North Carolina experienced its largest day-over-day increase in COVID-19 cases at 1,370, the state Department of Health and Human Services reported Saturday.

The official DHHS statewide count is 34,625 cases and 992 deaths.

Forsyth County had 29 new cases for a total of 1,734, according to the county health department. Although the number of deaths remained at 23, there have been 14 deaths in the past nine days after having only nine between March 15 and May 28.

Hospitalizations statewide are at 708 — the third time in the past five days the count has exceeded 700.

The state’s upward trend in cases, hospitalizations and deaths continues to present a challenge to Gov. Roy Cooper and state health officials, who are contemplating a Phase 2.5 easing of more business restrictions between now and the planned Phase Three reopening on June 26.

“These are very concerning numbers,” Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s health secretary, said in a statement.

Part of the local and statewide increase comes from more individuals being tested for COVID-19 who may not currently have symptoms, but may have been exposed to the virus.

Local and DHHS health officials have emphasized in recent weeks testing individuals from historically marginalized populations “who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.”.

Cohen said local and DHHS officials are encouraging individuals to get tested now if they fit into the following categories:

  • Attending a mass gathering, including a protest;
  • Working in a setting at higher risk of exposure, such as a grocery store, restaurant, gas station or child care program; and
  • Living or working in high-risk settings, such as long-term facilities, homeless shelters, correctional facilities or food processing facilities.

“While testing has significantly expanded in the past month, DHHS will direct resources to focus efforts on counties experiencing more rapid viral spread,” the department said in a statement.

There have been at least 6,454 cases in the 14-county Triad and Northwest N.C. region with 167 reported deaths. The highest Forsyth day over day case count was 162 reported Monday.

There were at least 11 times during May where the Forsyth day-to-day increase in cases exceeded 50. There have been three occurrences already in June.

Joshua Swift, the county’s health director, said Thursday some of the local clusters involve large households, primarily in the Hispanic community, sharing the same space and products.

Most of the daily surges in Forsyth came after Cooper approved Phase One reopening of the economy on May 8. Phase Two began May 22. State health officials have said it tends to take two to three weeks to see a trend from an isolated event.

Those data points include: the number of hospitalizations; number of hospital beds, ICU beds and ventilators available; number of positive cases; percentage of positive cases; number of individuals coming to hospital emergency rooms with COVID-19 symptoms.

“All of these things operate as canaries in the coal mine and offer us a forecast of what’s coming down the road,” Cooper said Thursday.

rcraver@wsjournal.com

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@rcraverWSJ

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