FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) — The number of people hospitalized with COVID has gone down by about 90 percent since the January spike, says Cape Fear Valley Health Chief of Emergency Services Dr. Michael Zappa, but he warns not to let your guard down yet ahead of the holiday weekend.

Zappa says we need to reach herd immunity before things can fully get back to normal.

“We are not anywhere near that 70 percent vaccination rate which would give us the herd immunity,” Zappa said.

Harold Lassiter, 42, was in the hospital for about a week last year with a combination of COVID, asthma, and pneumonia.

Harold Lassiter

“I’m worried, sweating and trying to calm down,” Lassiter said. “I knew that the good Lord would take care of me, but just reality you didn’t really know if you were coming or going.”

Lassiter thanks the staff at Cape Fear Valley Health for helping him get healthy again.

“It was a scary experience, but they took care of me,” Lassiter said.

Zappa says they have been able to close some of their COVID units, and they continue seeing fewer COVID patients in the hospital, but we still need to get more of the population vaccinated.

“It has been a very tough year,” Zappa said. “It has been hard for us to do the right thing, but now is not the time to let up.”

Zappa says it is safe to get together if everyone in the group has been fully vaccinated, but while in public people should still wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines.

“It has been a hard road, we have come a long way,” Zappa said. “What we have to do is just be smart for a little bit longer.”