CHARLOTTE, N.C. — This Memorial Day is the first holiday in over a year that is starting to look and feel a bit more normal. COVID-19 cases and hospitalization rates are down, and experts say it's in large part because of the vaccines.
In North Carolina, more than 8.2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have been given. In Mecklenburg County, 40% of the population is fully vaccinated.
Vaccination status plays a big role in just how much someone can safely do this holiday weekend.
Dr. David Priest, an infectious diseases specialist at Novant health, said someone who is fully vaccinated does not have much to worry about this weekend.
"We know if you're vaccinated, you're very well protected and you can do a lot of things you're used to doing," Priest said.
But those who haven't rolled up their sleeves yet are still at risk. They may still be required to wear their masks in some places and should still be cautious, especially inside or somewhere with a lot of people gathered.
"There’s still a substantial amount of this virus that’s out in the community,” Dr. Frank Esper with the Cleveland Clinic Children’s said.
The risk of spreading COVID is higher if there are unvaccinated people from multiple households. Families with children who are not able to get vaccinated yet should try and keep celebrations outside.
“We know that bigger rooms, being outside, good ventilation, good airflow, being vaccinated are very safe places to be,” Priest said. “Hopefully people will think about that during the holiday weekend.”
The good news, it's the first holiday since the pandemic where health officials aren't as concerned about it leading to a spike in cases.
“This virus is now being hampered by a bunch of people who are vaccinated and are protected, and we are going to be able to hold this virus at bay, preventing it from overwhelming the cities, the counties and the hospitals,” Esper said.
And while metrics continue to decrease, Mecklenburg County Health officials say the work is not done yet. Community members who are not vaccinated need to get the shots and still wear masks so that this momentum continues.
The county health department joining in on the states pilot program to offer $25 to people who get the shot or drop someone off at a clinic. They expect to have the gift cards next week.