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The hope of an end to the COVID-19 pandemic is still in our own hands

One year and one week ago, Minnesota confirmed its first case of COVID-19, spinning the state and the world into chaos. The pandemic proved both frightening and disruptive, as is expected of any historic crisis, but also unexpectedly and oddly monotonous.

The first year of COVID-19 was a disaster that unfolded in disconcertingly slow motion, at low volume and behind closed doors. After the initial shock of shutdowns and shortages, for many who did not become seriously ill or lose a loved one, the defining daily sign of the pandemic was a haunting, flattening experience. For the past year, many people lived a life that was almost normal — just one with most of the high points and connections peeled away.

So the slivers of hope reflected in the arrival of vaccines, the success so far in getting them distributed to those at highest risk and the promise that most people who want to be vaccinated will be able to do so within a matter of months, are unsurprisingly being met with subdued joy. Photos on social media show vaccination cards and shot selfies, messages of relief:

“One down, one to go.”

We’ve stated making tentative plans again, looking at airplane ticket prices, talking about setting dates for weddings, thinking about what work will feel like with more coworkers and fewer Zoom meetings.

The temptation is to rush to what’s next, because it’s got to be better than this. We feel it everywhere, so close to what we all hope is the finish line: We made it through, it’s almost over, we’re in the clear!

New guidelines announced by the Centers for Disease Control last week seem obviously rooted in sympathy with exactly that instinct: To get on with it. They also seem to be aimed at heading off the full abandonment of caution displayed by five states — Iowa, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Montana — that have recently dropped mask mandates.

The CDC’s latest advice says people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can gather like the good old days — without masks or the 6-foot social distancing bubble. They can even visit unvaccinated people from one other household if they are at low risk for severe disease.

“You can visit your grandparents if you’ve been vaccinated and they have been, too,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Monday. “If grandparents have been vaccinated, they can visit their daughter and her family even if they have not been vaccinated, so long as the daughter and her family are not at risk for severe disease.”

We’re closer than we’ve been in a year to a return to normal life. But we’re not out of the woods yet. We have a significant portion of the population who will not take the vaccines when offered. We have new variants popping up regularly. We still have friends and neighbors and family members dying.

So the CDC is still advising against larger gatherings. They’re still saying masks and social distancing in public are the basic, common-sense measures we should be taking for now.

Because while there is the promise of “over,” this pandemic is not over yet. It’s on us to protect one another in all the ways that have become second nature by now: Social distance. Wash your hands. Limit your circles of contact. Get vaccinated when you can. Wear the damn mask in the store.

Yes, we’re stuck in this flat place of ennui and isolation a little longer. But the experts say those mundane, maddening steps are still our fastest route to an eventual joyful afternoon at the State Fair or Target Field, Summertime by George or big family weddings, huge graduation parties and sold-out concerts.

It looks like we are so close to the goal. Let’s not trip now.

— St. Cloud Times

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