DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- After record-high case counts at the beginning of the year, COVID-19 metrics have greatly improved in North Carolina during the past month, leading most cities and towns to drop restrictions, including mask mandates.
The warmer weather and improved situation brought people out to CCB Plaza in Durham on Tuesday night.
"I feel pretty comfortable being in social spaces as long as I have my mask on," said Michelle Liu, a student at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.
Vishakha Lakhni, a fellow student, added: "We're pretty close, so when we're together and indoors, we're OK taking our masks off, but if it's someone else, we'll keep our masks on."
Jordan Flagg said even when metrics were worse, he largely didn't alter his habits.
"I still have to live my life. It's a pleasure to see things opening back up and coming back out," Flagg said.
Despite this, infectious disease specialists are closely monitoring increasing COVID case counts internationally, including in Europe and China. Throughout the course of the pandemic, patterns in other countries have provided insight into what could eventually happen in the United States.
"I don't think thought we understand enough to think we need to do anything different at this stage other than to watch really carefully," said Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at Duke, who stressed there is no need to panic.
Wolfe said that though there has been a slight uptick in cases involving BA.2 in the US, a more transmissible subvariant of omicron, it's been in the country as metrics have improved.
"There's not strong data at all yet to say that it's more severe, (and) if you had omicron in January that actually seems to give you really good protection against other omicron subvariants," Wolfe explained.
He pointed to the importance of tracking data during the next couple of weeks as mandates have been dropped and many families travel during spring break.
This week, the White House expressed concerns over a lack of future funding to battle the pandemic, believing the impact could be felt in a number of different ways.
"To think that we would then cut the funding for the very interventions that have been helpful for us when we've had significant waves, i.e. antibody infusions, upfront antiviral drugs, testing capacity, the kind of things that we anticipate we will correctly need if we see another surge, to cut that funding out now because we're (improving), that ignores a lesson that we should have learned from 2021 when we saw Delta reappear," said Wolfe.