RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina’s latest COVID-19 data from Wednesday recorded the largest number of deaths in a 24-hour span since October. More than 20,000 people in the state have now died from the virus.

That rise in deaths was not unexpected. As case counts and hospitalizations rose in the previous weeks, an increase in deaths was expected to follow.

“I don’t think it’s too soon to look at the light at the end of the tunnel. I do think it’s important to recognize that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease expert at the UNC School of Medicine.

That light at the end of the tunnel, however, is still not in reach for hospital staff staring this pandemic in the face every day.

“I checked in with them today and it’s not any better than it was yesterday or the day before,” Wohl said.

It’s the same story nationally.

“We are still seeing a high overall burden of disease,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Wednesday. “Milder does not mean mild. We cannot look past the strain on our health system and substantial number of deaths.”

Nationwide, cases and hospitalizations are down by 6 percent and 8 percent, but deaths went up in the last week by 21 percent. In North Carolina, cases went down 19 percent in the last week but hospitalizations went up 7 percent and deaths went up about 47 percent.

“As things start to get better, we see cases start to drop, then we start to see hospitalization and deaths start decrease,” said Wohl.

While cases are going down, that may be a tricky number to track going forward. More people using at-home tests now but those results are not counted into total case counts. Wohl said it means there will likely be an undercount of those metrics in the coming weeks.

Still, Wohl expects North Carolina’s metrics will look better in the next three to four weeks.

“I think we’re just seeing the wash over of this of the wave of omicron that hit us starting a month ago,” said Wohl.

The best way to prepare for a potential future wave is to get vaccinated. Wohl said he’s heard the plea for a vaccine from patients in the COVID-19 ICU.

“That brush with death is what it took for them to get vaccinated. That doesn’t need to be the case for other people,” he said.