workers at high or moderate risk of exposure who don’t have two or more chronic conditions, and teachers and other school staff in Phase 2 of its vaccination plan.

Migrant agriculture workers and frontline workers with two or more chronic conditions are in already in Phase 1b of the state plan.

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