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GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – With new vaccination plans on the way to add more protections against COVID-19, North Carolinians can take solace in a new piece of information: You live in one of the safest states during COVID-19.

That’s the finding of a new analysis by WalletHub, the data-crunching online finance advice company, which ranks North Carolina as the second-safest state by using key data from the pandemic.

A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

The primary reasons for the state’s rank are obvious: North Carolina is tied for having the highest vaccination rate in the country – 67% as WalletHub accounts for it – and it’s tied for having the lowest rate of death caused by the novel coronavirus. Those are astounding accomplishments.

North Carolina has recorded nearly 3.1 million cases of COVID-19 and its variants, which led to 25,853 deaths. Vaccination rates are about 63% of all ages but 95% of those 65 and older.

WalletHub, of course, didn’t base its rankings on purely those rates for vaccination and death. It created a points scale that used three other key metrics: positive testing rate, hospitalization rate and level of community transmission, which was an important element as we endured the ebbs and flows of the pandemic.

Those factors were weighted – with vaccination and death rates getting double and triple weight – and each was graded on a 100-point scale. The average of those created the overall score.

So with North Carolina also ranking 15th for level of community transmission and 28th for hospitalization rate, that led to a composite score of 75.32, which was just slightly less than the 75.95 posted by Vermont.

Source: WalletHub

The overall rankings

North Carolina was the only non-New England state among the top six. Nos. 3 through 6 were Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Maine, followed by Hawaii, Colorado, District of Columbia and Nevada in the top 10.

Southern states otherwise dominated the bottom of the list. Ranked in reverse order, starting with No. 51, were Louisiana, West Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi, Idaho, Arkansas, Wyoming, Missouri and Michigan.

North Carolina tied with DC, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania for the highest vaccination rates. Wyoming and Mississippi had the lowest.

North Carolina tied with Alaska for the lowest death rate, with Alabama, South Carolina and Florida just behind. Nebraska, West Virginia, New Mexico and Louisiana tied for the highest.

Vermont, the No. 1 state had the lowest ranking for positive testing and hospitalization rates. Hawaii had the best ranking for the level of community transmission.

Source: WalletHub

State of Emergency ends

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper arrives for a news briefing on the coronavirus in 2020. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP, File)

North Carolina – like most of the country and with the full support of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – has dropped almost all precautions against the spread of the virus, and these data show perhaps you can – pardon the pun – breathe easier.

On Aug. 15, Gov. Roy Cooper ended the state’s COVID-19 State of Emergency.

“The pandemic brought unprecedented challenges to our state and people now have the knowledge and the tools like vaccines, boosters and therapeutic treatments to keep them safe,” he said. “Executive orders issued under the State of Emergency protected public health and helped us save lives and livelihoods. North Carolina is emerging even stronger than before.”

Rupali J. Limaye, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (WALLETHUB)

Experts preach caution

But experts contacted by WalletHub weren’t lowering their caution in dealing with the virus.

“People must continue to stay home if they can, social distance, and wear a mask,” said Rupali J. Limaye, a professor in epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “The vaccine rollout will take some time, but once a person is eligible, they should get the vaccine.

“The vaccine is not only effective but has been tested rigorously for safety. All of these things together will help protect communities and lead to state recoveries.”

Andrews Handel, University of Georgia: (WALLETHUB)

Said Andrews Handel, professor in the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia: “The most important measure is for everyone to continue wearing masks, ideally, N95 or surgical masks (and covering both mouth and nose), whenever coming into contact with someone who is not part of your household. Consistent, proper, and widespread mask-wearing will lead to a massive reduction in transmission and thus could move COVID cases to very low levels within weeks.”

Matthew L. Boulton, University of Michigan (WALLETHUB)

With schools restarting in North Carolina, the relevance of whether vaccination should be mandatory draws a variety of responses.

“I think it remains to be determined what the best policy is about returning to school and is also very contextual,” said Matthew L. Boulton, a public health professor at the University of Michigan. “If teachers and school administrators are vaccinated and kids are required to mask up and practice social distancing at school, it could result in minimal transmission in schools without kids being vaccinated.”