Mon Aug 8, 2022

County jumps to ‘moderate’ COVID-19 level – How to protect yourself and others [free read]

This map from the Centers for Disease Control illustrates the COVID-19 community level of counties within North Carolina and surrounding states. Green indicates a "low" level, yellow indicates a "moderate" level and orange indicates a "high" level. Photo from CDC

Last week, the Centers of Disease Control bumped Columbus County from “low” to “moderate” COVID-19 community level.

This change “doesn’t surprise me,” said Columbus County Health Director Kim Smith, noting relaxed mask mandates, surrounding counties’ elevated levels and more highly infectious mutations of COVID-19.

Here’s what the label means and what you can do to protect yourself, your loved ones and others.

Why the change

The CDC recently changed how it assesses the risk COVID-19 poses to a community. 

With increased availability of at-home rapid tests, county health departments can no longer give the CDC reliable raw transmission data. The federal health agency now calculates risk based on new COVID-19-related admissions to hospitals and occupied inpatient beds. 

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The percentage increase in those metrics over a seven-day moving average determines whether a county, state or territory has “low,” “moderate” or “high” risk. 

As of July 13, confirmed COVID-19-related hospital admissions in Columbus County were up 83.3% from the previous seven days, according to the CDC.

As of Tuesday there were six COVID-19 inpatients at Columbus Regional Healthcare System, according to Smith, which is the “most they’ve had in numerous months.”

Smith attributes the rise in admissions to new highly infectious subvariants of the coronavirus. 

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 Dashboard, the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of omicron accounted for a combined 52% of all reported cases across the state from June 19 to July 2.

Last week, according to the dashboard, only 18 N.C. counties were considered at “high” risk; now 41 are. 

All counties surrounding Columbus County are now at “moderate” risk with the exception of Horry County, S.C., which is at “high” risk.

What to do

Smith said people ought not to be “obsessively worried” about this change but that they should consider taking greater precautions to cut back on the spread of COVID-19.

If going to a large venue or an indoors space with limited opportunity for social distancing, consider wearing a mask, the health director recommended.

Staying up to date on your vaccines — especially booster shots — is essential, the CDC says.

And if you have “the slightest change in how you feel” or are experiencing unusual symptoms, get tested. Smith recommends stocking up on at-home rapid tests, which can be purchased at your local pharmacy.

“Be mindful of how you feel — that’s what I’ve been trying to instill in everyone since Day One” of the pandemic, said Smith.

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