Improving COVID-19 numbers change CDC’s mask recommendation for Rowan County

Published 6:41 pm Thursday, March 3, 2022

SALISBURY — With COVID-19 metrics continuing to improve, Rowan County has been reclassified to the lowest and safest classification in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new COVID-19 measuring system.

The county has transitioned from the high/red category to the low/green category, meaning people no longer need to wear masks unless they have tested positive, have symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19. That’s according to the COVID-19 community levels tool unveiled by the Centers for Disease Control last week. The tool marks a shift from focusing on new cases to a more holistic approach that includes the spread of COVID-19 and severity of illness through hospitalization data.

Health Director Alyssa Harris said she is “very happy” with the CDC’s transition to a new way of evaluating how the pandemic is impacting communities.

“I do feel that we are at this place where what we’re seeing with the number of cases does not correlate to severity,” Harris said. “For us, looking at not only the new cases but hospitalizations really gives us a better picture and understanding of how COVID is affecting our community.”

The CDC relies on three primary metrics to determine whether a community is low/green, medium/yellow or high/red:

• The number of new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 people in the past seven days

• The percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients

• The total new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days

In the previous seven days, Rowan County’s case rate is 140.05 positives per 100,000 people, according to the CDC. That’s well below the 200 rate threshold for being a low/green community. The number of new COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 people in Rowan County is 8.3. The percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients is 8.8%. Both are below the threshold required for the green/low category.

The CDC only has two recommendations for citizens living in low/green counties: stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and get tested if they have symptoms. The Health Department, however, is still encouraging citizens to take “precautions based on their individual realities.” Harris said it is also critical for people to continue to get tested when they do have symptoms.

“We want people to continue to get tested if they feel sick,” Harris said. “Those first five days, if you’re able to get medication, you can have a much, much better outcome even if you’re not vaccinated.”

Rowan County’s COVID-19 numbers have been trending in the right direction since a pandemic high of 657 cases on Jan. 10. While Harris is happy to see the county’s overall improvement, she said it is still concerning to still see people hospitalized or die because of the virus.

“What really bothers me and what I really struggle with is seeing those deaths that come across my email,” Harris said.

Since the start of 2022, two people between the ages of 10-14 have died from COVID-19. Both individuals were unvaccinated and one had significant comorbidities, according to Harris. Comorbidities refer to a range of conditions that make someone more susceptible to a severe outcome. A comorbidity can be anything from cancer to high blood pressure.

In late February, a 35-year-old woman became the first pregnant person in Rowan County to die from COVID-19. She was unvaccinated and had comorbidities. Pregnancy has been a factor for an individual having a worse health outcome if they contract COVID-19, Harris said. The child was not born.

With COVID-19 metrics improving, Harris said the Health Department is starting to shift its focus to the future, which means an emphasis on pandemic preparedness, increasing vaccination rates and improving the underlying health of Rowan County. Harris will detail the department’s new campaign to address COVID-19 needs in the community at the Board of Health meeting on Tuesday night.

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About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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