SPRUCE PINE — As positive cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in Mitchell County, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) has categorized Mitchell as a critical community spread county.
In an effort to help North Carolinians understand how their county is faring and make decisions about actions to slow the spread of the virus, NCDHHS created a COVID-19 County Alert System.
The system categorizes counties into three tiers: yellow for significant community spread, orange for substantial community spread and red for critical community spread.
Along with 20 other counties in the state, Mitchell is red.
According to NCDHHS, the tiers are determined by three metrics: case rate, the percentage of tests that are positive and hospital impact within the county.
As of Wednesday, Nov. 18, Mitchell County had 80 active positive cases. Additionally, as of Monday, Nov. 23, there have been nine deaths in the county, three of which occurred last week.
According to the NCDHHS, since September, newly reported cases are increasingly being identified in rural counties. Nearly twice as many new cases have been reported from rural counties compared to urban or suburban counties.
While these new COVID-19 cases are increasing among all age groups in rural counties, the largest proportion of cases is among people ages 25-49. COVID-related deaths are increasingly more common in rural counties, as well.
Toe River Health District Director Diane Creek said the Mitchell County Health Department continues to urge citizens to follow the three W’s: wear a mask, watch your distance and wash your hands.
“You’ve got to keep wearing the masks, social distancing and washing your hands when you can,” she said. “It works, but you’ve just got to be diligent.”
Creek added if you have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or if you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19, like a cough, sore throat, fever or fatigue, to stay home.
“Do not go to work. Do not go to the grocery store. Don’t go out,” she said. “Only go out to get tested.”
The NCDHHS suggests individuals in red tier counties, like Mitchell, should limit mixing between households, avoid settings where people congregate, consider ordering takeout from restaurants and reduce public interactions to essential activities, like going to work, school, doctor visits and buying food and medications.