The World Health Organization (WHO) officially announced on Friday that COVID-19 is no longer a global health emergency.
This change comes after the virus caused 6.9 million deaths and at least 765 million cases worldwide over the last three years.
Despite the downgrade, health officials said this still doesn't mean the pandemic is over.
"We've got a good comfort level. Your risk is pretty low. That doesn't mean it's zero," said Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist with UNC Health.
Last week in North Carolina, 2,240 people tested positive for COVID-19. Another 248 people were hospitalized and 6 died, according to data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS).
While these numbers show the virus is still around, they are also significantly lower than during the height of the pandemic in the winter of 2022. At the height, North Carolina averaged around That's 30,000 cases and 70 deaths a day.
"Just look to your left, look to your right, there is much fewer numbers of people getting infected are neighbors or friends or family. So that's a great sign," Wohl said.
This downward trend is mirrored across the country with all metrics trending down the last few months and most of the nation in a state of low transmission.
This pattern led world and national health leaders to make changes.
On May 11, COVID-19 will no longer be classified as a public health emergency in the U.S.
"You can't have an emergency go on forever. You can't, you know, have sirens blaring before people start to not pay attention. It was declared an emergency for a reason. We're in a different situation now than were three years ago and certainly even a year ago," Wohl said.
Part of this downgrade means that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will reduce the amount of COVID-19 data it shares, which Wohl said continues to be needed.
The change will also impact funding. Starting next week many people will have to start paying for COVID-19 tests and treatment. This is something Wohl said may be an issue.
"We've got to do a better job. We're not in a situation yet where this is just like the flu. This still has the potential to cause havoc," he said.
As the nation and world enter another phase of the pandemic, Wohl said it continues to be up to each person to gauge how to keep themselves protected.
"Everyone has to calibrate what they feel they're comfortable with. Are you willing, given the low risk, to take more chances?" he said.
Wohl does predict another uptick of cases in the winter, but said it's unclear how big that uptick would be. He also said while the nation's immunity is pretty good now, he does worry about it waning over time.
Free home test kits will still be available here in North Carolina - and the state health department will continue to track most of the same COVID-19 metrics it has been tracking for years.
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