‘Everywhere right now:’ Where COVID-19 risk is highest in NC for Christmas gatherings

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The chances of being in a large group with someone who has COVID-19 in North Carolina appears to be highest in the Warren County community of Manson.

Risk maps assembled by a team of researchers at nc-covid.org on Monday determined the chance that a group of 25 people there contains at least one infectious person was 86 percent — the highest in the state.

The map measures the chances of having someone capable of transmitting COVID-19 in groups of 10 or 25 people in every ZIP code in the state.

Over the past month, that color-coded map has shown a marked darkening — a reflection of how the risk of COVID-19 transmission has increased in groups of people in the weeks since Thanksgiving.

“We’re just seeing them go up, up, up,” said Paul Delamater, a professor at the University of North Carolina who studies population health issues and infectious diseases, and one of the leaders of the project.

Holiday gatherings have been blamed for spikes in several key metrics. During that time, the state Department of Health and Human Resources has recorded 15 separate days with at least 5,000 new cases of COVID-19 and on 21 consecutive days at least 2,000 patients have been hospitalized with the virus.

It’s particularly timely with the possibility of North Carolinians traveling later this week for Christmas.

“It looks like transmission has been increasing since Thanksgiving and is continuing to increase, all over the state, too,” Delamater said. “It kind of is everywhere right now,” he said.

CBS 17 News previously reported on the risk map on Nov. 18, shortly before Thanksgiving, and the map on that day contained largely more yellow and light orange hues, indicating a more moderate risk level overall with pockets where the risk was elevated.

A little over a month later, and the map has a significantly more intense shade with deep swaths of dark orange — especially in the mountains west of Charlotte. A handful of ZIP codes were colored red, indicating the highest risk — including Manson.

Dark orange signifies a chance of having a COVID-positive person being between 10 and 20 percent for groups of 10 people, and between 25 and 50 percent for groups of 25 people. In red areas, the percent chance is even higher.

“Basically, I’m mapping out the chance, given transmission in a ZIP code, that if you get 10 random people who live together in that ZIP code together in a room, what is the chance that one of them either currently has COVID … or is infectious right now?” Delamater said. “And I made the map kind of thinking about the size of our get-togethers and how we like to gather in groups on holidays, so I made them for a 10-person event, a 25-person event, and they’re a little bit terrifying right now.”

The maps are another tool that North Carolinians can use to inform decisions about whether to travel for the holidays.

State leaders have urged residents to celebrate only with people in their immediate household. And an executive order from Gov. Roy Cooper limited the size of indoor gatherings from 25 people to 10 people.

Delamater said he wants people to be “just really thinking about making a decision about how many people you’re going to get together with, who those people are, if you’re going to wear a mask or deciding to wear a mask, if there are people you haven’t been interacting with.

“Thinking about the kind of venues that you can meet in, thinking about all these things that you can do to reduce the chance you’re going to transmit COVID,” he said.

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