RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — With North Carolina on the verge of a grim COVID-19 milestone, one leading expert is looking toward one month in particular for a marker of significant improvement.
“My eye is on April. I want to see the number of deaths as half of what it was in December,” said Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease expert at the University of North Carolina’s school of medicine. “That would be a really good sign that we’re on the right track for summer.
“I want to see that we’re going in the right direction,” he added. “If we’re not going in the right direction by then, something’s happened.”
North Carolina moved to the brink of its 10,000th recorded death Monday after another eight were reported to the state Department of Health and Human Services.
For context, that’s about 700 more than it would take to fill 9,314-seat Cameron Indoor Stadium — which stood empty this weekend for one of the most widely anticipated men’s college basketball games of the year, the first North Carolina-Duke matchup.
And in largely a reflection of the surges after the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, about half of those deaths came since Nov. 21.
“A lot of people have died. A lot of people are dying still,” Wohl said. “A lot of people will die from COVID-19.”
December was briefly the deadliest month of the pandemic, with 1,827 deaths. Then came January, when at least 2,318 people died after the virus spread rapidly during small holiday gatherings despite repeated warnings from state leaders about their dangers.
Put another way, as many people are known to have died in January as in the first five months of the pandemic, from early March through Aug. 6.
The number from January could grow even higher in the coming days and weeks because of the lag between when someone dies and when that death is reported to the state.
It’s yet another sign that the surge that followed those holidays isn’t completely over.
When a virus-spreading event happens, emergency room visits and the number of new cases are generally the first statistics to rise and fall. Lagging indicators — hospitalizations and deaths — usually don’t reflect those events until weeks later.
And while new cases and hospitalizations have started to come down from their record levels in mid-January, deaths remain high: At least 100 per day were reported to the state 11 times in a 16-day period from Jan. 21-Feb. 5.
“We still see continued death numbers that are much too high and it’s because of those patients that can be kept alive for a long period of time but ultimately just can’t completely recover,” said Dr. Lisa Pickett, a trauma surgeon with Duke Health. “And so those death numbers, we’d like to see (them) come down but they may not for a little while.”
CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.