America’s endgame for the COVID-19 pandemic must not be confused with the postgame. This wealthy nation’s vaccination progress has enabled people to entertain visions of returning to work, travel and life-as-before that still must be carefully managed. It is too soon to fling off all masks and rush into cubicles and concert halls. Now is the time to soberly assess risk and respond to facts, not frustrations. 

Those facts have a lot of good news in them, starting with the substantial number of people who have gotten their vaccine shots. A little over 61% of the statewide 16-and-up population has gotten at least one dose. The figure could well reach the threshold of 70% Gov. Jay Inslee is requiring to lift restrictions on gatherings and businesses sooner than the announced reopening target of June 30.

Ten states already had given doses to 70% of adults by Wednesday. Infection cases are on the downswing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday that breakthrough infections occurred in just 0.01% of vaccinated people through April, giving the vaccinated good reason to feel confident moving around. Add this to the extensive research that the fully vaccinated shouldn’t expect to face severe sickness even if the virus infects them. The “new normal” starts to feel within grasp.

But easing back into more interactions at work and play is going to require substantial adjustments. The significant percentage of people who still refuse vaccinations, and the children and other people who cannot get doses, means infections and serious illness are not behind us. More than 1,000 people in Washington are diagnosed with new COVID-19 cases each day, on average. Nine state residents die on an average day, from a virus that has already killed more than 5,700 Washingtonians. Businesses and government must keep their safety measures coherent during the transition to post-pandemic life.

This starts with mask usage. The CDC’s abrupt May 13 declaration vaccinated people can go largely mask-free stirred a confusing situation. CDC officials caught local and state health officials off guard and should have kept up the good strong mask guidance, instead of creating a muddled landscape where PCC Community Markets requires everyone to wear masks while Costco doesn’t. Grocery stores and churches — or any other place where people of varied ages intermingle — should not be put in the role of vaccine inspector that the masks-for-some CDC guideline created.

People and businesses should take to heart guidance that makes sense in keeping everyone safer. As Dr. Jeff Duchin of Public Health — Seattle & King County said May 19, “bear with us a little longer” on safety measures and keep the masks on indoors. The state’s Department of Labor and Industries has mapped out a thorough set of guidelines for businesses, like offices that are reopening after many work-from-home months. Under them, workplaces can require masks and must confirm each employee is vaccinated — in writing — before ending mask and distancing requirements.

This isn’t normal. Not yet. It is the necessary middle step to get to that long-awaited destination, though. Mask up and be patient. Every vaccination brings the end of the pandemic closer.