It’s been a little over a year of life under the coronavirus pandemic, but finally things are trending solidly toward recovery and a return to normalcy.
After getting off to a slow and uneven start, vaccination in North Carolina has picked up. North Carolina is closing in on having a quarter of its 10 million residents vaccinated. The state parallels the U.S. average for coronavirus vaccination distribution.
In fact, Gov. Roy Cooper thinks the state could be ahead of a May 1 goal set by President Biden recently to have vaccines available for all adults wanting one.
Meanwhile, new COVID-19 cases have generally been trending down for the past month, as have been hospitalizations statewide. After having a positivity test rate as low as 3.4 percent earlier this month, the state is now averaging around a 5 percent rate.
After a year of seeing numbers march steadily upward, this is all welcome news. Also welcome was the recent bipartisan agreement to allow schools to return to five-day in-person instruction for all grades, instead of just elementary classes. Moore County will return all its students to the classroom next Monday.
While the data all indicate we are getting a handle on the coronavirus, we are certainly not yet in the clear. It will still be some months before we can achieve “herd immunity” and no longer risk sickening massive numbers of fellow citizens and risking the health care network’s capacity.
But the time has come for the state to lay out for us what “recovery” looks like.
A Slow Approach
The state has been nibbling away at this goal in recent weeks. Health officials have offered new visitation guidelines for nursing homes and other long-term residential care facilities. Restrictions on bars, restaurants and outdoor sporting events have loosened attendance thresholds.
This gradual let-up has infuriated some who never agreed with Cooper’s coronavirus restrictions orders and who have been in open defiance of mask and social distance restrictions almost from the start. They see states that have lifted mask-wearing, allowed theaters to reopen, eliminated head counts in restaurants and bars, and they can’t help but want to “keep up with the Joneses.”
During a recent meeting at the Pinehurst Village Council, resident Allen Finch stood up and said, “Why are we not doing the same thing here? Every one of you need to be held accountable, you need to ask yourselves that question … what can I do to stop this and make it better? Putting that mask on and letting the world go by is not doing it for anybody.”
The Republican-led General Assembly has also been trying to limit Cooper’s authority on prolonged executive orders. New legislation moving through in Raleigh would require the governor to seek agreement from the rest of the Council of State for state of emergency declarations that last more than 30 days.
Give Us Goals
The headway we’ve made in the fight against COVID-19 is fragile. Given all we’ve learned this past year about the virus and, now, its variants, the hard-won success could be undone by declaring victory too early.
Still, it is not too early for Cooper and health officials to give us new metrics and goals to shoot for. What will success look like? What should be the goal for new daily coronavirus cases? COVID-related hospitalizations? Vaccination rates?
At what point will it be safe to reduce mask wearing? To worship with song in congregations? To accept the reasonable “risk” of shaking hands, exchanging high-fives and hugs?
We know we’re not there, but we’re getting closer, and there’s nothing like having goals to motivate others and achieve the benchmarks we need to clear.
So just as we had benchmarks to guide our level of ratcheting down on restrictions, let’s get those goals for easing up — and easing back into the lifestyles we once took for granted.