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'Cautious optimism' | State sees another drop in hospitalizations, data scientist digs into trends

Cone Health Data Scientist Michael DeWitt said while they're seeing a flattening in the rate of spread, we're not out of the woods yet.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — As North Carolina sees another drop in the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19, that number is also dropping slightly in Triad hospitals. 

The number of people recorded to be in the hospital in Guilford County on Jan. 19 was 253, a drop from 264, recorded on Jan. 15.

Cone Health pushed back the anticipated hospital capacity date again, now projecting with the current trends, the hospital system will exceed capacity Feb. 6.

A team of data scientists is tracking trends within Cone Health's hospital system. 

Cone Health Data Scientist Michael DeWitt said when calculating these hospital trends, they're looking at how many secondary cases stem from a single case.

"That number is driven primarily by case rate. What we’re seeing is a flattening of that number. So, that’s a ratio of the rate of spread so that seems to be flattening which is improving our projections," said DeWitt. 

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DeWitt said it's hard to pinpoint exactly what's causing the trends to flow in this direction, however, they are tracking certain data points that are good indicators. 

"Google, as part of their 'Data Science for Good' program, has put out mobility metrics which look at, for those who have this thing turned on, location services turned on, are you going to the grocery store? Are you going to retail? Are you staying home?" said DeWitt, "That number has decreased meaning that people are making fewer contacts and if you make fewer contacts, there is less opportunity for the infection to spread."

DeWitt said more people staying home and wearing masks could be good indicators of the virus's spread slowing. 

"There are indications that less infectious contacts are being made which means that there may be less transition in the community," said DeWitt, "On the hospital side, trying to use different treatment options to maybe help infected cases not convert to serious disease and need to come to the hospital, so there are some things that we could likely point to as helping."

However, DeWitt is stressing that everyone should proceed cautiously.

"We're not there yet. We can’t let up on the three W's. This thing will likely be with us for the long haul. The vaccine will help but we can help ourselves by following the three W's," he said. 

DeWitt said a downward trend in hospitalizations for at least 14 days will serve as a sign of improvement, but right now trends are still within the range of uncertainty. 

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