In February 2020, public health officials issued dire warnings that, although the new coronavirus had impacted only about a dozen Americans, a flood was coming and the nation needed to take immediate steps to mitigate it. Too many politicians, including then-President Donald Trump, dismissed it as hysterics. More than a half-million deaths later, public health officials are again issuing dire warnings — this time that a resurgence of the virus is building because too much of the country has prematurely let its guard down. It's not too late to prevent history from repeating itself.
After months of declining cases, they have started ticking up again in more than 20 states. The fact that this is happening even as more and more people are being vaccinated — which should logically bring the caseloads down — indicates that the surge is real and would likely be even worse if vaccinations weren't underway. Meanwhile, new variants of the virus pose additional threats, prompting questions of how effective the vaccines will be against them.
Experts are warning that the resurgence has all the makings of a "fourth wave" of the pandemic. The cause isn't hard to figure out: After more than a year of masking, distancing and taking other precautions, people are itching to get on with life, especially with summer coming. Some states and local jurisdictions are loosening their rules, ignoring pleas of doctors to hold off just a few months longer, until more people are vaccinated. Just the knowledge that the vaccines are out there now may be providing a false sense of security for some, when in fact the country is still months from herd immunity. As a nation, America is tired of it all and ready to finally get back to normal.
That's why it's more urgent than ever for people to listen to experts like Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who made an extraordinary, emotional public plea last week for Americans to keep their guard up.
Walensky admitted sensing "impending doom" and being "scared" about the loosening restrictions. She asked the country to "just please hold on a little while longer" while the vaccinations continue. "We can change this trajectory of the pandemic," she said, "but it will take all of us recommitting to following the public health prevention strategies consistently while we work to get the American public vaccinated."
Premature reopening by politicians is only a problem if citizens allow it to be. Even the most short-sighted politician (and there are plenty) can't prevent Americans from masking, distancing and continuing with other precautions that the experts say are still necessary. There's no good time to die in a pandemic, but there's a tragic irony to dying when its end is in sight.
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