In the past two weeks, North Carolina has seen an increase in COVID-19 clusters from social events and other gatherings such as parties, family gatherings, weddings and funerals according to a new weekly report the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services added today to the NC COVID-19 Dashboard. The department has also released new guidance for private gatherings.
“I know people want and need to come together, particularly as we head into the holiday season. At the same time, no one wants to spread COVID-19 to their family and friends,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D. “The best defense is to wear a mask every time you are with someone you don’t live with; maintain social distancing, limit any gathering to a small number of people and host it outside; and wash your hands frequently.”
The COVID-19 Clusters in North Carolina report includes total cumulative reported clusters, cases and deaths broken down by type of cluster since May 22, 2020 and graphs per type of cluster showing trends over time. This report will be updated each Monday by 4pm.
In addition to social gatherings, the report shows an increase in September for cases associated with clusters in religious gatherings. NCDHHS has a toolkit for faith leaders that includes actions faith leaders can take to help slow the spread of COVID-19 (also available in Spanish). Other findings from the report include cases associated with clusters in meat and poultry processing plants decreasing since early May and clusters in college and university settings peaking in late August.
The cluster data provided in the report is limited to clusters that have been voluntarily reported or identified through case investigation and contact tracing efforts. While congregate living settings, schools and child care programs are required to report outbreaks or clusters to their local health department, other settings are not.
As community spread of COVID-19 continues in North Carolina, clusters of cases are being identified in workplaces, educational settings and many other community locations. Identifying and responding to COVID-19 clusters helps local health departments and the state implement prevention and control measures, identify risk factors and understand settings where transmission of COVID-19 is most likely to occur.
NCDHHS defines clusters of COVID-19 in non-congregate living settings as:A minimum of 5 cases with illness onsets or initial positive results within a 14-day period, and
Plausible epidemiologic linkage between cases, meaning cases are present in the same general setting during the same time period without a more likely source of exposure for identified cases (e.g., household or close contact to a confirmed case in another setting).
Cases and deaths included in the report represent only those linked to clusters meeting the above definition. Clusters are included if they were reported to public health on or after May 22, 2020, the date the cluster definition was published; the exception is clusters in meat and poultry processing facilities, which were tracked beginning in April 2020.
Spread of COVID-19 is most likely to occur in indoor settings with large numbers of people, particularly those where mask use and social distancing are not being observed. While clusters in some settings have decreased over time, continuing clusters in many workplace and community settings reinforces the need for all North Carolinians to practice the 3 W’s: Wear, Wait, and Wash.