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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Gov. Cooper says ‘worst is behind us’ on COVID-19, health officials shift strategy

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N.C. Department of Public Safety
DHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley speaks at a news conference March 17, 2022.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday the “worst is behind us” in the COVID-19 pandemic as state health leaders outlined a new approach to monitoring the coronavirus in the state.

“Over the last two years, we’ve written a history of hardship and resilience, setbacks and successes,” Cooper said at a news conference. “But now we enter the next phase—one of individual responsibility, preparedness and prosperity.”

North Carolina’s key COVID-19 metrics have been steadily declining since the peak of the omicron surge in late January. On Thursday, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services reported 1,223 new cases and 769 people hospitalized with COVID-19. It also reported a test positivity rate of 2.4%, a vast decrease from the record high of roughly 36%, though the rate does not include results from at-home rapid antigen tests.

Beginning March 23, how the state publicly reports its coronavirus data on its online dashboard will change, DHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley said Thursday, because “some metrics no longer measure the moment.”

Rather than highlighting numbers like the test positivity rate, Kinsley said DHHS instead will focus on reporting metrics like wastewater data, the percent of people with COVID-like symptoms visiting emergency departments, hospital admissions, case trends and the rate of people who have been boosted. The health department will also switch to updating the dashboard weekly on Wednesdays rather than daily.

Cooper did not indicate that he would lift North Carolina's state of emergency, which he said allows for flexibility for hospital systems in accessing supplies and vaccines.

Cooper’s and Kinsley’s news conference came as a surge of cases in Western Europe sparked concern about another wave of the pandemic in the U.S., The Washington Post reported. The latest surge is fueled by the subvariant of omicron called BA.2, which reportedly appears more transmissible than the original strain, BA.1.

When asked about a possible next surge, both Cooper and Kinsley emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated and boosted to stay protected against BA.2 and other possible future variants.

“We’re ready for those waves. We’ll remain vigilant. We’ll remain communicating with North Carolina about what we’re seeing as that comes,” Kinsley said.

As of Thursday, roughly half of North Carolina residents 18 and older have received a booster shot, according to state health department numbers.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.