NORTH CAROLINA – Roughly four months into the worst public health crisis of our lifetime, experts say we're still in the beginning.

What You Need To Know

  • N.C. State and UNC Chapel Hill researchers launched new website with forecasts specific to North Carolina

  • Data should begin to show whether Gov. Roy Cooper's mask mandate is working

  • They're keeping an especially close eye on how upcoming school reopenings could affect transmission dynamics

"I think we're maybe coming to the end of chapter one," says Dr. Paul Delamater, assistant professor at UNC Chapel Hill.

The health geographer launched N.C. COVID-19 earlier this month. It's a website with models focused solely on North Carolina.

"You don't want to say things look good because people are still transmitting coronavirus. People are still being hospitalized. People are still dying, but relative to other state's, we've done a pretty good job," Delamater says.

According to Johns Hopkins University's cooronavirus tracker, North Carolina ranks 21st lowest in deaths per 100,000 people and 19th highest in tests completed.

Delamater says we're entering a crossroad the next few weeks. Now's about the time we'll see if the governor's mask mandate is working. Schools and universities are also preparing to welcome students back.

"It is certainly possible we would see an increase (in cases) from school reopenings, but if schools have the ability to distance and have children wear face coverings, then I think we could still re-open schools and keep case numbers fairly low," says Dr. Julie Swann, department head of industrial and systems engineering at N.C. State.

Swann, who served as an advisor to the CDC during the H1N1 pandemic says one thing we have learned is the summer weather hasn't slowed the spread like some people hoped.

"I think it's pretty clear heat is not going to kill this virus," Swann says. "There are some people who say the opposite. When a place gets really hot, people want to go inside and what we know is that people breathing the air of other people is one of the things that spreads this disease."

New daily cases and hospitalizations are going up in North Carolina though their models predict healthcare systems will not be overwhelmed at the state level.

Their models estimate the real number of infections in the state is about six times the lab confirmed cases. The forecasts show daily infections continuing to trend upwards, but say how people behave can easily change that.