After more than a year of pain, grief and economic devastation, Wednesday marks a milestone in Washington’s road to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the state’s restrictions intended to curb the virus are lifted.
A “Washington Ready” flag won’t wave above the Space Needle until Thursday, when Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to visit Seattle as part of a celebratory tour, but all of us have long been ready — or at least yearning — for a return to normalcy.
Make no mistake, the pandemic is not over yet. Our guard must remain up and our optimism should be cautious, but there is reason to celebrate. Especially now that more of us can safely do so together.
While businesses can continue to set their own standards, including on mask use and vaccination requirements to provide service, an end to restrictions means places such as restaurants, bars, churches and movie theaters can fully reopen.
This is thanks to the state’s high vaccination rate. A little more than 68% of the statewide 16-and-up population has gotten at least one dose, and the latest seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases in the state is down to 447, less than half of what it was only a month ago.
Meanwhile, findings on the effectiveness of vaccines continue to fuel confidence. A recent study found that protection from mRNA vaccines — such as those produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — may last for years without a booster.
The one caveat to that report was the development of variants. The delta variant, which was first identified in India and is known to spread more easily, is quickly becoming more prevalent in the U.S. and may lead to more infections, especially among the unvaccinated.
As long as the novel coronavirus keeps spreading, it will have a chance to mutate and create versions that may be more transmissible, deadlier and more likely to bypass current vaccines. This makes the need for everyone who can be vaccinated to promptly get the shot.
So far, efforts such as the COVID lottery or the Joints for Jabs program have been duds in persuading recalcitrant holdouts. Perhaps the state can look to Greece, which recently announced it will pay young people 150 euros (about $180) for their first jab.
Wisely, not all state restrictions are going away just yet. Washingtonians who are not vaccinated must keep wearing a mask in public indoors and everyone must cover up at schools, health care facilities and when using public transportation.
We must be vigilant until the virus is fully under control, but we have earned a respite. The vaccinated among us can now enjoy a flirtatious smile at a bar, the comforting din of a packed restaurant or the shared laughter of a full movie theater.
Welcome back to normal-ish.