CHARLOTTE (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – COVID-19, two years later. The first case in North Carolina was detected on March 3, 2022. Now mask mandates are over and the demand for vaccines and testing slowing to a crawl.

At the height of the pandemic, peaking less than two months ago, we saw more than 45,000 new cases in just one day. The spike, driven mostly by the then recently-emerged Omicron variant of the virus.

Now, those kinds of numbers seem to be a thing of the past. On Thursday, state health officials reported just over 2,300 new cases of the virus with a daily positive test rate dwindling down to 4.9 percent.

While we’re gaining back a sense of normalcy, it’s important to remember what we lost.

In North Carolina, more than 22,000 people died from COVID-19, about 1,500 in Mecklenburg County.

The pandemic impact also hit our area children. Masks are off and classrooms are full once again but a lengthy period of learning online has taken a toll.

Queen City News has been digging into the numbers we got from the state on Thursday which show just how much of a climb this will be to get back to pre-pandemic levels.

The numbers, bluntly, are not good. Even if you consider all the exceptions, state officials said it will take two to three years to fully recover.

Now that remote learning is more of a choice than a necessity, we are getting a real sense of how two years of students not being in class are affecting North Carolina’s kids.

The state’s Department of Public Instruction just put together a preliminary report on what they’ve found.

“Yeah, these numbers are pretty sobering,” Doctor Michael Maher said with the NC Dept. of Public Instruction.

Maher is the one tasked with crunching the latest numbers.

This is the big picture: The latest graph compares 2018 tests with 2021 state tests in various subjects. Think about the ‘zero line’ being where every student should be. Anything to the right is ‘good’ and anything to the left is ‘bad.’ The further to the left is ‘really bad.’

Officials said this has to do specifically with pandemic effects and not how districts or teachers handled it.

Report to the North Carolina General Assembly: An Impact Analysis of student learning during the COVID-19 pandemic

“It’s not good, but it is not as bad as it looks, is the way I’d put it,” Chris Marsicano with Davidson College said.

Marsicano is a Davidson College professor who digs into stats and public policy.

“Kids are sponges. They can make this up over time, if we give teachers the resources they need,” Marsicano said.

Objectively, he says the numbers are not good but…

“Some students left the school system and were homeschooled, some students went to private school, some students did a stop-out-year,” Marsicano explained.

For Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools parent Marissa Glanton, she’s looking at the numbers in a different way.

“We weren’t prepared. I don’t think any of us were prepared and it’s a learning process,” she said.

Glanton wasn’t alone in her frustrations – frustrations which now have proof.