A new coronavirus warning system shows how quickly the coronavirus is spreading in each of North Carolina's 100 counties. Releasing the map Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper said he hopes local officials will take action in their communities where the virus is spreading.

The three-tier system color-codes each county based on three factors: case rates, percent positive test rates, and hospital impact. The new monthly reports from the state Department of Health and Human Services ranks each county yellow, orange, or red based on those factors.  

"North Carolina is experiencing high levels of community transmission of COVID-19 statewide, but the virus is impacting some counties particularly hard," public health officials said.

The state remains under Phase 3 of Cooper's reopening plan. The current phase expires on Dec. 4. Some other states and cities around the country have begun to re-impose restrictions as cases have spiked again.

"Today, we have the highest rate of hospitalizations since the pandemic began. These are numbers we cannot ignore. But other states have been even worse right now and they should be the 'canary in the coal mine' for us," Cooper said.

"Right now, North Carolina's numbers are increasing, not surging. But a surge can happen quickly," the governor said during a news conference Tuesday.

"We're hoping this open and transparent map, with all of the information, can raise the level of concern throughout each of these counties," he said.


Credit: NCDHHS


Most counties are in the yellow range, meaning there is still significant spread of the virus. In these counties, state officials said people need to continue following state guidance on wearing masks, social distancing, and washing hands. DHHS also says people should avoid large gatherings and non-essential travel, as well as participating in contact tracing and other measures.

For counties listed as orange, for substantial spread, or red, for critical spread, state leaders said county officials, businesses, and residents should do more to combat the virus.

The recommendations for local governments in areas with critical spread include setting earlier cutoff times for serving alcohol and "additional restrictions for public-facing businesses."

For counties listed orange or red, here are the state's recommendations:

For individuals

  • Limit mixing between households and minimize the number of people in your social circle
  • Avoid settings where people congregate, like outdoor bars and night clubs (in N.C., indoor bars remain closed and indoor night clubs must remain below indoor mass gathering limits)
  • If patronizing restaurants, consider ordering take-out from restaurants and/or eating outdoors socially distanced
  • Individuals who are high-risk for developing serious illness should consider staying at home as much as possible
  • Reduce your public interactions to mainly essential activities like going to work or school, caring for family members, buying food, getting health care or picking up medications

For businesses

  • All businesses are strongly encouraged to implement teleworking if feasible and cancel any non-essential work travel
  • Promote Find My Testing Place website to employees
  • Require all employees to participate in Count On Me NC training
  • Manufacturing, construction, food-processing, farms – request a consultation from NCDHHS on reducing workplace transmission (919-707-5900)
  • Community and religious organizations should avoid any in-person indoor meetings, events, worship services or other gatherings above the indoor mass gathering limit

For colleges and universities

  • Adopt strict restrictions on student gatherings and events on-campus and off-campus
  • Close indoor dining and move to "grab-and-go"
  • Consider moving to single-occupancy dorms or other single-occupancy living arrangements

For local governments

  • Meet with state officials to discuss plans for mitigating spread
  • Work with the state to expand availability of no-cost testing to residents, especially prior to holiday travel
  • Work with the state to increase availability of non-congregate housing
  • Increase messaging on the risk of serious disease for older individuals and individuals in all age groups with certain underlying medical conditions identified by CDC, and recommend those individuals stay at home as much as possible
  • Adopt ordinances that allow for the use of civil penalties for enforcement of the statewide restrictions
  • Increase enforcement of mass-gathering limits and masks with local law enforcement or other local regulators or inspectors, such as the fire marshal
  • Consider adopting local ordinances to end alcohol sales for on-site consumption at an earlier time
  • Consider adopting local ordinances with additional restrictions for public-facing businesses
The map will be updated once a month to help counties work to control the spread, according to DHHS.