The eagerly anticipated calendar flip to put 2020 into the past arrived with no shortage of relief. Finally, the year that brought global agony and national strife is behind us. Finally, hope is within sight. COVID-19 vaccines exist and are being injected. Inauguration of President Joe Biden is weeks away.

Collective optimism better be made of sturdy stuff. The new year will be middle-aged — at least — before the promise of a truly restorative 2021 can be realized. Patience and persistence are required. As Dr. Umair Shah, the state’s new secretary of health, said in the waning days of the year, “We’re hitting halftime.” 

That is true about COVID-19 and much more. Vaccines remain scarce. The first batches of shots are rightly reserved for high-priority people: health care workers, and vulnerable residents of nursing homes and prisons. The vaccine is the good news, but the pace of distribution will test collective patience. Months of waiting for a place in line to come up, plus weeks more for a second shot, add up to a long while longer living behind masks while doors remain closed to homes and many businesses. 

Focused effort must remain cautious, and thoughtfully paced. The early weeks of vaccine rollout have been slow. Nationally, more than 2.5 million people got their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine in the last two weeks of the year, but Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show that about the same number of people were diagnosed with the disease during that time.

President-elect Joe Biden said encouraging things about ramping up distribution, but his presidency is still three weeks away. Because both U.S.-approved vaccines need about a month from the first shot until immunity is in fullest effect, this march will indeed be long. 

When Biden takes office, the administration has a full agenda, including other promised governmental reforms as well. Even setting aside the outcome of Georgia’s Tuesday U.S. Senate runoffs, the federal bureaucracy requires time to change direction, from getting qualified people on board to replacing flawed policies. Biden mapped an ambitious agenda for his first 100 days, from getting schools opened to distributing 100 million vaccine doses. But that finish line sits at April 30. 

Even the urgent non-pandemic demands for policing reform and social justice won’t materialize just because the calendar says 2021. Legislation must be debated, passed and signed into law. Social-service agencies and police must undergo new training for re-imagined approaches. And because policy is rarely written perfectly when first made, the system will need more correcting as theorized reforms hit real-world streets. 

May the new year be consequential for developing a new way of life we can consider “normal.” Getting there calls for fortitude, like any good New Year’s resolution does. Nobody sees results on the first day in the gym. The nation’s resolve must be to build toward the day when reopening the gyms, the restaurants and all other public spaces can be safe and sustainable. That’s the tantalizing possibility 2021 brings.

Here’s to a promising new year.