On Tuesday, President Joseph R. Biden announced that the US expects to have enough coronavirus vaccines for all adults by the end of May, two months earlier than anticipated.
The same day, Texas became one of the largest states to announce its intent to lift its mask mandate. Closer to home, Dane County — recognized as having some of the most stringent COVID restrictions in the state of Wisconsin — announced it was loosening up its restrictions.
7-day average percent positive cases by test is currently hovering just over 2%, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) — does this mean the end is in sight of this nearly year-long pandemic?
Not so fast, there’s too much at stake for us to treat this pandemic like it’s over, and indeed if we take things too fast, we risk losing the ground that we’ve gained and it risks making that distance traveled all for naught.
Many of our most vulnerable have been vaccinated at least once:
22.3% (5,271) of Iowa County residents have received at least one Final stretch of the pandemic is in view, let’s not squander this, let’s get it right dose of the vaccine.
12.2% (2,884) of residents have completed the vaccine series.
75.4% (3,478) of 65+ year old Iowa County residents have received at least one dose.
21.5% (3,710) of Richland County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
13.6% (2,338) of residents have completed the vaccine series.
65.4% (2,656) of 65+ year old Richland County residents have received at least one dose.
19.1% (12,308) of Sauk County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
9.7% (6,230) of residents have completed the vaccine series.
65.1% (7,989) of 65+ year old Sauk County residents have received at least one dose.
—Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) – 03/02/2021
We must keep in mind that, for many of the vaccines out there, two doses significantly increase the effectiveness of the vaccine.
We must also remember that some of our most vulnerable cannot be vaccinated. No vaccine has been approved for children. Any illness is risky for an extremely young child, and while most children have what appear to be mild symptoms, we’re still not sure what long-term effects there are — with concerns ranging from permanent heart and lung damage to complications from multisystem inflammatory syndrome.
The U.K. variant, B.1.1.7, has been identified in Wisconsin. Data shows that the B.1.1.7 variant may be 40-70% more transmissible than the current dominant strain of coronavirus, and 30% deadlier.
The fear is this B.1.1.7 variant will become predominant in the United States by the end of the month, leading to a surge of cases in early spring.
“Variant strains of coronavirus continue as a concern and we must continue to gather data and watch them closely. The bottom line is that we need to stay the course; we can’t let our guard down,” stated Debbie Siegenthaler, Director/Health Officer, Iowa County Health Department.
We can’t let our guard down. Our local economy and area small businesses need us to get this right so we can keep the gears turning. It’s likely that we will have to be masked in public for quite some time. Even as we enjoy the warming weather, as gatherings ease the limitations on numbers as we congregate and greet our community outdoors again, let’s not let our guard down.
This does not entail living in fear. We must strive to fi nd ways to engage socially and patronize local businesses safely. From Convivio holding Saturday campfires out back, to regionally with the Driftless Music Gardens in Hillsboro planning on holding socially distanced concerts outside, we must seek ways to engage safely, for our social and mental well-being. Residents and businesses both need to be creative in finding solutions.
So in the meantime, mask up. Get vaccinated when you can.
Perhaps the final stretch is in sight.
However, this isn’t a race where speed is the winner.
The winner is our vigilance and creativity, and we lose through complacency and apathy.