RALEIGH — The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services released what it calls its new plan for the current stage of the coronavirus pandemic and announced it would end daily updates to its COVID-19 dashboard. The changes become effective on Wednesday, March 23.
Confirmed cases have bottomed out across the state, and state leaders say the situation looks much different now than two years ago.
“Over the last two years, we’ve written a history of hardship and resilience, setbacks and successes,” said Gov. Roy Cooper. “But now, we enter the next phase. One of individual responsibility, preparedness and prosperity. This virus will still be with us, but it won’t disrupt us.”
The state’s daily dashboard appears to be shutting down for public viewing and will now be updated weekly and highlight seven metrics. Those include wastewater testing in community wastewater systems, COVID-like illness in hospital emergency departments as a percentage of total emergency visits, confirmed COVID-19 hospital admissions, positive tests for COVID-19, COVID vaccine booster rates, tracking of new variants, and reliance on the CDC’s COVID-19 community levels to monitor the spread of the virus.
The state stopped reporting its own county transmission data, and the contact tracing page with data on the number of contact tracers will no longer be available. NCDHHS says weekly respiratory virus surveillance summaries will continue to be published on Thursdays and tabular data will continue to be provided on the Data Behind the Dashboards page.
Data on positive tests as a percentage of total tests will be available but does not include at-home test results. This comes as the department says they are becoming more widely used. Case data will only be reported weekly by date of specimen collection.
“We have worked hard to get here. With a robust toolset, we are prepared now as individuals and as a state in ways we could have not been two years ago or even two months ago.” said NCDHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley in a statement. “As we move forward together, we will continue to ensure every North Carolinian has access to the tools and information they need to protect themselves and others.”
At the briefing, Cooper, NCDHHS Secretary Kinsley, and N.C. Department of Commerce Secretary Machelle Sanders said the new plan would focus on four principles: prioritizing “equity,” empowering individuals, maintaining health system capacity, and collaborating with local partners.
The term “equity” has been emphasized repeatedly by Cooper and his administration. Rather than emphasizing equality, which gives all people the same opportunity and resources, “equity” seeks to deliver the same outcomes. Its use has been a prominent feature of Critical Race Theory, a Marxist-based academic framework based on Critical Theory.
NCDHHS also touted the state’s pandemic response, highlighting what it says is the lowest per capita death rate in the Southeast and the fact that the state’s statewide hospital capacity has never exceeded 91%. Gov. Cooper’s office recently celebrated the state’s return to pre-pandemic levels of employment. States such as Texas, Arizona, and Utah hit the milestone earlier than North Carolina according to a CNN article on pre-pandemic employment.
“The COVID-19 virus will be with us for the foreseeable future, and we will need to learn to live with the virus,” said Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, NCDHHS Chief Medical Officer and State Health Director. “I encourage you to speak with your trusted health care provider as you consider your own risk and the actions you can take now and in the future.”
On Tuesday, the department launched a campaign to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters for adults and children called “Spring into Summer.” Among the campaign’s goals are to get children and adolescents vaccinated. NCDHHS says 27% of children ages 5-11 and 48% of adolescents ages 12-17 have received a first dose of the vaccine.