RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The state has come a long way since the Tuesday two years ago when North Carolina officials announced a Wake County resident tested positive for the first case of COVID-19 in the state.
'This is our first positive and we will continue I'm sure to see additional cases of folks who may have traveled, had contact with someone who may have COVID-19," said former North Carolina Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen on March 3, 2020.
In the last two years, the number of positive cases has jumped to more than 2.5 million. In the first two months of 2022, the state reported more cases than in all of 2020.
From missed holidays to restricted hospital visits to funerals to closed businesses, residents have endured the ups and downs of the cycles of the pandemic. Perhaps, one of the most disheartening parts is two years removed from the first case and COVID-19 is still front of mind for many.
"I certainly wish that it wasn't two years later, and we're still having to talk about it, " said Dr. Erica Pettigrew, UNC family medicine primary care physician and Orange County medical director. "I'm proud of a lot of the steps that our state and our counties took to protect ourselves and protect each other. And we're really moving into a different phase. We need to figure out the long-term strategy because, in terms of human behavior, we certainly can't have lockdowns."
As the CDC redefines risk and North Carolina towns drop mask mandates, signs are pointing toward a hopeful future, but metrics aren't at their lowest point, leaving many to wonder, 'What's next?'
Last week CDC recommended communities measure risk based on the rate of new cases and hospital capacity, despite these changes, most of North Carolina remains in a high-risk zone.
Dozens of North Carolinians continue to die from the virus each day. This year the state is already reporting a third of all COVID-19 deaths than in 2020.
"We have different tools in our toolkit to fight against it and so we're in a different place. But it's still a reality and we still have hundreds of people dying of it across the state and thousands across the country, and we need to respect that those are people's loved ones," Pettigrew said.
While the vaccine once offered a moment of hope, a year since the rollout, still a third of North Carolinians remain unvaccinated.
Today, the number of daily cases and percent of positive cases is in line with this time last year and the state is reporting 8% more COVID-19 patients.
"We are not in the clear, of course. But things seem to be trending in the right direction," Pettigrew said.
These are metrics levels we saw last year and then Delta and Omicron surge set record cases and hospitalizations.
"It feels almost like people think that once it's endemic, it's no longer a problem and that's not true," Pettigrew explained.
She said going forward a main goal is making sure metrics don't rise to levels that led to mass call-outs. Going forward she continues to worry about complacency and misinformation.
Dr. Lisa Pickett, the Chief Medical officer at Duke University also reiterated relaxing restrictions now doesn't mean they are gone forever.
"There's probably or possibly another surge to come in the future. So we do need to be ready and feel like well if we start seeing the numbers go up again, we're going to need to go right back to that wearing a mask and being more distanced, but perhaps have a bit of time of relaxing their standards," Pickett said.
Reflecting back on the highs and lows of the pandemic Pickett said there are a few positives.
"We have learned to work collaboratively across borders, health systems, or states or countries to share information more rapidly than I've ever seen in my career. And I hope that we remember that and sort of hold on to it," Pickett said.
Above all, she, like many others, hopes for the third-year anniversary the situation will be different.
"I hope it will be less and less of a crisis moment and more of something that we manage alongside all the other health needs of our community," she said.