Mecklenburg moves to “red” on COVID risk scale

Through the Global COVID-19 pandemic the only thing that is certain is that nothing is certain. It is difficult to determine which piece of conflicting advice you should listen to or which research statistics are accurate and can be trusted. 

The Harvard Global Health Institute has established a team of public health experts to help simplify the data. Earlier this year the Key Metrics For COVID Suppression framework was launched. The project aims to “provide clear, accessible guidance to policy makers and the pubic on how to target and suppress COVID-19 more effectively across the nation.” 

So how does it work? “The new framework brings clarity to metrics that help communities determine the severity of the outbreak they are responding to. A new COVID Risk Level map shows if a county or state is on the green, yellow, orange or red risk level, based on the number of new daily cases. The framework then delivers broad guidance on the intensity of control efforts needed based on these COVID risk levels. It offers key performance indicators for testing and contact tracing across all risk levels, as a backbone for suppression efforts.”

The Mecklenburg County Public Schools Administration has been using this model to help plan the upcoming school year. “This is going to be a very difficult year coming up,” said Superintendent Paul Nichols in a Loom video to parents and students posted on August 5. With the school year set to begin on September 8, parents and students have been given two options. They may choose to learn by face-to-face interaction Monday through Thursday with remote learning on Fridays or they may choose to stay at home full-time and learn “remotely”.  “The first thing that I want to review is that parents and students need to be prepared for change.” Mr. Nichols continued, “Mecklenburg has been in the yellow for the last two months, so we feel like it’s safe to say, with the appropriate health measures that we’re taking and keeping things going on at school, it’s safe to bring our students back face-to-face. Watching this data, you can see that there are counties close to us in the red and counties close to us that are in the orange and we have to watch this. Now if we move into the orange, or Phase II, then we will have to move from all students being able to do face-to-face, to putting it in a situation where only our special needs children, our pre-K, Kindergarten, First, Second, and Third grade students would be coming and they would be spread out more but all other students will go to remote learning at home. “ There has been no official word for MCPS on whether a change in the current plan will be implemented. 

A majority of Mecklenburg County’s positive cases seem to be coming from outbreaks at long-term care and correctional facilities. Last week it was reported by The Mecklenburg Sun that the Baskerville Correctional Facility had 122 positive cases with numbers continuing to grow. Many parents and teachers have raised concerns about the virus further spreading to the community through staff at these facilities. 

As of Monday, August 10, the Virginia Department of Health is reporting 446 confirmed cases in Mecklenburg County. Among that number 38 hospitalizations have been reported as well as 32 deaths. “Local leaders need and deserve a unified approach for suppressing COVID-19, with common metrics so that they can begin to anticipate and get ahead of the virus, rather than reacting to uncontrolled community spread”, says Beth Cameron, Vice President for Global Biological Policy and Programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiativeand a member of the team.  “Unless and until there is a whole of government response, with measurable progress communicated similarly and regularly across every state and locality, U.S. leaders will be left to react to the chaos of the virus - rather than being able to more effectively target interventions to suppress it. “