While news of a pair of successful vaccine trials show there is a light at the end of the tunnel, the sad fact is we are still very much in the dark.
We are in the middle of a surge in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Positivity rates are climbing. Schools are closing again in surrounding counties. Gov. Larry Hogan is ordering more restrictions, on hospitals, on nursing homes, on businesses.
“This new surge of COVID-19 is going to continue placing enormous strain on both our health care systems and our economy,” Hogan said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 17.
The governor’s grim reminder that COVID numbers are climbing offsets the excitement we should be feeling over the positive results for a pair of vaccines — one from Moderna, the other from Pfizer and BioNTech.
And the news from Hogan, the additional restrictions, come as the holidays near and people continue to make plans to travel, for big family get-togethers despite the public health implications.
We understand. We want to see our families too. What we hope is that everyone understands the risk involved.
Currently the Kent County Health Department is booked solid for COVID tests. The number one reason given by those seeking a test: travel. And while the health department here reportedly has the testing supplies it needs to expand capacity, it lacks the necessary manpower — the nurses to give more tests.
“We’re encouraging everybody not to travel, to avoid large family gatherings. Do a celebration with your immediate household if at all possible,” said Health Officer William Webb in an interview Nov. 17, who recognized that such recommendations break with holiday traditions. “Remember the virus is aggressively spreading and many people don’t know that they have it.”
Webb also recognizes that Kent County’s numbers remain low compared to surrounding counties and the rest of the state, but he said that could change at a moment’s notice. He cited Garrett County as an example. Case numbers remained low there for a very long time but are climbing.
“My concern is that oftentimes there is a latency as stuff spreads from the western shore over to the Eastern Shore. And often it takes a little while for us to catch up and I think that’s where we are at this point. I think our numbers will go up and that we will be more in line with what other counties are experiencing, especially on the Eastern Shore because we really aren’t that different,” he said.
Cecil County schools, Queen Anne’s County schools, Talbot County, Somerset, Worcester, all have recently returned to remote learning due to COVID metrics. On Nov. 17, Kent County Superintendent of Schools Karen Couch said the case rates here are still below the threshold that would trigger a return to remote learning, “but that could all change on a dime.”
At his news conference, Hogan reiterated the importance — and the state mandates — of masks in maintaining the public health. He said it is not political, it is not “Big Brother.” And it isn’t. It is the best practical advice by the nation’s leading infectious disease experts.
Yet in the Facebook window of Hogan’s news conference, comments like this floated by, “A shot gun will keep me and my family safe. Not you limiting me or my family to make money to survive.” And this, “I’m truly shocked at the amount of people that are OK with government officials shutting down their entire lives [and] taking away all of the freedoms this country is known for” and this, “Nope..live your life people don’t listen to these fools.”
We recognize the concerns about the economy and jobs and paying bills. We understand the frustrations with mandates interrupting our daily lives and our livelihoods. The isolation we faced during lockdown — the toll on our mental health — is something we do not want to experience again, especially as we continue to social distance. We want to get back to that feeling of being part of a bigger community, through events, through school, through church, through seeing friends in a restaurant.
All of us have been affected by this pandemic. We have lost family members and friends. We have faced challenges with work and paying bills. We have struggled through lockdowns. We are just so tired of all of it. And it’s the holidays.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. The vaccines currently being tested show real potential in beating this virus. But right now, case rates are going up, the risks are real and we are in the dark.