The end of the pandemic may be tantalizingly close. Everyone can help that day get here.
Doctors see overwhelming scientific evidence that vaccine availability is successfully turning back COVID-19 infection rates. Now new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can help speed the march toward long-awaited normalcy.
These directives are essential to the collective journey out of the pandemic. For the vaccinated, it’s safe to gather in small groups or visit one unvaccinated household, the CDC says. Believe the doctors when they say that going beyond these first steps is still dangerous territory.
Not enough is known about potential virus transmission by immunized people to declare an all-clear for the vaccinated. Further, the vast majority of the population is not yet eligible for vaccination — and not everyone who is eligible has been able or willing to get a shot.
In Washington, the largest category of vaccine-eligible people is residents age 65 and over. As of March 6, about 57% of that group had gotten at least their first shot, the Department of Health reported. Less than 20% of adults under 65 have received doses. Most of that demographic isn’t yet eligible. And scientists are still working out whether children can safely get the vaccines.
The ramp-up of vaccinations is a glimmer of hope, and only that. The advent of coronavirus variants that might overcome vaccination threatens to keep contagion rates high. So does the premature loosening of restrictions in Texas, Mississippi and elsewhere. The virus does not care how exhausted the populace is, or how lonely many are.
The guidelines show a path to emotional relief. Immunized grandparents can visit their grandchildren at home. Vaccinated friend groups can socialize indoors. This ought to motivate hesitant people to pursue shots at their first opportunity.
The CDC is right to say no one should buy pleasure-travel plane tickets or go maskless in large crowds. Hard science indicates living with 2019-level freedoms is unsafe. As CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky noted Monday, every increase in travel during the pandemic has been followed by an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
For now, study the guidelines and keep masking up. Vaccines are the path to a summer and fall that could approach normalcy. But they’re not a sound reason — yet — for the weary nation to drop its guard.