A reduced number of new daily cases of COVID-19 in recent weeks seems to indicate that the masks many people are wearing are helping stem the spread of the virus, but health officials are closely watching to see what will happen weeks from now, when the impact of schools reopening will become apparent.

Caldwell County has seen lower case numbers over the last two weeks, the daily numbers statewide also appear to have plateaued, and the number of people each sick person infects is declining, said Laura Easton, president and chief executive officer of Caldwell UNC Health Care.

Still, it is too early to celebrate, Easton said.

“There’s hope that we could be plateaued here for a while, and then start declining numbers of hospitalizations, but that does not include the impact of schools opening, universities and schools,” she said. “That trend is something we’re going to watch really, really closely to see if the increase in the interaction of people at universities and schools causes that number to go back up.”

She said that she hopes school systems will avoid an uptick, as school protocols are “very tight, they’re very strong.”

Health officials have worked closely with the Caldwell County Schools and Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute as they reconvened, “and they’re doing a really good job in a very complex situation,” Easton said.

“We have a collaborative, a weekly leadership call to share information and to provide … support and encouragement and any medical insights that we can,” she said. “It’s the community college leadership, the school system leadership, the health department and the hospital leadership, and we’re convening weekly. Additionally, we have a daily huddle … for just a brief 15 minutes to kind say what’s happening today, what are you seeing, what do you need, are there any questions, are there any hotspots.”

Easton said that even when cases begin to decline in number, “it doesn’t make the disease itself any less dangerous. So I think we need to really stay vigilant through the end of the year, we really do.”

She said that the decline in the number of people each person infects shows that the masks are helping.

“And I think ... if we can sustain the trajectory through sustained effort, we will have saved a lot of lives in the state of North Carolina,” she said.

Until there is a vaccine, the virus will not be under control, and the hospital system’s respiratory diagnostic clinics — where people get tested for the virus — are still seeing a high volume of traffic, Easton said. On Monday, about 200 people got tested at the two clinics, one in Lenoir and one in Granite Falls.

Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 828-610-8721.

Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 828-610-8721.