Maryland and America are on the road back to a more normal, pre-pandemic life, thanks to broad compliance with social distancing rules and wide acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccines.
We can still see some dark clouds on the horizon, but for now it appears that our country will be able to achieve the goal of herd immunity from the pandemic at some point this year. More than 4.5 million vaccines have been administered in Maryland, including more than 194,000 in Frederick County.
However, we still have a few big “ifs” to avoid.
Gov. Larry Hogan this week lifted mask requirements in many outdoor settings regardless of whether residents have been vaccinated. And he hinted that more restrictions could be lifted very soon.
The governor said that the state is now receiving all doses of the vaccines that are needed, and that the numbers of cases, deaths and positive tests are all heading in the right direction — down.
The news has been good on so many fronts. More than half of the adults in the country have received at least one vaccine shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has decided that vaccinated people really do not need to wear masks when outdoors.
The Gross Domestic Product is on its way to returning to pre-pandemic levels, as the recovery from the pandemic recession accelerates. The pandemic relief bills passed in December and January are having the desired effect of both supporting struggling families and businesses and propping up the economy.
On the local level, school officials are trying to come to an agreement with employees to move more children back into the classroom safely, during the waning days of this misbegotten school year. It looks as though school rooms will be able to go back to normal in the fall.
Restrictions on indoor dining are easing and outdoor dining is practically unrestricted. Masks are still required for indoor shopping, but we can see a time when all vaccinated people will be comfortable in most situations with no mask.
“As our vaccinations continue to expand and our health metrics continue to improve, we expect to be able to take additional actions in the weeks ahead and a return to a sense of normalcy,” Hogan said.
While the CDC change on masks outdoors was specifically for people who have been vaccinated, Hogan made the point that in Maryland at least, vaccines are widely available.
“We can’t check ID’s to see if you have been vaccinated or not. You have had plenty of time to get a vaccine,” the governor said.
True, but that’s one of those dark clouds we mentioned. The New York Times reported this week that “the U.S. vaccination program has run into some problems. The average number of daily shots has declined 20 percent in the past two weeks.”
The seven-day average of shots administered peaked above 3 million a day, but it has now dropped below 2.7 million. That is a troubling trend-line. The pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over a blood-clot scare reinforced the fears and skepticism of some anti-vaccine people.
Those of us who were anxious to get vaccinated to be protected against the dreaded disease have frantically pursued our shots. Now, officials are getting down to the harder problem of trying to convince those people who are anxious or suspicious about the need for the shots.
But this is not strictly an individual decision. We need to have 75 to 80 percent of the population vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity, the point at which all can return to normal. If we do not keep up with vaccinations, the virus will continue to mutate, risking rapid spread, more cases and more deaths.
Look to India, where the slow pace of vaccinations is blamed in large part for the explosive growth of cases and deaths after the virus mutated into a more deadly pathogen. Now, that country is being ravaged.
Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner said she would continue to advise residents to continue wearing masks, even outdoors is they have not been vaccinated.
“The larger message is to get vaccinated so we can eliminate the need for masks everywhere and win the war against the virus,” she said.
We echo that sentiment. The vaccines work, and they will protect you, those you know and love, and even strangers just sharing your air. We all need to do our part to win this war that has cost more than 560,000 American lives.