This weekend I drove down to my hometown and hugged my parents for the first time in a year, because my mother is finally two weeks post-vaccine. I also drove down to bring a couch to my sister, and for that I wore a mask, because she is not vaccinated yet.
The end of the pandemic is coming. And I see many of you wanting to take shortcuts to hastily reopen. I don’t wholly object to reopening anymore, but as we have tried to do the whole time, we have to watch the numbers and the data. Cases are currently on the rise again in many states (if you’ll recall, many of us predicted this, talking about how we were seeing a drop in cases, but as things reopened and people interacted in less-than-safe ways, that number could climb. Well, it has).
Michigan is seeing a rise in B-1.1.7 cases (the variant originally found in the UK). New York has seen a rise in a new variant, B-1.526. The good news is that both of these are effectively neutralized by the vaccine. The bad news is that we don’t have enough people vaccinated yet, even though we are soon to hit the administration’s original goal of 100 million vaccinations in 100 days and it’s hopefully ramping up. Every time the vaccine spreads, there is a chance for a new variant, so full reopening has to be approached slowly, and with caution. Here's Dr. Ashish Jha: https://twitter.com/ashishkjha/status/1376157565969653760?s=20
So what does this mean? Let me manage some expectations here (see what I did there?)
It means that we’re still on our way back to some pre-pandemic behavior, to find our real new normal. However, at least for some time, we will likely need to follow Australia/New Zealand models. We’ll get the virus under control, but outbreaks will still pop up here and there, and local temporary lockdowns will be needed. If we can actually lock down locally when that time comes, we can actually do a two-week lockdown (maybe less?), and send vaccination resources that way. This is different than a year ago, when a two-week flatten-the-curve turned into multiple months, because now we have a vaccine, and we know at least a little more about treatment. There may also be booster vaccines to help protect against the newer variants.
I know, you already want to throw me and my computer in the dumpster. I see people already responding with “stop living in fear” and “you do for you, and I’ll do for me.” But that is not how public health works. The only way we actually get past this pandemic (really past it), especially with a virus this contagious, is together. The only way any public health measure will take is if it’s collective. So yes, we will continue to reopen, but there may be ups and downs. We are already seeing what can happen in some areas where too much reopens too quickly. There may be some pulling back, but it will push forward again.
We have a lot of work to do to strengthen and solidify our public health infrastructure, but for now, we can look forward to a brighter future. So keep wearing your masks a bit longer, even if you’ve been vaccinated (while around those who have not been vaccinated), keep maintaining some distance, keep washing/sanitizing your hands, and get your vaccine as soon as you can. There are no shortcuts here.