GUILFORD COUNTY — While officials say the rate of COVID-19 cases is easing in Guilford County, the county still ranks the highest in North Carolina for COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 population.

“We have a lot of services for our community members, but that also means we have a lot of long-term care facilities with a lot of vulnerable individuals,” county health director Dr. Iulia Vann told the Guilford County Board of Commissioners at its regular meeting Thursday. “Those facilities have been very disportionately affected by COVID-19 with a lot of deaths reported in those facilities. We are doing way better than other counties nationally, but as far as the comparison to other counties in North Carolina, we are not doing as good in that category.”

Vann presented data that show Guilford County ranked 25th in new cases and 23rd in death rates per 100,000 population compared to 30 national peer counties. Guilford ranked eighth of 10 similar sized North Carolina counties as far as positivity rate and sixth in percentage of fully vaccinated individuals in the eligible population of 12 years old and older, Vann said. Forsyth, New Hanover and Durham counties’ numbers were worse than Guilford’s in comparison with 10 other counties in the state with populations near or above 500,000, Vann said.

“In all of these metrics, Guilford County has been scoring better than these peer counties we normally compare ourselves with,” Vann said. “Unlike numerous Guilford County health outcomes and disparities that we continue to see in our community, the rate for new COVID cases and deaths is not driven by racial or ethnic differences or social determinants of health, such as poverty.”

Board member James Upchurch questioned why the number of cases in Guilford County isn’t decreasing as fast or faster than counties that don’t have mask mandates.

Cone Health epidemiologists and the county believe case rates have plateaued across the entire region, Emergency Services Director Don Campbell said. Many school systems that were mask optional imposed mask mandates after Guilford County and Guilford County Schools adopted the mandates.

“I guess I still have a question as to why surrounding counties and the majority of counties in our state do not have a mask mandate yet their cases have dropped faster than Guilford County,” Upchurch said.

Campbell said he was unfamiliar with other large counties’ case rates declining faster, but assured him the staff would investigate it.

Board member Justin Conrad agreed with Upchurch and said he would like to see regional data from surrounding counties or direct neighbors, such as Alamance and Davidson counties, because of regional changes in the way the virus is spreading. Conrad referred to a New York Times report he read that said the entire Southeast is seeing a dramatic decrease in new virus cases, and that the largest increases are in rural, sparsely populated states.

Vann said her presentation was intended to show the overall pandemic response of Guilford County in comparison to the nation.

“We’ll be more than happy to bring additional information to the board in regards to comparison to regional counties,” Vann said.

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