All the major indicators of how the state's fight against the coronavirus is going — new cases, the number of people in the hospital, the percent positive — are improving in North Carolina.
Noting the downward trends for the virus, Gov. Roy Cooper said the state could begin relaxing some coronavirus restrictions soon.
"We are encouraged to see our COVID-19 numbers declining and remaining stable. For the first time since late November, the number of people hospitalized in North Carolina due to the virus has dropped under 2,000," Cooper said during a news conference Thursday.
He said public health officials are considering many of the current restrictions, including gathering limits, the nightly curfew, and limits on alcohol sales as they craft a new executive order.
North Carolina has been under a state of emergency since March 10, 2020. A succession of executive orders from the governor shuttered many businesses, imposed curfews, and mandated masks.
It is not likely that the statewide face mask requirement would go away anytime soon, but Cooper said restrictions on other things could be relaxed.
"We now have stay-at-home orders, occupancy restrictions at some places, retail locations throughout the state, all of those restrictions that are in place now, the gathering limits, all of these are on the table to be considered," Cooper said.
"Health officials are examining the data, looking at the science, and talking to people in other states," he said. But what will remain are the now-familiar 3Ws: wearing a mask, waiting six feet of social distance, and washing your hands.
"We know that there will be continued restrictions in place in order to protect the people," Cooper said. But, he added, an announcement loosening the restrictions will probably come next week.
Talk of possibly relaxing the coronavirus rules in the state comes as the numbers have been improving since a spike after the holidays.
As of Thursday, there are 1,892 people in the hospital with COVID-19, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.
North Carolina reported 3,916 new cases Thursday. That's down from a peak of more than 11,000 reported on one day in January.
The rate of COVID-19 tests coming back positive is at 6.2% Thursday. That's a key indicator of how the state is doing on slowing the virus. That number was well above 10% for months.
State public health officials say they want that number under 5% to show the virus is getting under control.
But, the governor said, people should not let their guard down.
"It’s vitally important to wear masks and practice social distancing. We know that our safety measures work even as we are seeing more contagious variants of this virus out there. These actions can keep us safe until a vaccine is widely available," Cooper said.
The vaccination campaign also continues. More than 600,000 people in North Carolina have gotten both shots of the vaccines as of Thursday.