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The end is in sight, don’t give up now

Has it really been a year since COVID-19 arrived here in the Ohio Valley?

On the other hand, has it really only been a year?

It’s still hard to believe how suddenly — and how completely — so many things changed last March. At The Times Leader, we had hosted a meet-the-candidate event just a few weeks before the first report that the coronavirus had been confirmed in Belmont County. The next thing we knew, the governor and state health director had ordered all polling places closed. The primary election was put on hold, and all voting was conducted by mail.

Now, it seems, the opposite is happening — but at a much more gradual pace. Instead of closing down, things are opening up.

There are a few reasons that is happening. Chief among them is the availability of vaccines to prevent COVID-19 infection. Two different versions of the vaccine have been in circulation for weeks. The state’s most vulnerable residents — the elderly, those in nursing homes and those with conditions that make them more susceptible ­– had the earliest access to the shots, along with front-line health care workers.

Now people as young as 60 years old are eligible to receive the vaccine.

Employees of the state’s schools also have begun receiving inoculations, making it possible for students to return to their classrooms more safely. A third version of the shot is now approved. Soon, mass vaccination sites will open across Ohio, and it may not be long before eligibility is extended to younger and younger adults.

But these miraculous doses are not the only reason that the number of infections and deaths are on the decline. Instead, those decreases are thanks to all of us learning more about the illness and how to control it.

Masks — like them or not — are effective at reducing exposure to the germs that cause COVID-19. Although there are a few holdouts, most people have become accustomed to wearing facial coverings when they are in public and cannot keep enough distance from others to ensure safety.

Limiting the frequency and size of gatherings is important, too. So is keeping at least 6 feet of space between ourselves and others who live outside our households.

Because we have learned how to perform these and other common-sense measures effectively, we are starting to win the battle. It is too soon, though, to declare victory.

As Gov. Mike DeWine and state and local health officials continue to ease restrictions, we should savor the moments we are gaining. Now that the statewide curfew has been lifted, for example, maybe it would be OK to stay out a bit later than usual one evening. But we should do it with appropriate distance from others and while wearing face masks.

We must not let down our guard. We must continue to take appropriate precautions when we shop, go to work, go out to dine and anything else we might do in public.

The coming spring and summer seasons are likely to improve things even more, so long as we don’t slip backward. Warmer weather will mean more outdoor activities and opportunities for recreation. Nicer day and nights will make it safer to get together with family and friends outdoors, where fresh air circulates and we can mingle while remaining several feet apart.

Don’t lose hope. Don’t give up. Together, we can do this. We can make quarantines and lockdowns a distant memory and move on from COVID-19.

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